A High Court judge has rejected a legal bid to force the Daily Mail to hand over notes of interviews relating to stories about an author and judge who is being sued by her mother for libel.
It is a ruling which upholds the principle that conversations between journalists and their sources should have an element of confidentiality.
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Mr Justice Tugendhat has rejected an application from barrister and part-time judge Constance Briscoe and publisher Hodder and Stoughton for a disclosure order against Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail.
Ms Briscoe had sought to obtain notes and records of interviews conducted by the Daily Mail with some of her relatives. Briscoe is currently being sued for defamation in the High Court by her mother, Carmen Briscoe-Mitchell, over her book, Ugly.
Mrs Briscoe-Mitchell denies claims in the book that she ill-treated or neglected her daughter as a child.
The Daily Mail serialised the book, and later published stories quoting Carmen Briscoe’s sister Patsy and other siblings as saying that allegations in the book were untrue.
Ms Briscoe and Hodder and Stoughton first applied for a witness summons for production of the material under Part 34.3 of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR), which govern the conduct of civil litigation, but then accepted that they should have applied for disclosure under Part 31.17 of the CPR.
Kate Wilson, for Ms Brisco and Hodder and Stoughton, said the information was sought as it would help resolve discrepancies between witness statements made by Patsy Briscoe and what she had told the Daily Mail.
The material was also likely to be relevant to the issue of the credit of Patsy Briscoe and the other siblings, Miss Wilson argued, adding that family life and relations in the household would form a material part of the issues at the trial.
Jonathan Barnes, for Associated Newspapers, argued that what the witnesses in question told a journalist in an interview in 2006 was unlikely to be of any material assistance to the jury at the defamation trial.
Rejecting the application, Mr Justice Tugendhat said he had difficulty in seeing what relevance the material sought might have except in relation to the credit of the witnesses who gave the interviews.
“In my judgment disclosure is not necessary to dispose fairly of the claim, and the alternative as to saving costs has no material relevance in this case,” the judge said.
He concluded: “In any event, I would at this stage of the proceedings refuse the application as a matter of discretion.
“In my judgment there is at least some element of confidentiality in what an interviewee says to a journalist for the purpose of the journalist publishing an article.
“Journalists select what they publish and there may be many different criteria by which they make the selection they do. There may be no confidentiality left in respect of the part of what has been disclosed to the journalist which is published in the newspaper, but it does not follow that there remains no element of confidentiality in the unpublished material.”