BBC wins fight to publish cash for honours injunction

It was third time lucky for the BBC’s head of litigation Sarah Jones last week as the Court of Appeal lifted the ban preventing the broadcaster from reporting the contents of its cash for honours injunction.

David Pannick QC of Blackstone Chambers was drafted in as a replacement for Andrew Caldecott QC and Manuel Barca of One Brick Court, who had been defeated in the last two rounds in court.

Two weeks of intense litigating centred around claims that one of Tony Blair’s closest aides, Ruth Turner, had written in a document to the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Jonathan Powell that Lord Levy, the Labour party’s chief fundraiser, had asked her to “lie” for him in the cash for honours investigation. Levy denies any wrongdoing in the matter.

Mr Justice Wilkie originally granted the injunction against the BBC. But as the story escalated, The Guardian’s legal team, led by in-houser Nuala Cosgrove, took the bold line of going to press with the story before receiving a ruling from Mrs Justice Swift that an injunction against the newspaper was unnecessary.

Although the BBC’s injunction was subsequently lifted, the permission did not allow for the content of Wilkie J’s decision to be broadcast. However, last Monday (12 March) the BBC went back to the Court of Appeal and won the right to broadcast the decision.

Following the court victory the BBC reported that Wilkie J had said: “There is a substantial element of truth in what the intended BBC broadcast was to say.

“There is a document addressed to Jonathan Powell, in the course of which she [Ruth Turner] alleges that Lord Levy had asked her to lie for him.”

Philip Havers QC of One Crown Office Row has been acting for the Attorney General in these matters.

Havers’ argument for not releasing the decision was that the police were concerned that if the BBC’s story was broadcast it would be heard by individuals who may be “suspects in the case” and “remove the initiative” from the police investigating the affair.

However, Pannick persuaded Master of the Rolls Sir Anthony Clarke and Lord Justices Dyson and Thomas that there was no suggestion that any of the individuals to be interviewed “would take steps to obstruct the investigation”.