Full case report

Harrods Ltd v Times Newspapers Ltd (ChD)

Reference [2006] EMLR 320
Court Chancery Division

Judge Warren J

Date of Judgment 23 Jan 2006


Summary

Breach of Confidence – Public interest – Specific disclosure – Matters arising after the disclosure of confidential information


Facts

Times Newspapers sought an order that Harrods disclose certain documents, including employment contracts, in relation to a claim for breach of confidence that the company had brought against the newspaper. Harrods complained that the article that was the basis of the dispute, concerning the high turnover of directors at Harrods, disclosed a substantial amount of confidential information. TNL sought disclosure of contracts of employment and other documents relating to the circumstances in which a number of directors and senior employees had left Harrods. Harrods contended that, as TNL could only rely on information it had (or that was in the public domain) at the time of publication, the disclosure sought was irrelevant to any issue in the case.


Issue

Whether TNL were entitled to the disclosure sought


Held

Allowing the application,
(1) The obligation of disclosure should not be limited as Harrods suggested. There was a public interest in knowing of any alleged iniquity which outweighed the alleged duty of confidence.
(2) Material becoming available after the date of publication could be relevant to a public interest defence. The authorities did not preclude this position.


Comment

Although public interest under the Reynolds defence requires the requisite public interest to be demonstrated at the time of publication, this decision demonstrates that this principle would appear not apply to breaches of confidence. It remains to be seen whether this would similarly hold good for a public interest defence to a privacy-type breach of confidence, where the considerations might not be the same.


Instructing Solicitors

Finers Stephens Innocent for TNL; David Price and Co for Harrods