Interbrew case goes to Strasbourg

The Financial Times, The Independent, The Guardian, The Times and Reuters have just been refused leave to apply to the House of Lords to overturn the earlier High Court and Court of Appeal decisions that they should disclose documents and provide information wanted by the Belgian brewer Interbrew, writes Jennifer McDermott.

The House of Lords apparently felt that its recent decision in Ashworth Security Hospital v MGN Limited (delivered on 27 June 2002) sufficiently clarified the law in this area. However, there are important differences between the two cases.

The Ashworth case concerned information relating to confidential medical records about Ian Brady. All the domestic courts decided that in order to deter such wrongdoing in the future and preserve the security of medical records, it was essential to try to discover the source.

In Interbrew, what is sought is the disclosure of documents made available to the news media outlining a possible takeover by Interbrew of South African Breweries. The disclosure orders imposed and now maintained by the House of Lords, if implemented, could prevent newspapers in the future from obtaining information about the activities of large public limited companies.

This would certainly not appear to be in the public interest, particularly in the era post-Enron and WorldCom.

The newspapers have announced that they will now appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which, as appears from the case of Goodwin [1996] 22 EHRR 123, has a better record of protecting journalistic sources in the interests of free speech than our domestic courts. It is to be hoped that Strasbourg will again recognise that it is more important to maintain the free flow of information than to force journalists either to shop their sources or face contempt proceedings.

 

Jennifer McDermott is a partner in the technology, media and telecommunications group at Lovells

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