References:  EWCA Crim 1271
Coram: Lord Woolf CJ, Aikens and Fulford JJ
Ratio: The appellant was the brother of the defendant in a major drugs trial, which involved a protected witness. He took a photograph in the canteen area, and another from the public gallery facing towards the witness box, witness and bench. The quality was too low for the witness to be identified. The third photograph showed the dock, the defendant and a prison officer. The appellant denied any sinister intent; it had been done ‘in the spirit of fun’. This was dealt with by the trial judge as criminal contempt. He appealed against a sentence of 12 months imprisonment.
Held: The court had been entitled to take the view it had. Aikens J referred to the the growing and disturbing problems created by those who take illegal photographs during criminal proceedings.
Each photograph was its own contempt, and though there was no actual disruption to the trial, or evidence that any juror had been frightened, there were risks that that could have happened, and that the layout of the dock (the only secure one in Merseyside) and court could become known to the public at large.
Aikens J, set out factors in sentencing for contempt of court through taking illegal photographs with a mobile phone during a criminal trial, enumerating the risks which illegal photography could create: intimidation of juries and witnesses, even of lawyers or judges. There could be risks to police or dock officers. Such photographs could easily be passed on to others for misuse, or could come into the hands of the wrong person through the ease of publication. Relevant factors for sentencing included the potential for misuse and disruption. The potential for considerable disruption was clear. It might be that in some cases, prison would not be appropriate, such as ‘where a foreign tourist has inadvertently taken a photograph, perhaps in ignorance of English law’. The implication is that that would still be a contempt, and ‘inadvertently’ must mean ‘deliberately but not knowing of the law.’
Contempt had been made out even though there was no actual disruption to the trial or further risk of prejudice, and even though it did not appear that the judge had found that the appellant had had any intention to interfere with the administration of justice, though the photographs were obviously taken deliberately. Nor had s.41 of the CJA 1925 prevented illegal photography being a contempt of court. The illegal photography was dealt with as a contempt in the face of the court, though it had not actually disrupted court proceedings. It followed that it could be dealt with on application for committal as well. The judgment acknowledged that the risks to the due administration of justice were made graver by the ease with which photographs could be taken covertly on a mobile phone and widely disseminated privately or publicly, even from the phone itself.
Statutes: Criminal Justice Act 1925 41
Jurisdiction: England and Wales
This case is cited by:
- Cited – HM Solicitor General v Cox and Another QBD (Bailii,  EWHC 1241 (QB))
Applications for committal of the defendants for having taken photographs of court proceedings when their friend was being sentenced for murder and publishing them on Facebook. The SG urged that the offences had aggravating features taking the . .