13 March 2000
Suddenly, the job of a legal journalist seems to be getting easier. It was never very difficult to start with - all you have to do is go to court, listen to what the judge says and write it down or read it out depending on whether you're in papers or broadcasting. Just occasionally you might need to find a lawyer who can explain a point of law or comment on a case. But even that's a chore no more.
Take the case of the Blairs' nanny. In the early hours of last Sunday morning, Cherie Booth's solicitors obtained an injunction against the publishers of the Mail on Sunday, forcing it to stop carrying an account of life with the Blairs written by the woman who had looked after their children.
On Monday morning, a City law firm rang the newsroom to offer one of its partners as "an expert on privacy and the media". As it happened, I wasn't looking for anyone to interview. I also thought I could remember enough about the subject to get by. But journalists aren't meant to know things. Their job is to know who to ask. So I rang the lawyer up. I'd been given his direct line and got straight through. He sounded rather surprised.
I told him I just wanted to check a few points on the law of confidence. I rattled through the queries thrown at me by other reporters that morning, satisfied myself I was on the right lines and told him I would get back to him if anybody wanted to interview him. How much, I wondered idly, would he have charged a client for five minutes' advice?
I then checked my email. There was a message from someone whose easy familiarity and upper-class name suggested a career in public relations. "Please find below," she wrote, "several bullet points outlining commentary being offered by..." someone who turned out to be the head of litigation in another City firm.
This was serious stuff. There was a CV listing some of the household names on whose behalf he'd taken complaints to the Press Complaints Commission and the Broadcasting Standards Council (perhaps not the most tactful thing to tell me). This time the number was not just a direct line but what looked like a fashionable new find-me-anywhere 070 number. But thanks to his bullet points I didn't need to ring.
So, how well did this head of litigation score? "You would expect the Blairs to have a contract including a confidentiality clause but if there is not one the court will imply one," he wrote. Perfectly true, though he should have seen from the morning's press reports that there was, indeed, a written contract with a confidentiality clause.
"Will all this be a waste of time?" he asked. "As an English injunction, it can be circumvented by publication abroad and/or the internet which can be accessed from England." Again, perfectly true - but slightly off the point. Why would the publishers want to give their material away for nothing on the internet? And what mattered to the Blairs, above all, was that confidentiality agreements should be upheld by the courts.
That last comment came from the Number 10 website, which carries daily lobby briefings by the Prime Minister's official spokesman, or PMOS as he prefers to be called. I am sure the two solicitors who contacted me last week would prefer to remain equally anonymous. Otherwise people might think they were only in it for the publicity.
Joshua Rozenberg is the BBC's legal affairs correspondent. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org