Attorney-General v Leveller Magazine Ltd: HL 1 Feb 1979

The appellants were magazines and journalists who published, after committal proceedings, the name of a witness, a member of the security services, who had been referred to as Colonel B during the hearing. An order had been made for his name not to be disclosed during the hearing, but the court had had no power to restrain its publication after the trial. The journalists appealed against convictions for contempt.
Held: The importance of press and media reports in safeguarding the public character of court proceedings is reinforced by the privilege afforded to fair and accurate reports of the proceedings. It might well be contempt to frustrate the courts attempt properly to protect the identity of a witness by publications after the hearing, but in this case, the witness had himself given information in evidence which was capable of leading to his identity, and the appeal succeeded.
Lord Diplock said: ‘As a general rule the English system of administering justice does require that it be done in public: Scott v Scott [1913] AC 417. If the way that courts behave cannot be hidden from the public ear and eye this provides a safeguard against judicial arbitrariness or idiosyncrasy and maintains the public confidence in the administration of justice. The application of this principle of open justice has two aspects: as respects proceedings in the court itself it requires that they should be held in open court to which the press and public are admitted . . As respects the publication to a wider public of fair and accurate reports of proceedings that have taken place in court the principle requires that nothing should be done to discourage this.’
and ‘However, since the purpose of the general rule is to serve the ends of justice it may be necessary to depart from it where the nature or circumstances of the particular proceeding are such that the application of the general rule in its entirety would frustrate or render impracticable the administration of justice or would damage some other public interest for whose protection Parliament has made some statutory derogation from the rule.’
Lord Edmund-Davies referred to a contempt case in which the names of two victims of blackmail had been published at a late stage of the trial: ‘And it should be observed that no publication of the victims’ names took place until the judge was about to sum up, and there was accordingly no question of the administration of justice in that case being prejudiced by their being deterred from giving evidence for the prosecution. So the basis of the decision seems to be that publication was objectionable on the general ground that in any and every blackmail case the administration of justice in future prosecutions will be interfered with if victims names are published.’
He referred to publication of evidence received in camera: ‘And what appears certain is that at common law the fact that a court sat wholly or partly in camera (and even where in such circumstances the court gave a direction prohibiting publication of information relating to what had been said or done behind closed doors) did not itself and in every case necessarily mean that publication thereafter constituted contempt of court.
For that to arise something more than disobedience of the court’s direction needs to be established. That something more is that the publication must be of such a nature as to threaten the administration of justice either in the particular case in relation to which the prohibition was pronounced or in relation to cases which may be brought in the future.’
Lord Russell of Killowen drew the distinction between prejudicing the administration of justice in the case reported and prejudicing the administration of justice as a continuing process: ‘In my opinion it really goes without saying that behind the application (and the decision) lay considerations of the due administration of justice. In the first place an alternative to the via media adopted would be an application that ‘Colonel B’s’ evidence be taken in camera, and in principle the less that evidence is taken in camera the better for the due administration of justice, a point with which journalists certainly no less than others would agree. In the second place a decision on anonymity – the via media – would obviously, and for the same reasons, be highly desirable in the interest of the due administration of justice as a continuing process in future in such cases.’

Lord Diplock, Viscount Dilhorne, Lord Edmund-Davies, Lord Russell of Killowen and Lord Scarman
[1979] AC 440, [1978] 3 All ER 731, [1979] 2 WLR 247
England and Wales
CitedAttorney-General v Butterworth CA 1962
The court considered the penalisation of a witness who had given evidence in contempt of the court.
It would be a contempt for someone to threaten or interfere with a witness in order to deter them from giving evidence or in order to persuade . .
CitedAttorney-General v Times Newspapers Ltd HL 1973
The House considered the bringing of contempt proceedings by the Attorney General.
Held: The Attorney General must prove to the criminal standard of proof that the respondent had committed an act or omission calculated to interfere with or . .
CitedIn re F (otherwise A ) (A Minor) (Publication of Information) CA 1977
An allegation of contempt was made in proceedings related to the publication by a newspaper of extracts from a report by a social worker and a report by the Official Solicitor, both prepared after the commencement and for the purpose of the wardship . .
CitedJohnson v Grant SCS 1923
Lord Clyde, the Lord President considered whether the contemnor should be given early release from prison and said: ‘The mere circumstance that he presents a belated expression of contrition has, with regard to the public aspect of the matter, . .
CitedRegina v Border Television Ltd, Ex parte Attorney-General QBD 18-Jan-1978
The defendant media company was found guilty of contempt for reporting that the defendant had pleaded guilty at the outset of her trial to a number of other charges against her. No warning had been given. . .
CitedRegina vNewcastle Chronicle and Journal Ltd, Ex parte Attorney-General QBD 18-Jan-1978
. .
CitedRegina v Socialist Worker Printers and Publishers Ltd, Ex parte Attorney-General CA 1974
In a blackmail case, the court ordered non publication of the names of the complainants. Thinking they were not bound, the defendants published the names.
Held: The publishers and Mr Michael Foot were held to be in contempt of court in . .
CitedRex v Blumenfeld, Ex parte Tupper 1912
Where a defendant in a defamation action states clearly his intention to defend the action pleading justification, the court will not intervene to prevent repetition of the alleged defamatory words. . .
CitedRex v Davies, Ex parte Delbert-Evans and sub nom Delbert-Evans v Davies and Watson KBD 1945
Humphreys J said that there was ample authority for saying that ‘During the time between the conviction of the accused person on the indictment and his appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal, the case is not ended at all, but is still sub judice, or . .
CitedScott v Scott HL 5-May-1913
Presumption in Favour of Open Proceedings
There had been an unauthorised dissemination by the petitioner to third parties of the official shorthand writer’s notes of a nullity suit which had been heard in camera. An application was made for a committal for contempt.
Held: The House . .
CitedTaylor v Attorney-General 1975
(New Zealand – Court of Appeal) A court has power to make an explicit order directed to and binding on the public ipso jure as to what might lawfully be published outside the courtroom in relation to proceedings held before it. . .
CitedPA Thomas and Co v Mould QBD 1968
The court urged caution in the grant of an injunction to protect information for which confidence was claimed but where that claim might not succeed. O’Connor J refused to enforce by committal an injunction restraining the defendants from making use . .
CitedRex v Governor of Lewes Prison, Ex parte Doyle CA 1917
Viscount Reading CJ: ‘But, even though we had come to the conclusion that the warrant of commitment was bad on the face of it, as this is a case of commitment after conviction we are again not only entitled but bound to look at the conviction in . .
Appeal fromAttorney-General v Leveller Magazine Ltd QBD 1978
The AG sought committal for contempt of several journalists after the published the identity of Colonel B, a man who had given evidence at certain committal proceedings under protaction of an order for his anonymity.
Held: The orders were . .

Cited by:
CitedAttorney-General v Times Newspapers Ltd HL 1991
Injunctions had been granted to preserve the status quo in proceedings brought to prevent the publication of the book ‘Spycatcher’. The defendants published extracts, and now appealed a finding that they had acted in contempt.
Held: The . .
CitedRe S (A Child) CA 10-Jul-2003
The mother of the child on behalf of whom the application was made, was to face trial for murder. The child was in care and an order was sought to restrain publiction of material which might reveal his identity, including matters arising during the . .
CitedIndependent Publishing Company Limited v The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago, The Director of Public Prosecutions PC 8-Jun-2004
PC (Trinidad and Tobago) The newspapers had been accused of contempt of court having reported matters in breach of court orders, and the editors committed to prison after a summary hearing: ‘In deciding whether . .
CitedPelling v Bruce-Williams, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs intervening CA 5-Jul-2004
The applicant sought an order that his application for a joint residence order should be held in public.
Held: Though there was some attractiveness in the applicant’s arguments, the issue had been fully canvassed by the ECHR. The time had come . .
CitedRegina v Legal Aid Board ex parte Kaim Todner (a Firm of Solicitors) CA 10-Jun-1998
Limitation on Making of Anonymity Orders
A firm of solicitors sought an order for anonymity in their proceedings against the LAB, saying that being named would damage their interests irrespective of the outcome.
Held: The legal professions have no special part in the law as a party . .
CitedRegina v Westminster City Council Ex Parte Castelli QBD 14-Aug-1995
An applicant, who was HIV positive, wished his identity to be concealed.
Held: Some publicity had already occurred A Contempt of Court anonymity order was not to be used to protect a litigant’s privacy. . .
CitedIn re S (a Child) (Identification: Restrictions on Publication) HL 28-Oct-2004
Inherent High Court power may restrain Publicity
The claimant child’s mother was to be tried for the murder of his brother by poisoning with salt. It was feared that the publicity which would normally attend a trial, would be damaging to S, and an application was made for reporting restrictions to . .
CitedHome Office v Hariette Harman HL 11-Feb-1982
The defendant had permitted a journalist to see documents revealed to her as in her capacity as a solicitor in the course of proceedings.
Held: The documents were disclosed under an obligation to use them for the instant case only. That rule . .
CitedRooney and Others, Re Attorney General’s Reference (Number 1 of 2005) CANI 11-Nov-2005
The defendants had been convicted or armed robbery. The Attorney General appealed against the sentences saying they were too lenient. Rooney argued that his plea of guilty had been after an indication by the judge and the reference was misguided. . .
CitedHM Customs and Excise v Barclays Bank Plc HL 21-Jun-2006
The claimant had served an asset freezing order on the bank in respect of one of its customers. The bank paid out on a cheque inadvertently as to the order. The Commissioners claimed against the bank in negligence. The bank denied any duty of care. . .
CitedNorfolk County Council v Webster and others FD 1-Nov-2006
The claimants wished to claim that they were victims of a miscarriage of justice in the way the Council had dealt with care proceedings. They sought that the proceedings should be reported without the children being identified.
Held: A judge . .
CitedLM, Re (Reporting Restrictions; Coroner’s Inquest) FD 1-Aug-2007
A child had died. In earlier civil proceedings, the court had laid responsibility with the mother. Restrictions had been placed on the information which would effectively prevent the coroner conducting his inquest. The coroner sought a lifting of . .
CitedRegina v Murphy and Another CANI 1990
The two defendants were tried for the murder of two British Army corporals. The prosecution adduced the evidence of a number of television journalists who, in the course of their work, had filmed the scene of the killing. The judge gave leave that . .
CitedRegina v Davis HL 18-Jun-2008
The defendant had been tried for the murder of two men by shooting them at a party. He was identified as the murderer by three witnesses who had been permitted to give evidence anonymously, from behind screens, because they had refused, out of fear, . .
CitedRegina v Evesham Justices, ex parte McDonnagh QBD 1988
The court considered the existence of a power in the magistrates court to order a hearing to be held in camera and referred to section 11 of the 1981 Act. Watkins LJ said: ‘However, I am bound to say that I am impressed with the argument that the . .
CitedTimes Newspapers Ltd and others v Regina and others CMAC 24-Oct-2008
Anonymity not to be by secret trial
The newspaper appealed against an order for the defendant soldiers’ trial to be held in camera.
Held: Section 94(2) could not be used to provide anonymity. The court relied on its common law powers under which: ‘for us to be entitled to make . .
CitedTimes Newspapers Ltd and others v Soldier B CACD 24-Oct-2008
(Court’s Martial Appeal Court) The newspaper appealed against an order under section 94 of the 1955 Act restricting the identification of the defendants. The judge had said there would be a threat to both the safety of the defendants and as to the . .
CitedHM Attorney General v Associated Newspapers Ltd and Others QBD 9-Dec-1992
A newspaper was held to have been in contempt of court for publishing details of the deliberations of a jury, even though it had not solicited the information. Beldam LJ said of the word ‘disclosure’: ‘It is a word wide enough to encompass the . .
CitedMohamed, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (No 4) Admn 4-Feb-2009
In an earlier judgment, redactions had been made relating to reports by the US government of its treatment of the claimant when held by them at Guantanamo bay. The claimant said he had been tortured and sought the documents to support his defence of . .
CitedAl Rawi and Others v The Security Service and Others CA 4-May-2010
Each claimant had been captured and mistreated by the US government, and claimed the involvement in and responsibility for that mistreatment by the respondents. The court was asked whether a court in England and Wales, in the absence of statutory . .
CitedHarper and Another, Regina (on The Application of) v Aldershot Magistrates Court Admn 8-Jun-2010
Police defendants not to have addresses withheld
The defendants, senior police officers were accused of misconduct in public office, being said to have sought improperly to interfere in prosecutions for speeding. They appealed against refusal by the magistrates to have their addresses protected. . .
CitedAllen v The Grimsby Telegraph and Another QBD 2-Mar-2011
The claimant sought to prevent publication of his name in the context of the making of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO). He had been convicted of offences against sex workers. An order had been made preventing disclosure of his address, but . .
CitedAl Rawi and Others v The Security Service and Others SC 13-Jul-2011
The claimant pursued a civil claim for damages, alleging complicity of the respondent in his torture whilst in the custody of foreign powers. The respondent sought that certain materials be available to the court alone and not to the claimant or the . .
CitedGuardian News and Media Ltd, Regina (on The Application of) v City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court CA 3-Apr-2012
The newspaper applied for leave to access documents referred to but not released during the course of extradition proceedings in open court.
Held: The application was to be allowed. Though extradition proceedings were not governed by the Civil . .
CitedRegina v D(R) Misc 16-Sep-2013
Crown Court at Blackfriars – the court was asked to what extent a witness wanting, from religious conviction, to hide her face with the niqaab form of Islamic dress should be allowed to do so, whilst giving evidence.
Held: The court considered . .
CitedMX v Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust and Others CA 17-Feb-2015
Application was made for approval of a compromise of a claim for damages for personal injury for the child. The court now considered whether an order should be made to protect the identity of the six year old claimant.
Held: An order should . .
CitedH v A (No2) FD 17-Sep-2015
The court had previously published and then withdrawn its judgment after third parties had been able to identify those involved by pulling together media and internet reports with the judgment.
Held: The judgment case should be published in . .
CitedA v British Broadcasting Corporation (Scotland) SC 8-May-2014
Anonymised Party to Proceedings
The BBC challenged an order made by the Court of Session in judicial review proceedings, permitting the applicant review to delete his name and address and substituting letters of the alphabet, in the exercise (or, as the BBC argues, purported . .
CitedHM Solicitor General v Cox and Another QBD 27-May-2016
Applications for committal of the defendants for having taken photographs of court proceedings when their friend was being sentenced for murder and publishing them on Facebook. The SG urged that the offences had aggravating features taking the . .
CitedPNM v Times Newspapers Ltd and Others SC 19-Jul-2017
No anonymity for investigation suspect
The claimant had been investigated on an allegation of historic sexual abuse. He had never been charged, but the investigation had continued with others being convicted in a high profile case. He appealed from refusal of orders restricting . .
CitedSarker, Regina v CACD 13-Jun-2018
The defendant was to face trial under the 2006 Act. He applied for an order under section 4(2) of the 1981 Act postponing the reporting of the proceedings on the grounds that knowledge by the jury of the inquiry and police investigation would be . .
CitedTimes Newspapers Ltd and others v Regina CACD 30-Jul-2007
The newspaper and other media companies appealed from an order restricting the reporting of parts of the evidence given in a trial for an offence under the 1989 Act. The objected that the order did not serve, as required, to protect any proceedings, . .
CitedRegina v Horsham Justices ex parte Farquharson CA 1982
The Court was asked whether the justices had had power under section 4(2) to impose reporting restrictions on committal proceedings pending the trial to which they related..
Held: They had. A premature publication in contravention of a . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Contempt of Court, Media, Criminal Practice, Magistrates

Leading Case

Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.175469