The MAN: Brand and the media

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The MAN: Brand and the media

On the 22 September 2023, the Attorney General issued a “Media Advisory Notice” (the MAN) following the Channel 4 Dispatches broadcast of “Russell Brand: In Plain Sight: Dispatches” that aired on 16 September 2023. The MAN advised that the AG’s office was monitoring the media coverage of the Brand allegations (which are firmly denied by Mr Brand) and warned of the risk of contempt of court in publishing “any material where there is a risk that it could prejudice any potential criminal investigations or prosecutions”. The MAN was a warning to editors, publishers and social media users. 

Impress (the Independent Monitor for the Press) wrote to the AG asking for an explanation about why the AG took the rare decision to issue the MAN, in circumstances where there were no known active criminal proceedings (a requirement to be held in contempt of court). Impress raised a concern as to the potentially “chilling effect” upon the freedom of the Press and the ability of the Press to investigate and report on allegations of serious crimes.

It is not known whether the AG has responded to Impress’ communication.

In Part 1 of this blog we explain the law around contempt of court, and in Part 2, the risks of a civil claims by speculating online. 

What is a contempt of court?

Under the Contempt of Court Act 1981, it is contempt to publish material that creates a substantial risk of serious prejudice or an impediment to active legal proceedings. A criminal case becomes “active” where a person is arrested, an arrest warrant issued, a summons issued or a person is charged (according to Guidance of the CPS). Under the CCA1981, the offence is one of strict liability. This means that you do not need to intend to substantially interfere or prejudice the active legal proceedings, if that is the effect. 

At common law, a contempt may be committed where proceedings are pending or imminent (but they might not be active under the CCA1981), and where there is actual intent to interfere with the administration of justice in those proceedings.

Whilst concern has been raised about the MAN issued by the AG, those commenting on allegations of misconduct or live criminal proceedings, whether the mainstream Press or social media users, should be alive to the fact that doing so is not without risk.

In Part 2 of this blog, we look at what are the risks of a civil claim that arise from commenting online.

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