Chief Constable of Greater Manchester v Channel 5 Broadcast Ltd

Reference: [2005] EWCA Civ 739

Court: Court of Appeal (Civil Division)

Judge: Auld and Chadwick LJJ

Date of judgment: 22 Mar 2005

Summary: Contempt of court - Broadcasting - Criminal investigation - Interim injunction - Whether substantial risk of serious prejudice - s.2(2) Contempt of Court Act 1981 - Appeal

Instructing Solicitors: Simons Muirhead & Burton for the Appellant; Solicitor for the Greater Manchester Police for the Respondent; the Treasury Solicitor for the Interested Party.


Channel 5 had made but not yet broadcast a television programme entitled ‘Gangsters’, in which two brothers paraded their violence, interference with witnesses and general indifference to the law. One of the brothers had subsequently been killed and a man had been arrested but not yet charged for his murder. The Chief Constable sought an order restraining Channel 5 from broadcasting the programme, which was due to be broadcast that very evening. He was particularly concerned about the effect of the programme on potential witnesses. It was not unknown in Manchester for potential witnesses to be interfered with by violent offenders, and the deceased was a member of a family of notorious violent offenders. Poole J granted the order. Channel 5 sought leave to appeal.


Whether the effect of the programme on those who may not wish to cooperate with the police investigation was such as, as provided by section 2(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, would create a substantial risk that the course of proceedings would be seriously prejudiced or impeded.


Granting leave and allowing the appeal; the burden on the Chief Constable was a heavy one, and a high standard of persuasion that there would be a substantial risk was required: Attorney-General v MGN Ltd [1997] 1 All ER 456. Any trial would be some months away and a jury properly directed could cope with what must be well known to many potential jurors in the Manchester area, that threats and intimidation of witnesses was rife in that city. The brothers were notorious in Manchester and the contents of the programme had already received publicity in the press. This was not a case where it could be said, by reason of the possible effect on witnesses, that transmission of the programme would inevitably represent a contempt of court. It was not a case where the matter was established to a sufficiently high persuasive standard, nor would the showing of the programme add to the existing risk so as to create a substantial risk where none existed before.


For contempt purposes publications must be judged in their context. Here, the publication would not add sufficiently to the existing risk of prejudice to the proceedings to create a substantial risk. Applications based for injunctions based on s.2(2) Contempt of Court Act 1981 are very rare. Indeed, as the Court of Appeal noted, a very high hurdle must be cleared before the Court would even consider granting one.