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Law Report: No publication of jury room secrets: H M Attorney-General v Associated Newspapers Ltd and others - House of Lords (Lord Keith of Kinkel, Lord Bridge of Harwich, Lord Goff of Chieveley, Lord Lowry and Lord Lloyd), 3 February 1994

The prohibition, under section 8 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, on the disclosure of the statements, opinions and arguments of jurors during their deliberations in legal proceedings, applied not just to the jurors themselves, but to anyone who sought to publish or reveal such material.

The House of Lords dismissed an appeal by Associated Newspapers Ltd, publishers of the Mail on Sunday, Stewart Steven, its editor, and Clive Wolman, a journalist, against the decision of the Queen's Bench Divisional Court ((1993) 3 WLR 74; the Independent, 13 November 1992), on the application of the Attorney- General, that the appellants were in contempt of court under section 8 of the 1981 Act, in respect of an article published on 5 July 1992. They were fined pounds 30,000, pounds 20,000 and pounds 10,000 respectively and ordered to pay costs.

The offending article revealed the statements, opinions and arguments, during their deliberations, of some of the jurors in the year-long 'Blue Arrow' City fraud trial, Regina v NatWest Investment Bank and Others.

It gave some jurors' thoughts on the evidence, and the opinions of one juror that another showed a complete lack of understanding of the case, only agreeing with the verdict so he could go home. It related another juror's comments on the defendants and how his reluctance to believe in their guilt had been overcome, and how certain other jurors had been persuaded to change their minds during deliberations.

The journalist had been given the information by someone else who had initially approached the jurors and obtained the information from them on the basis that it would be used as research for a comparative study.

Under section 8(1) 'it is a contempt of court to obtain, disclose or solicit any particulars of statements made, opinions expressed, arguments advanced or votes cast by members of a jury in the course of their deliberations in any legal proceedings'.

David Pannick QC and Dinah Rose (Mishcon de Reya) for the appellants; Alan Moses QC and Philip Havers (CPS) for the respondent.

LORD LOWRY said the question was whether the word 'disclose' in s 8(1) referred exclusively to disclosure of information by a juror, or signified disclosure generally. The appellants argued that 'disclose' applied only to a revelation by a juror to another person, and not to subsequent publication in a newspaper.

The cardinal rule of interpretation was that words in a statute prima facie bore their plain and ordinary meaning. If that rule was applied without modification, then the appellants disclosed the relevant particulars.

There was no conflict or contrast between publication and disclosure. To disclose was to expose to view, make known or reveal, and in its ordinary meaning the word aptly described both the revelation by jurors of their deliberations and further disclosure of them by publication, provided always, and this would raise a question of fact, that the publication amounted to disclosure and not a mere republication of already known facts.

His Lordship agreed with judgment of the Queen's Bench Divisional Court, that there was no warrant to qualifying the meaning of the word 'disclose' by confining it to disclosure by the members of the jury.

Section 8, which was aimed at keeping the secrets of the jury room inviolate in the interests of justice, would be emasculated if it could be held that the widespread disclosure in this case did not infringe the section. By declaring such conduct to be a contempt, Parliament recognised the exceptional discretion vested in a court to protect the process of justice and its ability to reflect the varying shades of infringement.

The appeal should be dismissed and the fines upheld.


Paul Magrath, Barrister