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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

08 APR 2005

CONTEMPT OF COURT: Her Majesty's Attorney-General v Pelling [2005] EWHC 414 (Admin)

(Queens Bench Division; Laws LJ and Pitchford J; 8 April 2005) [2006] 1 FLR 93

The Attorney General applied for an order of committal or other appropriate penalty in respect of an alleged criminal contempt of court by the defendant, in publishing in a journal and on the internet a judgment given in private in proceedings under the Children Act 1989 in relation to the defendants son. The Attorney General sought a direction that none of the Children Act 1989 judgment, nor the website address of where it had been published, should be published in the course of argument or otherwise in open court, as so to do would enable him to use the case as a platform on which to publish the proceedings and thus stultify earlier decisions requiring the judgment to remain confidential. The court held that the defendant was guilty of contempt. It has never been the practice for a judge faced with an allegation of bias to adjourn the case for another judge to determine that matter and such an approach would be injurious to the doing of justice. There was no substance to the defendant's complaint of bias and it would be dismissed. There is no automatic right in a defendant to cross-examine the Attorney General's deponents. The court has discretion so to allow, and would do so if justice required it, and there were any relevant issue of fact that was disputed by the defendant or whose elucidation by cross-examination might assist the defendant's case. The Attorney General's application regarding the prior judgment was the least that was necessary to safeguard the integrity of the earlier decisions made to keep that judgment confidential, including the decision by the Court of Appeal in Re PB (A Minor) (Hearings in Open Court) [1996] 2 FLR 765. The Family Proceedings Rules 1991, r 4.23 does not inhibit the proper execution of the proceedings whereby the Attorney General sought to make the judgment an exhibit to the court and the Attorney General was not therefore himself in contempt under that rule. It is an affront to justice that a judgment or proceedings should be publicised which, in the interests of the child, the court has advisedly determined should be kept private: Scott (Otherwise Morgan) and Another v Scott [1913] AC 417, at 437 and Re F (Otherwise A) (A Minor) (Publication of Information) [1977] Fam 58 followed. The amendments made to the Administration of Justice Act 1960, s 12(1)(a) by the Children Act 1989 merely assimilated the new Children Act 1989 jurisdiction with its predecessors for the purpose of contempt and did not create new categories of contempt.

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