Media lawyers slam Law Society stance on disclosure

What Keith Schilling wants, Keith Schilling gets.

What Keith Schilling wants, Keith Schilling gets.

New rules would have made pleadings and particulars of claim immediately available to third parties on 2 October retrospectively. But perturbed Schillings senior partner Schilling went to the Law Society to raise concerns about new rules being applied to all cases retrospectively. Exactly 24 hours later, he won a last-minute injunction on the rules.

This has not endeared the Law Society to its media members, but for Schilling, it is an exercise in client protection that all lawyers should take note of. For particulars of claim, read dirt on celebrities, and for third parties, read journalists.

When the journalists turned up to court on the morning of 2 October, looking forward to unlocking secrets on the rich and famous, they were understandably disappointed at being turned away with nothing.

The Times’ litigation head Gill Philips instructed libel defence specialist Andrew Caldecott QC at One Brick Court to confront Schillings and the Law Society at the High Court hearing on the court disclosure rules.

The media consortium included Associated Newspapers, the BBC, Bloomberg, Financial Times Limited, Guardian Newspapers, Independent News and Media, Mirror Group Newspapers, NewsGroup Newspapers and Telegraph Group.

The judge kept the injunction in place and put the Law Society in a delicate position with its media members.

Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson said: “We appreciate there was considerable pressure from the powerful media lobby to have access to past records, but our members wanted us to intervene on their clients’ behalf on such a fundamental issue.”

This stance has angered in-house media lawyers for two reasons.

First, newspaper lawyers are members of the Law Society too. They are not happy that the Law Society sided with the privacy lobby.

Philips said: “It’s like a red rag to a bull instructing Schillings. They’re undoubtedly the number-one opposition to the media.”

Second, they resent being brushed aside. The Times was the first to hear about the injunction, informed by media partner Rupert Earle at Addleshaw Goddard last Monday (2 October).

Philips said: “This has an immediate bearing on what journalists use as an important source. There are concerns about the way this has been done.”

It will not help matters that last month Associated Newspapers took the Law Society to a judicial review over not disclosing details of a solicitor’s disciplinary tribunal.

Although proceedings are scheduled for 2 November, it is likely the Department for Constitutional Affairs will step in to clarify the disclosure rules before this gets out of hand.

Whether or not the rules are confirmed as retrospective or not over the coming 28 days, lawyers at the newspapers are unlikely to forget this stance of the Law Society.

Philips said: “Why defend A versus B when both are part of you?”