The Attorney General, Contempt of Court and Political Bias

John Mcgarry

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Politicians appear increasingly willing to comment on active legal cases – in traditional or new media – in ways which may interfere with the administration of justice. For example, during the 2016 manslaughter trial of an NHS Trust and anaesthetist for the death of Frances Cappuccini, Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, tweeted Ms Cappuccini’s picture and wrote ‘Tragic case from which huge lessons must be learned’. The trial judge ordered Hunt to remove the tweet saying ‘in a very serious case, it could be regarded as a contempt of court’. Similarly, before the conclusion of Andy Coulson’s trial for conspiracy to cause misconduct in public office, David Cameron made a televised apology for employing him, saying that Coulson had given ‘false assurances’. The judge ‘expressed his dismay’ at the statement, and noted that ‘politicians from across the political spectrum’ had commented about Coulson during the trial. Cameron was previously criticised for saying he was a ‘massive fan’ of Nigella Lawson during the fraud trial of two of Lawson’s assistants. The trial judge instructed the jury to ignore Cameron’s comments calling them ‘regrettable’. When published, such comments may create ‘a substantial risk that the course of justice in ... proceedings … will be seriously impeded or prejudiced’, a contempt under the Contempt of Court Act 1981. Proceedings for such a contempt ‘shall not be instituted except by or with the consent of the Attorney General or on the motion of a court having jurisdiction to deal with it’. In this paper, I review the Attorney General’s role in cases where a contempt may be committed by a political colleague or opponent. I consider the rationale underlying the AG’s role in contempt cases, the legitimacy of his/her role in political cases, whether a charge of political bias would be inevitable and possible alternatives.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventSocio-Legal Studies Association (SLSA) Annual Conference - Newcastle University, Newcastle, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Apr 20177 Apr 2017


ConferenceSocio-Legal Studies Association (SLSA) Annual Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Contempt of Court
  • Attorney General
  • Political bias


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