Ex parte News Group Newspapers Ltd
Reference:  EMLR 160
Court: Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)
Judge: Lord Bingham CJ, Bracewell & Keene JJ
Date of judgment: 26 Apr 1999
Summary: Reporting Restrictions - s.4(2) Contempt of Court Act - Whether substantial risk of prejudice - Duty of Prosecuting Counsel when reporting restrictions are sought - Costs
Instructing Solicitors: Farrer & Co for News Group Newspapers Ltd
John Alford, the former London’s Burning television star had been caught by the News of the World selling drugs to a reporter posing as a Middle Eastern sheikh. As a result, the Defendant was arrested and charged with supplying drugs. At an earlier hearing in the criminal trial, the Defendant dismissed his legal team and changed his guilty plea to not guilty. No reporting restrictions were in place and the hearing attracted widespread publicity. As a result the trial venue was moved and the trial delayed. At the subsequent trial, the Judge made extensive reporting restrictions which prevented any reporting of the trial because he felt that the jurors would be reminded of the aborted hearing if they read about the present hearing in the newspapers. News Group Newspapers appealed.
(1) Whether the terms of the reporting restrictions could be justified; (2) What duties were owed by the Prosecution when applications for reporting restrictions were made; (3) In what circumstances would it be right to make an order for costs in favour of the media applicant.
Allowing the Appeal: (1) The reporting restrictions could not be justified and would be discharged; (2) the Crown has an important responsibility for maintaining the integrity of proceedings and it is desirable for Prosecuting Counsel to give assistance to the Court on the proper principles to be applied in reporting restriction cases; (3) Costs orders are discretionary. Where the Crown has been partisan and has supported an order for reporting restrictions which is subsequently set aside, then it is at risk of being made to pay a media applicant’s costs in having the order set aside.
The Court of Appeal observed: “Counsel has drawn our attention to what we accept is a serious problem in some parts of the country. The problem is that orders restricting publication are made in situations when they should not be made. The problem is exacerbated in the ordinary run of cases where the story itself, although something that a local newspaper would wish to publish, is not of the highest public interest such as to justiy a newspaper expending large sums of money in seeking to have the order rectified. This appeal is in our judgment of value if it draws attention to that problem and urges the necessity of very serious consideration being given before an order is made under s.4(2) of the Act”.