Broadcaster ITV Central was fined £25,000 for contempt of court after it ran a news item about a trial which was about to start – and included details of a defendant’s previous conviction for murder.
The fine, imposed by the Divisional Court of the Administrative Court, comes on top of £37,014 in third party costs arising from the error which the broadcaster had earlier agreed to pay.
The court – Lord Justice Pill, sitting with Mr Justice King – heard that ITV Central broadcast a 23-second long report on a regional television programme which referred to a trial involving five men which was due to start later that day. The report said that one of the accused had been convicted of murder and was serving a jail sentence.
The item was repeated on two late morning news bulletins.
The trial judge postponed the proceedings after details of the report were drawn to his attention.
All five men were subsequently convicted when their trial finally went ahead.
The court heard yesterday that ITV Central had offered a full and unreserved apology at the earliest opportunity, and offered to pay the third party costs incurred through the postponement of the trial before it knew how much those costs would be. The figure was subsequently agreed at £37,014.
The Attorney General applied for appropriate orders against ITV Central, arguing that the broadcast was a clear breach of the strict liability rule under section 2 (2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.
ITV Central told the court that it accepted that a basic and serious aberrational error occurred through publication of the report, but argued in mitigation that regard should be had to the fact that the error of revealing an accused’s antecedents before trial was so “blindingly obvious” that it had not anticipated that a trained journalist preparing a news report for broadcast would make such an error.
It also submitted that it had subsequently put in place editorial safeguards to prevent such a mistake happening again, and that its broadcast had not been designed to create sensationalism or to gain an “exclusive”.
The court held that: “The publication in question was a serious and basic error which created a real risk that the broadcast might be heard by members of the jury due to hear the trial.
“A charge of murder was serious, as was a conviction for murder and the ‘simplicity. of the error could not detract from the seriousness of the publication.
“ITV Central should have known that where a person was convicted of murder and was due to be tried on another charge of murder, his previous conviction should not be disclosed. The contempt had resulted in the disturbance of the court, delays and distress to third parties.”