Breaching an Embargo on the Publication of a Judgment: A Criminal Contempt of Court? Her Majesty’s Attorney General v Crosland [2021] UKSC 15

Published date01 December 2021
Date01 December 2021
Subject MatterCase Notes
Breaching an Embargo on the
Publication of a Judgment: A
Criminal Contempt of Court? Her
Majestys Attorney General v Crosland
Neil Parpworth
Law, De Montfort University, UK
Supreme Court judgment, embargo on publication, disclosure, contempt of court, penalty
The present application was brought by the Attorney General. It concerned permission to pursue an appli-
cation for committal for contempt relating to the alleged breach of an embargo on the publication of the
judgment of the Supreme Court in R (Friends of the Earth Ltd) v Heathrow Airport Ltd [2020] UKSC 52.
The alleged breach had initially been referred to the Attorney General by the President of the Supreme
Court, Lord Reed.
The respondent was an unregistered barrister who had represented a charity, Plan B Earth, in the
Friends of the Earth proceedings. That case had concerned the lawfulness of the Airports National
Policy Statement (the ANPS), and an accompanying environmental report. The ANPS provided
the policy framework for the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport. On 9 Decembe r
2020, a copy of the courts draft judgment in the appeal had been circulated to the parties in accord-
ance with paragraphs 6.8.3 to 6.8.5 of Practice Direction 6. It was marked in conf‌idence.Itwas
made clear in the rubric on the title page of the draft that its recipients must take all reasonable
steps to preserve conf‌identiality, and that any breach of their obligations may amount to a contempt
of court. The conf‌idential nature of the draft had also been stressed in the covering email by which it
had been circulated.
Six days after the draft was received, and the day before the judgment was due to be handed down, the
respondent sent an email to the Press Association (and possibly other unknown persons) at 11.22 a.m. In
it, he disclosed the outcome of the appeal. His statement included the following words:
I have taken the decision to break the embargo on that decision as an act of civil disobedience. This will be
treated as contempt of courtand I am ready to face the consequences.
Later that morning (12.41 p.m., 15 December 2020), the respondent published a similar statement on
the Twitter account of Plan B Earth. In it, he proclaimed:
Corresponding author:
Neil Parpworth, Law, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK
Case Note
The Journal of Criminal Law
2021, Vol. 85(6) 466470
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00220183211038896

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