High Court rules defence of another a defence to contempt of court

Friday 22 June 2018

Owen Greenhall of Garden Court Chambers acted for the defendant, instructed by Ben Manovitch of Lloyds PR Solicitors.

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In a significant judgment, Males J dismissed contempt of court proceedings against a protestor on the basis that he acted in defence of another. The ruling is the first time such a defence has been accepted by the High Court in committal proceedings.

Mr Paul Brooke was demonstrating against the cutting down of trees by Sheffield Council when he saw security staff dragging a female protestor to the ground. He intervened and entered an exclusion zone in apparent breach of an injunction. Presenting his defence, Owen Greenhall argued that he was not in contempt of court because he acted in defence of another and in the prevention of crime.

The Court found that Mr Brooke honestly believed the other protestor was under attack. Moreover, Males J ruled that his decision, made in the heat of the moment, to try and stop the assault himself was reasonable, even though there were police officers at the scene.  The judge was critical of force used by security staff against Mr Brooke.

Dismissing arguments by Sheffield Council that Mr Brooke’s aims only went to mitigation in the event that a contempt was proven, Males J ruled: “A finding of contempt, even if no sanction is necessary, is itself a serious matter. A principled answer must therefore be given. In principle, I would hold that defence of another is capable of providing a defence to an application to commit for contempt”.

The High Court further held that in committal proceedings the court should approach self-defence/defence of another on the basis of the test in criminal rather than civil law. This provides the maximum level of protection to defendants facing the sanction of imprisonment. It reflects the fact that: “the law of contempt…. represents a vital public interest and invokes the full power of the state to enforce that interest.”

The case has been reported in the media, including in the BBC, the Guardian and in the Yorkshire Post

The judgment is available here: Sheffield City Council v Paul Brooke [2018] EWHC 1540 (QB)

Owen Greenhall is a member of the Garden Court crime and civil liberties teams. He was instructed by Ben Manovitch of Lloyds PR Solicitors.

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