Contempt of court charges have been brought upon the publishers of the Sun and the Daily Mirror because of the way the tabloids reported on the arrest of Chris Jefferies, the landlord of murdered landscape architect Joanna Yates.
Contempt of court proceedings are rarely brought against newspapers, but are used when reports allegedly prejudice the outcome of a trial. Even more unusual is the fact that the action has been taken in defence of an individual who has not been charged.
Jefferies was the subject of intense media speculation when he was questioned by police for two days, a few days after Yeates’s body was discovered on Christmas Day last year. Attorney general Dominic Grieve, who is bringing the case to court, warned newspapers to be careful in their reporting at the time, though he was powerless to influence a whirlwind of conjecture on Twitter.
“We need to avoid a situation where trials cannot take place or are prejudiced as a result of irrelevant or improper material being published, whether in print form or on the internet, in such a way that a trial becomes impossible,” Grieve said at the time.
He added: “I don’t want to comment on the precise coverage today, but I think it’s important to understand that the contempt of court rules are there to protect the rule of law and the fair trial process, and they require newspapers, and indeed anyone who is covering material, to do that in a way that doesn’t prejudice the possibility of a fair trial taking place at a later date.”
If found guilty, the newspapers could be fined or individual reporters could be imprisoned.