C1 was the Commissioner, C2 was the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). D1 was the publisher of the Sunday Times, for which D2 worked as an investigative journalist. D2 received leaked documents from the files of C1 and C2 (“the documents”). D2 wrote and D1 published an article headed “Underworld kings cash in on taxpayer land fund”. It referred to Mr David Hunt as a man “whose criminal network is allegedly so vast that Scotland Yard regards him as “too big’ to take on” and was based on the documents. Mr Hunt sued D1 for libel in a separate action.
There was a complex procedural background to the litigation. Cs alleged breach of confidence, conversion and breach of the DPA against Ds, and had obtained an injunction against them. The trial was of Cs’ breach of confidence claims, and injunctions and delivery up of the documents were applied for.
Mr Hunt had issued claims for libel against D1 and the Evening Standard (ES). A draft amended defence prepared by D1 in its libel action made reference to the leaked information, and this prompted Cs’ application for an injunction in the present action. No further steps were taken in the two libel actions pending its outcome.
There were 10 documents to which the dispute related. Ds admitted coming into possession of five documents, but argued that the information in them was properly and lawfully received, either in the course of legitimate newsgathering activities or of investigative journalism on matters of public interest, or for the purposes of defending the Libel Action. Since Cs were public authorities, they identified the basis of their claims as their obligation to protect the Article 8 rights of individuals, and as their duties and responsibilities to protect crime. They contended that improper disclosure of confidential information carried the risk of attacks on the individuals it identified.
Cs and Ds accepted the public interest nature of the article published by D1, and both parties believed that Mr Hunt was the head of an organised crime gang who had not been brought to justice. Ds contended that there was a public interest in their being able to defend themselves in the libel action by means of a justification defence, that Cs had not established that the risks they described in fact existed, and that it was not necessary or proportionate to restrict their article 10 rights.