Unfair reporting in a murder investigation could deter witnesses from stepping forward or even jeopardise a future prosecution against someone else, the Lord Chief Justice has said.
Lord Judge found the Daily Mirror and the Sun newspapers guilty of contempt of court over articles concerning a suspect, Christopher Jefferies, arrested following the killing of Joanna Yeates. The articles were published at a time when Jefferies, later released without charge, was under arrest and proceedings against him were ‘active’ for the purposes of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.
Delivering judgment in Attorney-General v MGN Ltd, News Group Newspapers, Lord Judge said: “No one was to know that before very long he would be entirely exonerated. From the point of view of the defendants that was purely adventitious, and as we shall see, it is irrelevant to our decision.”
The Mirror and the Sun were fined £50,000 and £18,000, respectively.
Lord Judge said “reluctant witnesses would have been even more reluctant to come forward, and witnesses who might have been prepared to come forward may very well have assumed that anything helpful or supportive they might have said about Mr Jefferies could not be right”.
Later in his judgment, he said “One feature of this case, and the publicity surrounding it… would be the possible impact of adverse publicity directed at one individual, who in the end is not prosecuted, in the context of a later prosecution against someone else”.