Contempt review after 'trial by media'

Roger Pearson looks ahead

High Court moves are imminent which could tighten contempt procedures.

Leave is requested to seek judicial review of the Attorney General's decision not to take action for contempt against a number of national newspapers following sensational coverage of the trial of the Taylor sisters.

The sisters, Michelle and Lisa, were convicted of killing Alison Shaughnessy, the wife of a man one of them was alleged to have had a relationship with. Michelle received a life sentence and Lisa was ordered to be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure. Both were later freed after successful appeals.

At the Court of Appeal the possibility of a re-trial was considered, but the court took the view that reporting of the original trial was such that the girls could not receive a fair re-trial.

Video stills showing Michelle kissing the husband of the murdered woman at his wedding were published during the trial with stories under emotive headlines such as 'Cheats kiss', 'Judas kiss', and 'Till death us do part'.

The court also ordered that the newspaper reports in question should be sent to the Attorney General to consider whether action for contempt was appropriate.

He took no action, but a legal team on behalf of the women, including Mark Stephens of Stephens Innocent, Geoffrey Robertson QC and Robin Oppenheim, headed for the High Court to seek leave to challenge the Attorney General's decision.

They are arguing that press coverage of the trial showed a disturbing trend towards trial by the media.