Condé Nast found in contempt of court

Proceedings brought about GQ article on phone hacking criminal trial

Yesterday the Administrative Court handed down judgment in contempt proceedings brought by the Attorney General against Condé Nast Publications Limited in which the publisher was found to be in contempt of court.

The proceedings were brought in respect of an article in the April 2014 issue of GQ magazine, circulated in March 2014.  The article, written by the American journalist Michael Wolff and titled The Court Without a King, discussed the trial of R v Edmondson & Others – more popularly known as the ‘phone hacking trial’.  The distribution and sale of the magazine took place when some of the defendants in the trial were giving evidence.

Written principally as a critical commentary on Rupert Murdoch against the background of the trial, the article also remarked on aspects of the trial such as Mr Murdoch’s funding of some of the defence costs and on the roles of two of the defendants, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, within the Murdoch organisation.  In holding Condé Nast in contempt – which must be proved to the criminal standard – the court applied what it described as the “clear and established principles” set out in s.2(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 and in subsequent case law.  The article was held to have created a substantial risk of causing serious prejudice or impediment to the course of justice in the trial. Penalty is yet to be determined.

Of particular interest is the Lord Chief Justice’s finding at paragraph [30] that the court should assume that jurors would not have read articles available online during the trial since such research would have constituted a breach of the judge’s direction at the start of the trial. This may provide reassurance to media publishers who are concerned about the continued availability of online archives during active criminal proceedings.

The Administrative Court consisted of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, CJ and Mrs Justice Nicola Davies.  5RB‘s Adrienne Page QC and Adam Wolanski, instructed by Wiggin LLP, acted for the Respondent. Andrew Caldecott QC and Aidan Eardley, instructed by the Treasury Solicitor, for the Attorney General.