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Assistant Deputy Coroner for Inner West London v Channel Four Television

Reference [2007] EWHC 2513 (QB); The Times, 11 Dec 2007
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Eady J

Date of Judgment 31 Oct 2007


Summary

Disclosure in aid of inferior tribunal – Coroner’s Court – CPR Part 34.4 – Protection of journalistic sources – s.10 Contempt of Court Act 1981 – Interests of justice


Facts

The Applicant was the Coroner charged with investigating the death of Diana Princess of Wales and Dodi Fayed in Paris on 31 August 1997. Channel Four (C4) broadcast a programme on 6 June 2007 which looked at the role of photographers in the accident in Paris which caused the death of the Princess of Wales and Dodi Fayed. The Coroner made an application under CPR 34.4 for a witness summons that C4 produce documents recording eye-witness accounts which he considered would shed light on the circumstances surrounding the deaths. C4 opposed the witness summons in certain respects, particularly in relation to certain documents the disclosure of which would be likely to identify confidential journalistic sources.


Issue

(1) The proper approach to CPR 34.4 in relation to an inquisitorial tribunal;

(2) Whether the Coroner had identified the documents with sufficient precision;

(3) Whether disclosure of the documents was necessary for the fair disposal of the inquest; and

(4) Whether it was in the interests of justice that documents which were likely to identify a confidential journalistic source should be disclosed to the Coroner.


Held

Allowing the application:

(1) CPR 34.4 had to be approached with care in relation to a Coroner’s Court because the inquisitorial jurisdiction was different from the adversarial process of normal civil litigation. Consistent with the duty of the Coroner fully to investigate the circumstances of the deaths the Court should not apply an unduly selective or narrow approach; the fullest analysis possible of the material was required.

(2) After refinement of the categories of material sought, C4 could be in no real doubt as to what it was required to produce.

(3) The disclosure was necessary given the importance of the Coronial Inquest.

(4) The balance between the protection of sources against the interests of justice came down in favour of making the Order. It was significant that, at least in the first instance, the disclosure would be made only to the Coroner. The Court was satisfied that the Coroner would be sensitive to the source issues.

No order for costs.


Comment

The application of CPR 34.4 to assist a Coroner’s Court is novel and the judgment highlights the different considerations that apply between the inquisitorial and adversarial process. In relation to protection of sources, media organisations are used to losing arguments on s.10 Contempt of Court Act 1981. The generous interpretation given to “in the interest of justice” in the authorities means that the threshold is in practice quite low. It is important, however, to have the argument and for the Court to adjudicate on the issue. Indeed, the fact that the Court made no order for costs must be seen as a small victory for Channel 4.


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Instructing Solicitors

Solicitor to the Inquest for the Applicant; Simons Muirhead & Burton for C4; and Barlow Lyde & Gilbert for The Ritz Hotel as an Interested Party (supporting the application)