NEWSPAPERS will have to do “something completely appalling” before future contempt prosecutions proceed following the Taylor sisters' failed High Court action, says a leading London media specialist.
Hammond Suddards solicitor Michael Mahony says of the unsuccessful action taken by Michelle and Lisa Taylor against several tabloid newspapers: “It will be very difficult for an individual to take action against the press now.”
He adds: “The person in the street is stuffed.”
But other lawyers have given resounding endorsements to the decision, igniting fresh debate over the powers of the Attorney General to approve or reject the instigation of contempt proceedings.
Last week's case stems from the 1992 conviction of the Taylor sisters, of south London, for murder. A year later their convictions were quashed by the Appeal Court because of material irregularities in their trial and prejudicial publicity.
The case was referred to the Attorney General to consider contempt proceedings against the newspapers responsible, but the option was rejected.
In the High Court the sisters sought to overturn the Attorney General's decision, but the court found the decision was not subject to judicial review and had not been irrational or unlawful.
Mahony says it is regrettable that the Attorney General is accountable only to Parliament and not to the judiciary in making such decisions.
Mishcon De Reya publishing specialist Anthony Julius agrees, but still supports the outcome of the Taylor case.
“I'm not in favour of criminal sanctions against newspapers. It is a dangerous step,” he says.
DJ Freeman media specialist Liz Hartley supports the ruling and rejects criticism of the Attorney General's powers.
“I think it was the right decision by the Attorney General…and if the Attorney General's decision had been irrational then I am not sure that a judicial review would have been rejected,” she says.
Legal heavyweights Lord Woolf, Peter Goldsmith QC and Professor Michael Zander were lined up for a forum on Lord Woolf's interim report on 'Access to Justice' hosted by London firm Silverman Sherliker. Held at the Law Society, the event was attended by judges and representatives of the top 500 UK quoted companies.
Back row l-r: Christopher Sherliker, Richard Gordon and Jonathan Silverman of Silverman Sherliker; front row l-r: Michael Zander, Lord Woolf, Peter Goldsmith QC.