On May 10, 2021, Tim Crosland, unregistered barrister and director of the legal charity Plan B, was convicted of criminal contempt of court by a three judge panel of the UK Supreme Court. He was ordered to pay a fine of £5000 as well as the costs of the Office of the Attorney General of the UK.
The Attorney General's office made the decision to prosecute Crosland for criminal contempt of court following Crosland's widely publicized decision to breach a Supreme Court embargo and reveal the outcome of the judgment in the case of Plan B v. Secretary of State for Transport twenty four hours before it was due to be handed down by the Court. Crosland was given advance access to the judgment through a procedure which allows the parties in a Supreme Court case to comment on any errors of fact or law in Supreme Court judgments. Crosland argued that there was an error of fact regarding the Secretary of State's assessment of the potential impacts of a new third runway at Heathrow. Not only had the Secretary of State made the decision with reference to an outdated 2 degree warming scenario rather than the 1.5 degree scenario adopted as the ultimate goal of the Paris Agreement, but, according to Crosland's submission, the Secretary had subsequently misled parliament and the public about doing so.
Crosland raised concerns with the Court prior to making the decision to break the embargo in protest of the Plan B v. Secretary of State for Transport judgment. He argued that the Court's unsatisfactory response left him with no option but to breach the embargo in order to publicize and protest the Secretary of State's wrongdoing. During the contempt proceedings, he argued that the disclosure should not be treated as contempt because his decision was a necessary and proportionate response in light of the climate crisis and the huge loss of life that would be incurred by exceeding the 1.5 degree temperature limit.
At an appeal hearing on October 18, 2021, Tim Crosland argued that the Supreme Court judges had disregarded his justifications to proceed to the leak, put in doubt their independence and impartiality, and qualified the fine as "arbitrary and unjust." The Attorney General contended that the European Convention on Human Rights' article 10 did not encompass the right "to be listened or heeded," and that Crosland could not jurisdictionally appeal from and to the Supreme Court. His appeal was heard by the only five supreme court justices who were not involved in either the original contempt hearing or the Heathrow ruling.
On December 20, 2021, the Supreme Court rejected Crosland's appeal and concluded he could have expressed his views after the judgment was made public. The justices noted that they saw no persuasive evidence that Crosland would not have been able to get his message across if he had complied with the embargo and refrained from discussing the outcome of the Heathrow appeal and his criticisms of the judgment until after it had been handed down. In a separate ruling, Lady Arden highlighted that Crosland’s conduct was “aggravated” by the fact that he is a qualified barrister and therefore would have been “particularly aware of the seriousness of not complying with the court’s directions.” She added: “A barrister plays an essential role in the administration of justice. He owes duties to the court.”