A reporting restriction order which had prevented the media from reporting the conviction of Premiership footballer Joey Barton was lifted following representations by a barrister representing the publisher of The Sun newspaper.
Barton pleaded guilty in April to assault causing actual bodily harm and affray following an incident outside a McDonald’s restaurant in Liverpool city centre during the early hours of December 27 last year.
At the time he was on bail in relation to two other charges – one of causing criminal damage of a taxi, and one for allegedly assaulting former Manchester City team-mate Ousmane Dabo at the club’s training ground.
Barton denies both offences. The trial of the criminal damage charge is scheduled to take place at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court on May 39, while the assault trial is due to take place at Manchester Crown Court a month later.
At the hearing in April Judge Henry Globe QC, the Recorder of Liverpool, made a reporting postponement order under Section 4 (2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.
On Tuesday, when Barton appeared at Liverpool Crown Court to be sentenced for the assault and affray charges, his counsel, Stuart Driver, asked for the reporting ban to be extended until after the other trials had finished.
Reporting of this case would be likely to cause a risk of prejudice to the administration of justice, he told Judge globe.
The magistrates who would deal with the criminal damage charge would be “drawn from a pool of magistrates in Liverpool who have a healthy interest in media stories about law and order” while the jurors at the assault trial would be drawn from the people of Manchester “who have a healthy interest in the goings on at football clubs”, said Mr Driver.
“All will have heard of the name Joey Barton.
“Today’s hearing will hear matters which give a bad impression of Joey Barton and his character. That may not be a false impression but it is an inadmissible impression.”
But the court heard that the judge who is to preside over the trial at Manchester Crown Court ruled last Friday that the prosecution could show the jury closed-circuit television evidence of the December incident at the McDonald’s restaurant.
Driver said: “When that happens it will be subject to strict judicial control.
“This is a footballer and what footballers do is not merely confined to fact. For every factual report there is likely to be a dozen character pieces and columns which go beyond that which will be heard in the Manchester trial.”
Barrister Adam Wolanski, appearing for News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun and the News of the World, said: “The fact is the information about this conviction will go before the jury in Manchester in any event and that adds a certain un-reality to the banning order.”
He went on: “There is a vast amount of media interest in and publications about this individual, many of which involve allegations of violence and similar conduct.
“This man is firmly in the public mind and it would be quite unrealistic to suppose the Liverpool magistrates and the potential jurors of Manchester had not known he had been in trouble.
“If anything, it may be prejudicial for the magistrates not to know he has pleaded guilty to this offence at the first opportunity.”
Driver argued that a fair trial was the primary issue, adding: “It is important for the press to exercise sensible reporting of this case because the facts of this case feel similar to the case before Manchester.”
Judge Globe said he had made the Section 4 order before he knew that the evidence of the McDonald’s incident would be shown to the Manchester jury.
The two outstanding allegations were “distinct … and must be heard on their own merit”, he said, adding: “In the case of Liverpool magistrates I am not satisfied that the risk of prejudice is sufficient to displace the public interest in this case.
“Neither am I satisfied in relation to the Crown Court that publicity of these proceedings would create a substantial risk of prejudice.
“In light of the interests of open justice, I do not extend this order today.”
Judge Globe jailed Barton for four months.
The following day The Sun led on the story, calling in a front page story for Barton to be banned from British football.