Regina 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 disclosing the names in defiance of the trial judge’s direction. An act of contempt required an intention to do an act calculated to interfere with the due course of justice. The act here was a flagrant affront to the court’s authority. It would result in a reduced confidence of witnesses that they could give evidence wihout fear, and the contempt was made out.
Lord Widgery CJ set out the reasons for giving anonymity to blackmail complainants: ‘all of us concerned in the law know that for more years than any of us can remember it has been a commonplace in blackmail charges for the complainant to be allowed to give his evidence without disclosing his name. That is not out of any feelings of tenderness towards the victim of the blackmail, a man or woman very often who deserves no such consideration at all. The reason why the courts in the past have so often used this device in this type of blackmail case where the complainant has something to hide, is because there is a keen public interest in getting blackmailers convicted and sentenced, and experience shows that grave difficulty may be suffered in getting complainants to come forward unless they are given this kind of protection . . the Crown at this stage had presented a prima facie case of contempt . . because to my mind it is quite evident that if witnesses in blackmail actions are not adequately protected, this could affect the readiness of others to come forward in other cases.’
Even so the public should be admitted to a trial: ‘The great virtue of having the public in our courts is that discipline which the presence of the public imposes upon the court itself. When the court is full of interested members of the public, as indeed one can say it is today, it is bound to have the effect that everybody is more careful about what they do, everyone tries just that little bit harder and there is a disciplinary effect on the court which would be totally lacking if there were no critical members of the public or press present.
When one has an order for trial in camera, all the public and all the press are evicted at one fell swoop and the entire supervision by the public is gone. Where one has a hearing which is open, where the names of the witnesses are withheld, virtually all the desirable features of having the public present are to be seen. The only thing which is kept from their knowledge is the name of the witness.’

Widgery LCJ, Milmo Ackner LJJ
[1975] 1 All ER 142 DG, [1974] 3 WLR 801, [1975] QB 637
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 . .
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 . .
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, . .
CitedAMM v HXW QBD 7-Oct-2010
The claimant had sought and been granted an injunction to prevent the defendant publicising matters which had passed between them and which were he said private.
Held: The jurisdiction to grant such injunctions was now established. Publication . .
CitedAM v United Kingdom ECHR 2-Dec-1992
The applicant complained that at his trial in 1988 for the murder of two British soldiers in Befast, the judge had allowed the cameramen upon whose film evidence he had been convicted to be hidden from the view of the defendants. The court . .
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 . .
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 . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Contempt of Court, Media

Leading Case

Updated: 10 November 2021; Ref: scu.182814