The Lawyer apologises for judgment leak

Magazine avoids contempt proceedings over Da Vinci 'scoop'

The Lawyer magazine will print a front page apology for breaking an embargo on the judgment in the recent Da Vinci Code copyright case. The magazine published the result of the case one hour before Peter Smith J handed down his judgment and faced the prospect of contempt of court proceedings as a result.

Under the Practice Direction (CPR PD 40E) (Reserved judgments) 2005, all draft judgments are embargoed and cannot be published until the official judgment is handed down, unless a specific order is made. Although the judge accepted The Lawyer’s explanation that its staff were unaware of this rule, he ordered the magazine to pay the costs of attendance of lawyers from Random House and the claimant authors on an indemnity basis, and only agreed not to punish it further because of its offer to publish a front-page explanation and apology.

He warned that any journalists who published draft judgments in future could face “severe” consequences: “Publication of a draft judgment will be regarded as a contempt of court. Assuming that this ruling is published it will no longer be possible for journalists to say they did not understand the issue of a draft judgment. It is important that journalists take this on board and appreciate that, in the future, if there is a breach which is serious, the consequences that may be visited on such publications may well be quite severe.”

He also ruled that, as the parties had not been caused damage “of any significance”, it was “not in the interests of justice” to seek to establish the identity of the magazine’s sources through a court order.