Attorney-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 prejudice the due administration of justice; conduct is calculated to interfere with or prejudice the due administration of justice if there is a real risk, as opposed to a remote possibility, that interference or prejudice would result.
Lord Reid said: ‘I agree with your Lordships that the Attorney-General has a right to bring before the court any matter which he thinks may amount to contempt of court and which he considers should in the public interest be brought before the court. The party aggrieved has the right to bring before the court any matter which he alleges amounts to contempt but he has no duty to do so. So if the party aggrieved failed to take action either because of expense or because he thought it better not to do so, very serious contempt might escape punishment if the Attorney-General had no right to act. But the Attorney-General is not obliged to bring before the court every prima facie case of contempt reported to him. It is entirely for him to judge whether it is in the public interest that he should act.’
Lord Cross said: ‘It is easy enough to see that any publication which prejudges an issue in pending proceedings ought to be forbidden if there is any real risk that it may influence the tribunal . . But why, it may be said, should a publication be prohibited when there is no such risk? The reason is that one cannot deal with one particular publication in isolation. A publication prejudging an issue in pending litigation which is itself innocuous enough may provoke replies which are far from innocuous but which, as they are replies, it would seem unfair to restrain. So gradually the public would become habituated to, look forward to, and resent the absence of, preliminary discussions in the ‘media’ of any case which aroused widespread interest. An absolute rule, though it may seem to be unreasonable if one looks only to the particular case, is necessary in order to prevent a gradual slide towards trial by newspaper or television.’

Lord Cross, Lord Reid, Lord Simon of Glaisdale
[1973] 3 All ER 54, [1973] 3 WLR 298, [1974] AC 273
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedAttorney-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 . .
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 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 . .
CitedJones, Re (Alleged Contempt of Court) FD 21-Aug-2013
The Solicitor General sought the committal of the respondent for alleged contempt of court. There had been repeated litigation between the respondent and her former husband as to whether the children should live in Spain with the father or in Wales . .
CitedHM Attorney General v Yaxley-Lennon QBD 9-Jul-2019
Application by Her Majesty’s Attorney General for an order committing the respondent to prison for contempt of court. . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Media, Contempt of Court

Leading Case

Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.180689