A barrister who broke the embargo on publication of a Supreme Court judgment on the expansion of Heathrow Airport was today fined £5,000 after being found guilty of criminal contempt of court.
Tim Crosland, an unregistered barrister, appeared at the Royal Courts of Justice before Supreme Court justices Lord Lloyd Jones, Lord Hamblen and Lord Stephens in proceedings brought by the attorney general. This afternoon the court found Crosland 'in criminal contempt of court for deliberately disclosing the result of a Supreme Court appeal prior to hand down of the judgment'.
Crosland, who represented himself, said he ‘never believed’ he was breaking the law by leaking the judgment in favour of Heathrow, saying his action was ‘reasonable and proportionate’ to safeguard life. He said evidence that the Heathrow expansion would expose the public to ‘extreme danger’ had been deliverately suppressed. ‘The antidote to that suppression was the spotlight of publicity that would follow from breaking the embargo’ he said.
The attorney general, represented by Aidan Eardley of 5RB Barristers, said the breach was ‘serious’ and that the Supreme Court should take into account ‘the effect [the case] will have on other litigants who feel disappointed with case outcomes.’
Eardley argued that the leak sends the message ‘that if you feel strongly enough about a draft judgment you can breach the embargo’ and that ‘might lead to outcomes being leaked for reasons much less lofty’, such as insider trading or the removal of children from a jurisdiction.
In response, Crosland said: ‘We are not going to see an avalanche of people breaking embargoes…It’s not a realistic fear.’
In judgment, Lord Lloyd-Jones said it is ‘critical’ that courts can control their own proceedings, adding that there is ‘no such thing as a justifiable contempt of court’. However, in considering a penalty, the justice said that ‘greater clemency is expected to shown in cases of civil disobedience than in other cases’.
Before the hearing, Crosland said there is a ‘good chance I’ll face a short custodial sentence’ but said ‘two weeks in prison is a tiny price to pay to get the truth out of them’.
A costs order in favour of the attorney general was issued, but no figure was disclosed.
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