Private Eye magazine has fought off an injunction brought by a solicitor whose conduct was investigated by the Law Society.
Michael Napier, a senior partner at law firm Irwin Mitchell, obtained a ban in January, preventing the satirical magazine from reporting on a complaint against him and how the Law Society handled it.
Napier and the firm argued that the information in question was private and confidential.
Mr Justice Eady ruled in the high court in February that the person who made the complaint to the Law Society, one of Napier’s former clients, owed no duty of confidentiality and was free to speak to Private Eye about the case.
Last week, the court of appeal rejected Napier’s appeal against the judgment – allowing Private Eye to publish the stories at the centre of the injunction attempt.
The magazine wanted to report on the outcome of the complaint against Napier and his firm to the Law Society, and about an ombudsman’s report which was highly critical of the Society’s handling of the complaint.
Napier and Irwin Mitchell argued that the Law Society’s scheme for dealing with complaints presupposed that the proceedings and the outcome were treated as confidential.
But Lord Justice Toulson, in the court of appeal, said: “Freedom to report the truth is a precious thing both for the liberty of the individual and for the sake of wider society.
“It would be unduly eroded if the law of confidentiality were to prevent a person from reporting facts which a reasonable person in his position would not perceive to be confidential.
He added: “It is singularly unattractive to argue that confidentiality should be recognised by the law in order to protect the interests of a solicitor against whom an adverse finding has been made.”
Lord Justice Sullivan and Lord Justice Hughes agreed.