Bunn v BBC

Reference: [1998] EMLR 846; [1998] 3 All ER 552; [1999] FSR 70

Court: Chancery Division

Judge: Lightman J

Date of judgment: 19 Jun 1998


Confidentiality - statement under caution - proposed publication - interim injunction application - public domain - public interest - iniquity


Instructing Solicitors: BBC Litigation Department for the Defendant


B was finance director of one of Robert Maxwell’s private companies. After Maxwell died B was arrested and interviewed under caution, then charged with several counts of conspiracy to defraud. An application was made successfully to sever the indictment, leading to two trials.This application was heard in open court, and B’s statement was referred to, and read by the judge, but reporting restrictions applied at the time and there was little if any publicity over this. At the first trial B suffered a heart attack, and was acquitted by direction of the judge with one charge remaining on file. The second trial never took place, the proceedings being stayed as an abuse.
D1 proposed to broadcast a programme about the work of the Serious Fraud Office, including extracts from B’s police interview. D2 was the publisher of a book about the series, 2,000 copies of which had been circulated. B applied for injunctions to restrain D1’s broadcast, and further publication of the book with the rele


Should an injunction be granted, having regard to
(1) whether the information in B’s statement was confidential
(2) whether any obligation of confidence was overridden by the public interest in disclosure of B’s behaviour
(3) the extent to which the information was already in the public domain
(4) other factors affecting discretion


(1) The information was confidential, being provided for certain specific purposes on the understanding that it would not be used for other purposes
(2) The public interest in the disclosure of B’s confession and the support it provided for the decisions taken by the SFO (which had been criticised over the Maxwell case) did not override the duty of confidence owed by the Ds but
(3) The information in the statement had entered the public domain at the hearing to sever the indictment, and through publication of the book to date, so that any duty of confidence was at an end and
(4) In any event, B’s application was barred by his delay and his inability to pay damages if the injunction proved to be wrongly granted was a further factor militating against the grant of injunctions


The application of the public domain doctrine on the basis that a judge had read B’s confession at, or before a public hearing raises some interesting questions when it comes to the. The judge was not concerned to investigate to what degree the information at issue had in fact become public knowledge, holding that the reading of the document in open court was sufficient. The degree of actual knowledge is usually considered a key factor in deciding whether information is in the public domain. Are there perhaps some kinds of information that are deemed to be in the public domain? Or is there in fact some different principle at work here, under which the public is considered to be entitled to some kinds of information, such as that disclosed in a public court session, regardless of how widely it has in fact become known? These issues are discussed in The Law of Privacy and the Media, paras 6.61-6.63, 6.101-102