Papers will pay if they halt trials

Prejudicial reporting that causes a trial to collapse could land newspapers with a multi-million pound legal bill.

Provisions of the Court Act 2003 come into effect next month and will make newspapers liable for money wasted staging a retrial where reporting caused proceedings to be scrapped.

The most high-profile case of this in recent years was when the Sunday Mirror caused the assault trial of Leeds United footballers Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate to collapse in April 2001. The paper published an interview with the attack victim’s father while the jury was making its deliberations.

It was fined £75,000 and incurred costs of £54,000 for breaching the Contempt of Court Act. However, under the proposed new regime, it would have had to pay much of the estimated £1.1m cost of the trial being scrapped.

Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs Lord Falconer said on Wednesday: “The move fires a warning shot to anyone who risks causing criminal proceedings to collapse through serious misconduct such as witness intimidation, juror impropriety or prejudicial reporting.”

The most senior judge in England and Wales, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf, said: “This initiative will provide the courts with a new power that, in the appropriate cases, could be extremely valuable.

“Like many of the courts’ existing powers, it will need to be used with discretion to ensure it is only used to further the achievement of justice and not used in an indiscriminate manner.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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