Contempt of court decision not reviewable

LAW REPORT v 3 August 1995

Regina v Attorney General, ex parte Taylor and another; Queen's Bench Divisional Court (Lord Justice Stuart-Smith and Mr Justice Butterfield) 31 July 1995

The courts have no jurisdiction to review the Attorney General's decision not to bring proceedings for contempt of court.

The Divisional Court dismissed an application by the applicants, Michelle Ann Taylor and Lisa Jane Taylor, for judicial review of the Attorney General's decision that it was not appropriate to take proceedings for contempt of court under the Contempt of Court of Act 1981 arising out of newspaper coverage of the applicants' trial in 1992.

The court certified a point of law of general public importance: where the law officers, in the exercise of a statutory power which makes the pre- existing right of private prosecution dependent upon their consent, decide there was insufficient evidence to prosecute, is that decision reviewable on the application of the victim of the offence?

The applicants were convicted in 1992 of the murder of Alison Shaughnessy. The prosecution's case was that the first applicant, who had had a sexual relationship with the victim's husband before and after his marriage, was motivated by jealousy and the second applicant disliked the way her sister was treated. The trial attracted extensive media coverage, including the publication of a frozen still from a video of the Shaughnessys' wedding which made a peck on the cheek between the groom and first applicant look more than that, accompanied by headlines such as "Cheats' kiss".

The applicants' convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal in 1993 on the ground that non-disclosure of material evidence was a material irregularity which made their convictions unsafe and unsatisfactory and that the extensive press coverage precluded a fair retrial. The Court of Appeal referred the media coverage to the Attorney General to consider contempt of court proceedings.

The Solicitor General, in the Attorney General's absence, considered the newspaper coverage, took advice from specialist counsel and prosecuting counsel at the trial, and considered representations from the newspaper editors, and decided that publication of the photographs did not prejudice the applicants in any significant way and proceedings for contempt of court were unlikely to succeed and so no proceedings for contempt of court would be taken. The applicants' solicitors were told that detailed reasons for the decision would not be made public.

The applicants applied for judicial review of those decisions.

Geoffrey Robertson QC, Kate Markus and Robin Oppenheim (Stephens Innocent) for the applicant; Philip Havers QC and Stephen Richards (Treasury Solicitor) for the Attorney General.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith said that for many years the courts had taken the view that they would not review the exercise of the discretion of the Attorney General in respect of decisions taken in his public office. The House of Lords had said that if the Attorney General were to commit a serious error of judgment the remedy must lie in the political field. The cases pointed to the unique constitutional position of the Attorney General. That clearly established position could not be overridden.

Section 7 of the 1981 Act took away the right of citizens to move for committal for contempt so that contempt proceedings had to be brought by the Attorney General. Parliament must be taken to know the law as stated in the cases. If the Attorney General's decision was reviewable, Parliament would have said so. What had been said about the constitutional position of the Attorney General was not affected by changes brought about by judicial review. The source of the Attorney General's power was immaterial. The court had no jurisdiction to review the Attorney General's decision in this case.

Further it was impossible to say the Attorney General's decision was irrational. No criticism could be made of the decision not to give the reasons for the decision and the applicants now had detailed reasons.

Mr Justice Butterfield concurred.

Ying Hui Tan, Barrister

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map