Royal courts of justice

The high court has said 'it is not for the court to micromanage the conduct of the inquiry by the chairman', Lord Leveson

Credit: Nigel Chadwick on Geograph. Some rights reserved.
The high court has refused an application for judicial review by the publisher of the Daily Mail, Associated Newspapers, which objected to a decision "in principle" by Lord Justice Leveson to hear anonymously from journalists giving evidence at the Leveson inquiry.

According to today's judgment, Associated Newspapers was said to be "supported" in its application by the Daily Telegraph ,"whose editorial legal director has written a letter to the court stating that it shares the concerns of the claimant but it has not taken an active part in the hearing".

But in a ruling handed down today Lord Justice Toulson said "it is not for the court to micromanage the conduct of the inquiry by the chairman" and refused the application for review.

According to the judgment, Lord Justice Leveson, who is chairing the inquiry into the culture and ethics of the press, which was launched following a series of new allegations in the phone-hacking scandal, issued an original statement on 9 November regarding anonymous witnesses.

In this statement he said while he "would encourage all those who can contribute to this inquiry to do so on an open basis, I understand the concerns expressed by journalists who fear for their continued employment if they do not follow the line being taken by their employers".

"In the circumstances, given the broad remit of this part of the inquiry into culture, practices and ethics at a general, rather than a specific, level, subject to the controls which I have referred, I will be prepared to receive anonymous evidence", he stated at the time.

This was said to have been followed by a "supplementary ruling" by Leveson on 28 November, which was said to include "a finalised protocol for anonymity applications".

In his judgment today Lord Justice Toulson said Leveson had given a "general ruling" which showed that " when he comes to deal with individual applications for anonymity, he will scrutinise carefully what the witness says about his personal and professional circumstances and how far he thinks that the evidence will advance the purposes of the inquiry".

Associated Newspapers had challenged Leveson's decision on four grounds, including claims of unfairness, that it would "contravene the principles of open justice" and that there would be infringement of freedom of expression rights.

But Lord Justice Toulson said that he was "not persuaded that there is in principle something wrong in allowing a witness to give evidence anonymously through fear of career blight, rather than fear of something worse".

"Fear for a person's future livelihood can be a powerful gag," he added."Nor am I persuaded that the Chairman acted unfairly and therefore erred in law in deciding that on balance he should admit such evidence, subject to his considering it of sufficient relevance and being satisfied that the journalist would not give it otherwise than anonymously."

He also stated in his judgment that he does "recognise that [Leveson's] ruling may cause damage to the claimant and other newspaper proprietors" but that "such risk of damage will be mitigated to some extent (although not entirely, as I readily accept) by the fact that he will not use anonymous evidence to make specific findings against particular organisations".

"It is also important to recognise that the evidence in question will be part of a much wider tapestry and that it is open to the claimant and others to present balancing non-anonymous evidence."

In his final remarks the high court judge added that he refuses the application, and that in future "how the chairman deals with individual anonymity requests in the context of his general ruling and protocol will be matters of detailed consideration for him, which should not foreseeably give rise to further requests for judicial interference".

Mr Justice Sweeney and Mrs Justice Sharp agreed with his refusal.

Associated Newspapers had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

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