Beckham & Another v News Group Newspapers Ltd
Reference:  EWHC 2252 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Gray J
Date of judgment: 20 Oct 2005
Summary: Libel - Specific Disclosure - CPR Part 31.12 - Correct Test to be Applied
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Instructing Solicitors: Harbottle & Lewis for the Claimants; Farrer & Co for the Defendant
Both parties made applications for specific disclosure: the Defendant for specific disclosure of 8 categories of documents from the Claimants; and the Claimants for disclosure of interviews that the Defendant’s journalists had conducted with the Claimants’ former nanny, Abbie Gibson. The action, which is for libel, related to an article published in The News of the World in September 2004 which the Claimants contended meant, in broad terms, that for financial reasons they were cynically and hypocritically trying to convince the public that their failed marriage was perfect. The Defendant asserted that documents in each category they were seeking must exist and should be disclosed. The Claimants asserted that the Defendant had failed to meet the relevant test and that, in some instances, there were no documents or those that did exist were protected by legal professional privilege. The Defendant opposed the Claimants’ application on the basis that disclosure was not relevant.
(1) Whether the Claimants should be ordered to provide specific disclosure of the 8 categories of documents to the Defendant.
(2) Whether the Defendant should be ordered to provide specific disclosure of the tape recordings of its interviews with Ms Gibson.
(1) The Judge first referred to CPR Part 31.6 and Part 31.8. The power of the court to make an order for specific disclosure will only be exercised in “an appropriate case”. The power to direct disclosure of documents leading to a train of enquiry which may enable the applying party to advance his own case or damage that of the party giving disclosure arises only where an order has been made for a search for documents. Disclosure will be ordered only when necessary for the fair disposal of the action.
(2) In all but two categories of documents the Defendant’s application was dismissed, as it did not pass the test set out in (1) above. In the remaining two categories, the judge ordered that undertakings offered by the Claimants to make further enquiries to ascertain whether any documents existed should be accepted by the Defendant.
(3) The Defendant was ordered to provide specific disclosure as it related to an issue on the pleadings and the journalists’ credibility.
Applications for specific disclosure need to be focussed. Disclosure will be ordered to the extent only that it is necessary for the fair disposal of the action. In addition, the disclosure sought must be proportionate to the relevance and importance of the issues to which the documents are said to be relevant.