Steen v Her Majesty’s Attorney General; Attorney-General v Punch Ltd and Another: CA 23 Mar 2001

The appellant appealed against a finding of contempt of court at common law as regards a report in Punch published when he had been its editor.
Held: The appeal succeeded. The A-G had failed to establish the mens rea of contempt in the appellant.
The issue boiled down to whether an injunction could bind a third party. Lord Phillips MR summarised the principles: ‘a) Intentional interference with the manner which a judge is conducting a trial can amount to a contempt of court.
b) When in the course of a trial a judge makes an order with the purpose of furthering some aspect of the conduct of the trial, a third party who, with knowledge of that purpose, intentionally acts in such a way as to defeat that purpose can be in contempt of court.
c) When a plaintiff brings an action to preserve an alleged right of confidentiality in information and the court makes an order that the information is not to be published pending trial, the purpose of the order is to protect the confidentiality of the information pending trial. A third party who, with knowledge of the order, publishes the information and thereby destroys its confidentiality will commit a contempt of court. The contempt is committed not because the third party is in breach of the order – the order does not bind the third party. The contempt is committed because the purpose of the judge in making the order is intentionally frustrated with the consequence that the conduct of the trial is disrupted.’


Lord Phillips MR, Simon Brown, Longmore LJJ


Times 30-Mar-2001, Gazette 24-May-2001, [2001] EWCA Civ 403, [2001] EMLR 24, [2001] 2 All ER 655, [2001] QB 1028, [2001] 2 WLR 1713




England and Wales


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 . .
CitedLondon Borough of Harrow v Johnstone HL 13-Mar-1997
A possession action was lawful against a remaining joint tenant after a notice to terminate the tenancy had been given by the other tenant. An order against interference with possession of property did not extend to matters of the duration of the . .
CitedLord Wellesley v The Earl Of Mornington 5-May-1848
By the terms of an injunction A, B. was restrained, but it did not extend to his servants and agents. A motion to commit his agent CD for breach of the injunction.
Held: Irregular ; but, semble, that he might be proceeded against for ‘a . .
CitedAttorney-General v Newspaper Publishing plc CA 1987
The court explained the common law basis of the law of contempt of court. Lloyd LJ said: ‘Since the test of contempt is not a breach of the order but interference with the administration of justice, it follows that at common law a contempt may be . .
CitedAttorney-General v Guardian Newspapers Ltd (No 2) (‘Spycatcher’) HL 13-Oct-1988
Loss of Confidentiality Protection – public domain
A retired secret service employee sought to publish his memoirs from Australia. The British government sought to restrain publication there, and the defendants sought to report those proceedings, which would involve publication of the allegations . .
CitedSeaward v Paterson CA 16-Feb-1897
The plaintiff had obtained a permanent injunction restraining the defendant, his tenant, from interfering with the quiet enjoyment of the plaintiff and other tenants living in the vicinity of the demised premises. The plaintiff successfully moved to . .
CitedZ Ltd v A-Z and AA-LL CA 1982
The plaintiffs, an overseas company with an office in London had been defrauded here. They sought and obtained Mareva injunctions against defendants and against six clearing banks. The banks sought clarification of their duties.
Held: The . .

Cited by:

Appeal fromHer Majesty’s Attorney General v Punch Limited and another HL 12-Dec-2002
A former MI5 agent, Mr Shayler, was to be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act, and an injunction against publication was granted. The respondent published further works by Mr Shayler, and now appealed a finding that it had acted in contempt of . .
CitedJockey Club v Buffham QBD 13-Sep-2002
A court had issued a final order with an injunction against the respondent against revealing matters becoming known to him during his employment by the claimant. The BBC sought a variation to allow it to broadcast material based upon that documents . .
CitedCala Homes (South) Ltd, Regina (on The Application of) v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Another CA 27-May-2011
The respondent had circularised local authorities to say that when assessing future local housing needs a proper material consideration was the proposed Localism Bill which would lead to the replacement of ‘Regional Spatial Strategies’ on which such . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Contempt of Court, Media

Updated: 23 March 2022; Ref: scu.135526