Solicitor General v Holmes

Reference: [2019] EWHC 1483 (Admin)

Court: Divisional Court

Judge: Coulson LJ, Spencer J

Date of judgment: 13 Jun 2019

Summary: Contempt in the face of the court – guidance where committal pursued in the Divisional Court

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Appearances: Aidan Eardley (Applicant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Treasury Solicitor for the Applicant; Mohammed Hussain Solicitors for the Respondent

Facts

The Solicitor General sought the committal of the Respondent in relation to words allegedly shouted from the public gallery during a criminal trial at Bradford Crown Court which caused the trial to be aborted.

Issue

What are the applicable rules where committal is sought in the Divisional Court in relation to an alleged contempt in the face of the Crown Court?

Is permission required, and if so, what is the test for permission and was it satisfied in this case?

Held

The drafting of the present CPR 81 is infelicitous but, where committal is sought in the Divisional Court in relation to an alleged contempt committed in the face of the Crown Court, CPR 81 Section III applies: the wording of CPR 81.12(1), which falls within that Section, is intended to preserve the concurrent jurisdiction of the lower court to deal with such contempts, not to exclude the jurisdiction of the Divisional Court. It follows that the permission of the Divisional Court is required: CPR 81.12(3) and 81.13(1)(e). To obtain permission,  the Law Officers must show at least a prima facie case and further that it is in the public interest that a committal application should be made. Permission should be granted in the present case.

This was an exceptional and particularly serious case where the judge was quite right to refer the matter to the Attorney General. It should not be thought that such a course should become the preferred approach generally. In most situations, the criminal court should deal with the matter, following the procedure in Part 48 of the Criminal Procedure Rules.

Comment

This is another case in which difficulties have emerged over the drafting of CPR Part 81 (see also Simmonds v Pearce [2018] 1 WLR 1849). The Court’s guidance will be welcomed by practitioners.