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January 20, 2012

Leveson challenge dismissed

Category: News

Administrative Court upholds anonymous evidence decision


The Administrative Court has upheld the decision of Sir Brian Leveson that his Inquiry will, in principle, admit anonymous evidence from journalists speaking directly about their experience of press practices.

The Court dismissed a claim for judicial review, which challenged the lawfulness of Sir Brian’s decision, as Chairman of the Inquiry. Sir Brian had stated that a number of journalists had expressed a wish to provide evidence about press practices, but only on condition that they were anonymised. The journalists feared that if they put their heads above the parapet their future employment prospects would be jeopardised. Sir Brian found this understandable. He determined that it would be necessary to anonymise the titles to which such evidence related, both to protect the witnesses’ identities and to ensure fairness to the titles concerned. Such evidence would, in the circumstances, be given limited or very limited weight.

The judicial review claim was made by Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), publishers of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday.  At a hearing on Friday 13 January before 3 judges ANL argued that the admission of anonymised evidence, from journalists whose identities would not be disclosed to the public or to the core participants, would be unfair. Absent knowledge of the journalists’ identities the press would be unable effectively to challenge or rebut the evidence. Anonymising the titles concerned would not eliminate the unfairness, as the evidence would  be harmful to the reputation of the press generally, and would tar a limited group of newspapers with a broad brush.

In a judgment handed down on the afternoon of Friday 20 January the Court dismissed the claim, holding that Sir Brian’s determination was lawful. He had not acted irrationally, or failed to have regard to relevant factors. The Chairman was best placed  to balance the relevant factors, and had not pre-empted future decisions on individual applications to give evidence anonymously. Each application would need to be considered on its own merits.

5RB’s Mark Warby QC represented ANL, leading Gerard Clarke. Among interested parties appearing at the hearing were the Core Participant Victims, represented by David Sherborne of 5RB and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, represented by 5RB’s Christina Michalos. Adam Speker of 5RB is acting for the Telegraph Media Group, who put in written representations in support of the claim.