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The High Court has dismissed the application for judicial review brought by Associated Newspapers Limited against the decision of to Leveson LJ sitting as Chairman of the Leveson Inquiry whereby the Chairmen held that he would, in principle, accept evidence from journalists who wished to remain anonymous on the ground that they fear career blight if they identify themselves.
The application was brought on the basis that any evidence critical of Newspaper organisations such as ANL would not be open to proper challenge if the journalists’ identities were not disclosed. ANL argued that the Chairman’s ruling breached the duty to act fairly under s17(3) of the Inquiries Act 2005, did not accord with the principles of open justice required under s19 of that Act and also failed to adequately consider the competing Convention rights engaged.
The Court held that the balancing exercise required under s17 encompassed the balancing of the various parties’ Convention rights. Furthermore, if the Chairmen complied with his duty to act fairly, he would also ex hypothesi comply with the duty of openness under s19. As such, the central issue in the case was whether the Chairman had acted fairly in accordance with his statutory duty under s17.
The Court noted that the duty to act fairly does not exist in a vacuum but is inexorably linked with the task the Chairmen was appointed to perform under his Terms of Reference.
As this Inquiry was examining the culture, practice and ethics of the Press, a failure to admit evidence from journalists working within the Industry who would otherwise not come forward for fear that doing so would harm their careers, would lead to an important piece of evidence being missed. This would undermine the credibility of the Inquiry as it would be open to the criticism of not having heard the full story.
The Court further held that fear of career blight is, in principle, a permissible ground for the granting of anonymity. As such, it was not unlawful for the Chairmen to rule that he would allow evidence to be given anonymously where he considered it of sufficient relevance and in circumstances where he was satisfied the journalist would not give it otherwise.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) are core participants in the Inquiry and were interested parties to the Judicial Review. Following the decision of the administrative court, the NUJ made an application to admit evidence to the Inquiry from a number of anonymous journalists. The application was granted by Leveson LJ on 7th February 2012.
The NUJ were represented in the judicial review by John Hendy QC and Lance Harris who continue to act on their behalf in the on-going Inquiry.
Case Summary written by Lance Harris, Old Square Chambers.