Journalists Versus the Law

  • David Leigh


Journalists probing wrongdoing face muzzling laws, particularly in Britain. I collided with the law over jury-vetting, Harman, Thorpe, Ponting, and Spycatcher. Sometimes well-behaved journalists bring test cases instead, such as Felixstowe justices, Alvis, Sarah Tisdall—but with mixed results. Libel remains the biggest headache, despite some British reforms. The keys to survival are two concepts—“public interest” and “responsible journalism”, which demand well-crafted “libel letters”. Law firms such as Schillings and Carter-Ruck are often hired to intimidate journalists, without any real intention to sue. But there are specific techniques for dealing with them and also for gaining public support. Good relations with in-house lawyers are key. Sometimes, as with Interbrew and the HSBC Swiss bank leaks, non-legal stratagems also work.


  1. 1.
    Hislop, Ian. 2009. Privacy Law is Censorship by Judicial Process. Press Gazette, May 5.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Richard, Cliff. 2018. Sir Cliff Richard, OBE v BBC & S Yorkshire Police. [2018] EWHC 1837 (Ch).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Reid, Lord. 1968. Conway v Rimmer [1968] AC 910.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Leigh, David. 1980. Frontiers of Secrecy. London: Junction Books.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Robertson, Geoffrey. 2018. Rather His Own Man. London: Biteback. Home Office v Harman (1983) 1 AC 280. Attorney General v New Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd (1981) QB1.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ponting, Clive. 1985. The Right to Know. London: Sphere.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Norton-Taylor, Richard. 1985. The Ponting Affair. London: Cecil Woolf.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Turnbull, Malcolm. 1988. The Spycatcher Trial. London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    R v Felixstowe Justices ex p Leigh (1987) QBD 582.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Leigh, David, David Pallister, Rob Evans, and John Aglionby. 2004. Guardian Victory in Arms Bribe Case. Guardian, December 9.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Evans, Rob. 2012. Judgment Over Extradition Case is Victory for Open Justice. Guardian, April 3. (Guardian News and Media Limited) v City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court ([2012] EWCA Civ 420).
  12. 12.
    Laville, Sandra. 2016. Certain Family Court Hearings to Take Place in Public in Radical Trial. Guardian, December 23.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Preston, Peter. 2005. A Source of Great Regret. Guardian, September 5.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Tesco apology. 2008. Corrections and Clarifications. Guardian, September 6.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Leigh, David. 1982. Black Jurors to Sue Denning. Observer, May 23.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    ———. 1984. High Time: The Shocking Life and Times of Howard Marks. London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Freeman, Simon, and Barrie Penrose. 1997. Rinkagate: The Rise and Fall of Jeremy Thorpe. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
  19. 19.
    Newell, Claire. 2018. Sir Philip Green Named in Parliament. Telegraph. Accessed November 5, 2018.
  20. 20.
    Davies, Nick. 2013. Phone-Hacking Trial Told Now Safe Held Intimate Details of David Blunkett Affair. Guardian, November 7.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    O’Carrell, Lisa. 2014. Ex-News International Chief Tells Phone-hacking Trial They Had Several Periods of ‘Physical Intimacy’. Guardian, February 21.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Crown Prosecution Service. 2012. Media: Guidance for Prosecutors on Assessing the Public Interest in Cases Affecting the Media. Legal Guidance. Accessed November 7, 2018.
  23. 23.
    Schillings. 2008. The Leading Law Firm Protecting the Reputations of High-profile Individuals, Corporates and Brands. Schillings Website. Accessed November 7, 2018.
  24. 24.
  25. 25.
    Leigh, David, and Owen Bowcott. 2011. Injunction Publicity Backfires on Celebrity Law Firm. Guardian, May 24. Accessed January 20, 2019.
  26. 26.
    House of Commons. 2010. Press Standards, Privacy and Libel Appendix 1. Culture Media and Sport Committee Report. London: Stationery Office. Accessed January 20, 2019.
  27. 27.
    Knightley, Philip. 1997. A Hack’s Progress. London: Jonathan Cape.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Rusbridger, Alan. 2018. Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now. London: Canongate. (See also Chapter 6.)Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Dyer, Clare, and Kevin Maguire. Interbrew Drops Threats to Seize Guardian Assets. Guardian. Accessed November 7, 2018.
  30. 30.
    European Court of Human Rights. 2009. Financial Times Ltd & Ors v UK (Application No. 821/03). Accessed November 7, 2018.{%22dmdocnumber%22:[%22859859%22],%22itemid%22:[%22001-96157%22].

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Leigh
    • 1
  1. 1.City, University of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations