News of the World face libel case contempt claim

A High Court judge has referred the News of the World to the Attorney General over its coverage of the libel trial in which model Katie Price is being sued for defamation by her former husband, Australian singer Peter Andre.

It is highly unusual for newspaper to face claims for contempt of court in libel cases (which are civil actions), contempt more usually applies in criminal cases. However, because libel trials can be heard before juries – newspapers can still fall foul of rules against prejudicial reporting.

Mr Justice Tugendhat decided on Friday to refer the newspaper’s publisher, News Group Newspapers, over a story about the libel case which appeared in the News of the World on 3 October, just a few days before the trial was due to start.

The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC, will have to consider whether what the News of the World published created “a substantial risk that the course of justice in the proceedings in question will be seriously impeded or prejudiced”.

Mr Justice Tugendhat made the order at a hearing in the High Court on Friday after being told by barrister Anthony Hudson, for News Group Newspapers, that it did not intend or foresee that the story would cause any prejudice to the trial.

Hudson told the judge: “They wish to apologise for any disruption or inconvenience caused by the publication of the article.”

He reportedly apologised a total of seven times during the hearing.

The News of the World story, published on 3 October, said that the libel trial would lay bare “Explosive details of the real reasons” for the couple’s divorce, and quoted “a pal” as saying: “It’s going to get very messy and very personal.”

Andre is suing Price for libel and slander.

The trial, which was to have started last week, has been postponed until next year for reasons unrelated to the newspaper’s coverage.

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