Media forms alliance to fight Law Society gagging order

An alliance of major newspapers and broadcasters have joined together to instruct Andrew Caldecott QC in a bid to challenge the Law Society’s injunction stopping all courts in the UK from releasing information under a new rule.

The BBC and the publishers of The Times, The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Independent and the Daily Mirror have united against the injunction and hope to become involved in the action.

The Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson said: “Several of our members became concerned last week that the change would apply not only to new cases but also retrospectively to old cases, many of which have long been closed. The Court Service reversed its position on the interpretation of the rule, putting many clients in the unreasonable position of having to apply to court at very short notice if they wanted statements to remain confidential.”

High Court judge Mr Justice Irwin granted the Law Society, the professional body of solicitors, an injunction against court officer Michael Parker and HM Courts Service at 4pm on Friday afternoon.

The injunction bans court offices in the UK releasing information under a new rule which should have taken effect from October 2, allowing people to inspect court documents in civil cases.

This is thought to be the first time that courts throughout the UK have been gagged; although it is common for legal challenges, it is unheard of for the Law Society to sue the courts.

The two top procedural judges at the Royal Courts of Justice, the Chief Chancery Master and the Senior Master, had decided that the rule should be applied retrospectively, allowing people not involved in the cases to get hold of documents giving
details.

The Chief Chancery Master, Master Winegarten, and the Senior Master, Master Turner, had decided that when parliament approved the new rule without making any transitional arrangements, this meant the rule should apply to old cases.

Journalists wanting to inspect documents, including particulars of claim and defences, would have been allowed to do so without needing special permission from a judge.

But as a result of the injunction, this will not now happen. A full hearing of the case is set for Thursday October 5 when the court will consider the Law Society’s application in full.

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