R (Associated Newspapers Ltd) v Rt Hon Sir Brian Leveson (as Chairman of the Leveson Inquiry)
Reference:  EWHC 57 (Admin)
Court: Administrative Court
Judge: Toulson LJ, Sweeney, Sharp JJ
Date of judgment: 20 Jan 2012
Summary: Judicial review - public inquiry - press practices, ethics - journalists as witnesses - anonymous evidence - ruling - fairness - reputation - Convention rights - judicial review - application dismissed
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David Sherborne (Interested Party)
Christina Michalos KC (Interested Party)
Instructing Solicitors: Reynolds Porter Chamberlain for C
Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL) sought judicial review of a decision by Sir Brian Leveson, as Chairman of the Leveson Inquiry into the practices and ethics of the press. A number of journalists had expressed a wish to give evidence about press practices of which they had direct experience, but only on condition of anonymity. The Chairman ruled in principle that he would admit such evidence anonymously, whilst also anonymising the newspapers which were the subject of such evidence.
ANL sought judicial review of the decision on the basis that it failed to give effect to basic principles of fairness, failed to protect Convention Rights, infringed the principle of open justice, and was non-compliant with s 19 of the Inquiries Act 2005. ANL argued that anonymous evidence, lacking detail, could not effectively be challenged or rebutted. Anonymising the titles involved would not deal with the issue of fairness. Anonymised evidence would tar with a broad brush all newspapers, including ANL, who could reasonably be understood to be its target. The Chairman had failed, submitted ANL, to have proper regard to the damaging impact this would have on its reputation and that of other newspapers.
For the Chairman, it was submitted that the claim was premature; the decision was no more than a gateway determination that such evidence might be admitted, as opposed to ruling it out, and individual applications to give anonymised evidence would need to be dealt with on their individual merits in future.
(1) Was the application premature?
(2) Was the Chairman’s decision lawful?
Dismissing the claim:-
(1) The application was not premature. It raised a point of principle which could only be dealt with at the present stage.
(2) The decision was not unlawful.
The decision leaves open the prospect of further judicial review claims, in respect of individual decisions to admit anonymous evidence. The Chairman will need to conduct a balancing of the competing rights and interests in respect of each application.