photo of woman standing near glass wall

Fans of Father Ted will be familiar with a big red button accompanied by a “Do NOT Press” sign.  

The Supreme Court in London recently contemplated the appropriate penalty for the deliberate pressing of a button in a case of contempt of court.  

Background

Mr Crosland (the Respondent) is an unregistered barrister and Director of the climate change charity Plan B which was a party to the judicial review relating to Heathrow’s third runway. As such, he had sight of the Supreme Court’s judgement the day before it was made public.

Tomorrow, 16 December, the Supreme Court will publish its judgement on Heathrow expansion. I have taken the decision to break the embargo on that decision as an act of civil disobedience. This will be treated as a “contempt of court” and I am ready to face the consequences. I have no choice but to protest the deep immorality of the Court’s ruling. 

I have been a lawyer for 25 years and a legal adviser to government agencies. I was a Deputy Director at the Serious Organised Crime Agency. I have deep respect for the rule of law and the vital role of the judicial system in holding power to account. That is why it is a duty to protest a decision that so gravely betrays that purpose. 

The Respondent shared the embargoed judgement with this press release and on social media. The Attorney General sought to have him committed (to prison) for contempt of court. 

Judgment

It was found by the Supreme Court that Mr Crosland was responsible for the disclosure and was aware of the embargo. His published statement showed that he was in no doubt that his conduct would likely be treated as a contempt of court.  

Rejecting Mr Crosland’s contention that his actions were proportionate to protect the public from global warming, and his defences of necessity and duress, the Supreme Court held that his actions constituted criminal contempt.  

We also take into account that the respondent is of positive good character. In these circumstances, we propose to deal with this matter by the imposition of a fine. In coming to a conclusion as to the appropriate level of fine, we have taken account of the fact that the respondent faces disciplinary proceedings before his professional body. We have also taken account of what the respondent has told us about his income. We therefore impose a fine of £5,000.

There was no such thing as a justifiable contempt of court.

Comment

Fr Dougal pressed the red button, albeit inadvertently. The intent was immaterial; the outcome was the same.

In this case, Mr Crosland pressed the send button and there was no doubt as to his intent. The self-martyrdom of incarceration was, however, denied him.  

Whether a third runway will ever materialise post-pandemic is, however, another matter. 

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By Paul Sullivan FRSA

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