Attorney General v British Broadcasting Corporation ; Same v Hat Trick Productions Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtHouse of Lords
Judgment Date12 Jun 1996

Queen's Bench Divisional Court

Before Lord Justice Auld and Mr Justice Sachs

British Broadcasting Corporation Same v Hat Trick Productions Ltd

Contempt of court - humour no defence

Humour no shield for contempt

That words were spoken on a humorous and irreverent television programme did not diminish the risk of serious prejudice to those involved in pending criminal proceedings.

The Queen's Bench Divisional Court so stated when allowing the motion of the Attorney-General for committal of the British Broadcasting Corporation and Hat Trick Productions Ltd for contempt of court arising out of the BBC's television broadcast of a programme Have I Got News For You, produced by Hat Trick. The programme was broadcast on April 29, 1994 and repeated the following day. Each was fined £10,000.

Mr Philip Havers, QC, for the Attorney-General; Mr Andrew Caldecott, QC, for the BBC and Hat Trick.

LORD JUSTICE AULD said that the Attorney-General's case was that the programme was in contempt of court because it created a substantial risk of serious prejudice to the pending criminal trial of Kevin and Ian Maxwell and others at the Central Criminal Court on charges of alleged fraud, and thereby breached the strict liability rule in sections 1 and 2 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

The broadcasts were six months before the trial on the programme which was a popular, humorous and irreverent quiz programme on current affairs. His Lordship said that although they were spoken in that context and could not be regarded as evidential in nature, they might well have been taken by some viewers as statements of someone "in the know".

At the very least they constituted a readily memorable encouragement to viewers to regard the Maxwell...

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