Reporting restrictions – Court of Appeal overturns restriction on reporting of doctor’s trial

The Court of Appeal has overturned a reporting restriction which prevented the media from reporting a doctor’s fraud trial and has warned against imposing restrictions too easily.

Dr Sudip Sarker was on trial for fraud on the grounds that he had dishonestly exaggerated his professional experience in order to get a job as a consultant surgeon. Colleagues subsequently raised concerns about his competence as a bowel surgeon and his hospital trust carried out an investigation. After a review by the Royal College of Surgeons he was dismissed from the role. There was then a police investigation into the deaths of a number of his patients and this was reported in the media.

The investigations were not relevant to the matters the jury had to decide in the fraud trial, but the defendant’s barrister argued that online reports of the trial could include links to the previous investigations and this could influence the jury. The trial judge agreed and granted an order preventing all reporting of the trial and refused to lift it when challenged by the BBC.

The Court of Appeal then overturned the order emphasising that in this case accurate and contemporaneous reports of the trial were not prejudicial and that imposing a restriction was unnecessary and not the appropriate way to limit jury access to archive material.

In reality juries are regularly directed not to seek out additional information relating to a defendant and news organisations, well versed in contempt law, are careful about linking case reports to archive stories online. This decision reinforces that reporting restrictions must only be made in exceptional circumstances and is therefore a helpful decision for the media.