Attorney General v Michael Ronald Unger; Manchester Evening News Limited and Associated Newspapers Limited: Admn 3 Jul 1997

Complaint was made that the defendant newspapers had caused a serious prejudice to a trial by articles published before the trial of the defendant in criminal proceedings. The defendant pleaded guilty to theft at the magistrates’ court after she had been interviewed by a newspaper, which published her statement that she would not be denying the charges. The contempt allegations were on the basis that at the date of publication there was a real chance that the defendant might have elected trial by jury, in which case there was a substantial risk that her trial would be seriously prejudiced, and second, at the invitation of the court, that the publication could have impacted on the defendant in such a way that she might see no point in seeking to deny the allegation which otherwise she might have contested. In the context of potential prejudice, Simon Brown LJ recorded his concern that the courts should not speak: ‘with two voices, one used to dismiss criminal appeals with the Court roundly rejecting any suggestion that prejudice resulted from media publications, the other holding comparable publications to be in contempt, the Courts on these occasions expressing grave doubts as to the jury’s ability to forget or put aside what they had heard or read. I am certainly not saying that in respect of one and the same publication there cannot be both a contempt . . and a safe conviction. Plainly there can, most obviously perhaps in cases where the trial has had to be moved or delayed to minimise the prejudice occasioned by some publication. But generally speaking it seems to me that unless a publication materially affects the course of the trial in that kind of way, or requires directions from the court well beyond those ordinarily required and routinely given to juries to focus their attention on evidence called before them . . , or creates at the very least a seriously arguable ground for an appeal on the basis of prejudice, it is unlikely to be vulnerable to contempt proceedings under the strict liability rule.’


Simon Brown LJ, Garland J


[1997] EWHC Admin 624, [1998] 1 Cr AR 308




Contempt of Court Act 1981 2(2)


England and Wales


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 Lonrho Plc HL 1989
A jury trial procedure for contempt would never be appropriate: ‘If the trial is to be by jury, the possibility of prejudice by advance publicity directed to an issue which the jury will have to decide is obvious. The possibility that a professional . .
CitedAttorney-General v Times Newspapers Ltd and Others CA 12-Feb-1983
The Attorney General brought contempt proceedings against five newspapers who had wriitten about two entries made to Buckingham Palace by Michael Fagan. Amongst the newspapers found guilty of contempt was The Sunday Times.
Held: The newspapers . .

Cited by:

CitedAttorney-General v Birmingham Post and Mail Ltd QBD 31-Aug-1998
The questions asked of a court when staying a criminal trial because of newspaper reporting, and when assessing a contempt of court, are different, and the stay of a trial need have no implication that a contempt has been committed. The strict . .
CitedHM Attorney General v MGN Ltd and Another Admn 29-Jul-2011
The police arrested a man on suspicion of the murder of a young woman. He was later released and exonerated, and a second man arrested and later convicted. Whilst the first was in custody the two defendant newspapers, the Daily Mirror and the Sun . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Contempt of Court, Media

Updated: 26 May 2022; Ref: scu.137569