Law Report: Practice guidance on committal cases: DPP v Channel 4 Television Co Ltd; AG v Mantoura (Practice Guidance). Queen's Bench Divisional Court (Lord Justice Woolf and Mr Justice Pill), 31 July 1992

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The Queen's Bench Divisional Court was a more appropriate forum than the Crown Court to hear committal proceedings for an alleged contempt consisting of disobedience of an order of the court or an undertaking given in connection with criminal proceedings in the Crown Court.

In a separate statement, handed down afterwards, the Divisional Court gave guidance on questions of jurisdiction and forum raised in two contempt cases in which it had just given judgment.

In the first case the Director of Public Prosecutions had applied for fines or writs of sequestration against Channel 4 and Box Productions Ltd for breach of an order by Judge Clarkson QC at Middlesex Crown Court on 31 October 1991, under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989, requiring them to disclose to the police information obtained when making a television documentary (see the Independent, 5 August 1992).

In the second case (on right) the Attorney General had applied for Mr Jack Mantoura to be committed to prison or fined for breaching an undertaking given to Judge Rivlin QC at Southwark Crown Court to pay pounds 25,000 compensation to the victim of a fraud committed by his son.

LORD JUSTICE WOOLF said the Crown Court, under section 45(4) of the Supreme Court Act 1981, had 'the like powers, rights, privileges and authority of the High Court' in relation to contempt.

The High Court's power to make an order on its own motion against a person guilty of contempt was expressly preserved by Order 52, rule 5 of the Rules of the Supreme Court.

However, Order 52, rule 1(2) provided that: 'Where contempt of court (a) is committed in connection with . . . (ii) criminal proceedings, except where the contempt was committed in the face of the court or consisted of disobedience to an order of the court or breach of an undertaking to the court . . . then an order of committal may be made only by a Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division.'

It was accepted that since both these applications fell within the exception to Order 52, rule 1(2)(a)(ii), they were not ones where a committal order could be made only by a Divisional Court. Both the Crown Court and Divisional Court had jurisdiction to deal with them. The problem was which was the appropriate forum.

In his Lordship's judgment, the Channel 4 case exemplified the type of application which should invariably be heard by the Divisional Court.

The Mantoura case, although less sensitive, was on its facts also well suited to disposal by the Divisional Court.

If, however, an application was dealt with in the Crown Court, it was important to recognise the need for justice to be seen to be done.

The judge should not appear to be a prosecutor acting in his own cause.

A judge should only act of his own motion if: (a) the contempt was clear; (b) it affected a trial in progress or about to start; (c) it was urgent and imperative to act at once to prevent justice being obstructed or undermined and to preserve the integrity of the trial; and (d) no other procedure would meet the ends of justice.

However, where a contempt occurred in the Crown Court, the judge need not appear in the position of prosecutor: an application could be made by the DPP through the CPS, or by another Crown Court judge.