In the Media

Spectator to face contempt charge over Lawrence trial article

PUBLISHED May 9, 2012

Wednesday 09 May 2012 by John Hyde

The Crown Prosecution Service is to prosecute The Spectator magazine over an opinion column published during the Stephen Lawrence murder trial last year.

The notice to prosecute is the first since the CPS published guidelines that called for prosecutors to assess whether the public interest outweighed the overall criminality in cases affecting the media. Attorney general Dominic Grieve referred the article, by Rod Liddle (pictured), to the CPS in November to decide whether reporting restrictions in place at the time had been breached.

The article was published during the trial of Gary Dobson and David Norris, who were subsequently convicted of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Because of widespread media interest, an order under Section 82 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 prohibited certain assertions about the defendants during the course of the trial.

CPS London chief crown prosecutor Alison Saunders said today: 'Having applied the full code test in the Code for Crown Prosecutors, I have taken the decision that there is a realistic prospect of conviction. The attorney general has determined that it is in the public interest to proceed and he has given his consent to this prosecution.

The magazine's publisher will appear before City of Westminster Magistrates' Court on 7 June. The maximum penalty for the offence is a £5,000 fine.

Last month, director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer published interim guidelines on the approach prosecutors should take when assessing public interest in cases affecting the media. He said a prosecution should be less likely if the public interest outweighed the overall criminality.

Starmer said journalists should not be afforded special status, but the public interest served by their actions was a relevant factor in deciding whether to prosecute.