Full case report
Wakefield v Channel Four Television & Others (No.3)
Reference  EWHC 3289 (QB);  94 BMLR 1
Court Queen's Bench Division
Judge Eady J
Date of Judgment 21 Dec 2006
Defamation – Libel – Disclosure – Inspection – Documents obtained by GMC in course of inquiry – s.35A Medical Act 1983 – Restriction on collateral use
The Claimant in ongoing libel proceedings had disclosed in his list of documents various documents that he had received from the General Medical Council (“GMC”) in the course of its investigations of him as part of a fitness to practice inquiry. The Claimant had refused to allow inspection on the grounds that the documents disclosed by the GMC could not be used for any other purpose. On the Defendants’ application for inspection, the GMC opposed the application on the grounds that inspection could jeopardise its role and that documents had been obtained either using statutory powers under s.35A Medical Act 1983 or upon the GMC giving assurances that any documents provided would be used only for the purposes of the GMC inquiry.
Whether inspection of the documents should be ordered
Ordering inspection, the documents having been disclosed by the Claimant under CPR 31.6, it was undesirable that the Defendants should be denied access to those documents. The confidentiality of documents was not an absolute bar to inspection; it was a matter that had to be considered in the balancing process. Similarly, even where documents had been obtained by compulsion, there was no absolute bar on further disclosure. The issue was whether the wider interests of justice required that the documents should be inspected by the Defendants. The fact that assurances had been given to some third parties who provided documents that they would be used only for the purposes of the proceedings albeit unintentionally misleading was a matter the Court would consider but again it was not determinative.
The Court readily accepted the GMC’s proposition that documents it obtained for the purposes of its inquiry could be used by the GMC only for those purposes. The interesting question, identified by the Court, was whether that restriction was imposed on any doctor to whom the GMC then disclosed those documents in the course of its procedures. The GMC’s rules did not impose any such restriction, albeit that the GMC argued that such a restriction on collateral use was imposed by analogy with Taylor v SFO  2 AC 177. The Court did not need to resolve this issue given its finding that the interests of justice required that the Defendants should be allowed to inspect the documents in the libel proceedings.
Radcliffes Le Brasseur for the Claimant; Wiggin LLP for the Defendants; Field Fisher Waterhouse for the GMC
More from 5RB
5RB is the pre-eminent set in the area for handling defamation, privacy, contempt and data protection matters. Interviewees praise the set for having great depth and quality of counsel, and note that it boasts many of the top barristers in the field. Get the lowdown here.
New 22nd Edition of Clerk & Lindsell on Torts, published by Sweet & Maxwell. Further info here.