Guardian wins legal challenge over access to labor court documents | Law

Journalists should have access to documents from employment tribunal cases even following a judgment, it has been decided, after a successful legal challenge by the Guardian.

In a major victory for open justice, the Labor Appeals Tribunal overturned a lower court ruling that the costs of transparency would be too high and instead ordered the Guardian to receive the documents it had requested .

The judge suggested the documents must be released free of charge.

The decision builds on a series of recent judgments strengthening journalists’ rights to access documents filed in court, particularly when they show they are acting in the public interest.

“The press has an important role role in the communication of court judgments and courts,” Judge James Tayler said. “It’s in the public interest that they have the information they need to be able to do that fairly and accurately.”

The case concerns a request by Guardian journalist David Pegg, in 2018, for documents referred to in the public judgment of an employment tribunal case.

The case involved Dmitry Rozanov, an employee of the London branch of EFG, a Swiss bank, who he alleged had unfairly dismissed him. Rozanov argued he was fired after raising concerns about EFG’s compliance with anti-money laundering practices and its facilitation of a $100 million transaction for a client allegedly linked to Chechen despot Ramzan. Kadyrov.

The court found that the issues raised by Rozanov were legally protected disclosures. However, he found that EFG terminated him for reasons other than his protected disclosures.

The Guardian then wrote to the court asking for copies of the documents referred to in the Rozanov judgment, including emails in which it appeared that serious shortcomings in EFG’s anti-money laundering practices had been alleged.

However, Labor Court Judge Lewis dismissed the Guardian’s request, saying the reasons given by the newspaper were insufficient to engage the principle of open justice and that the costs of locating and scanning the requested documents would be too onerous.

The Guardian appealed Lewis’ decision and, in a decision published on Tuesday, Tayler overturned the lower court’s decision and ordered EFG to turn over the documents.

Tayler criticized Lewis’s suggestion that giving reporters access to court documents would be too costly, describing a complaint that it would require locating and scanning hard copies of documents such as “an image of an office of lawyers of the 70s”.

“The Labor Court’s decision to give more weight to the possible minor inconvenience in providing the documents than to the principle of open justice means that the Labor Court’s decision was wrong,” he wrote. .

“If necessary, I would say it is clearly wrong, and I would go so far as to find it perverse in that it is a decision that no reasonable court could have made in the circumstances of this case upon a proper direction of the law.”

Tayler said digital trial bundles have become increasingly ubiquitous in the court system, particularly since the coronavirus pandemic, and as a result there would likely be no effective administrative cost to provide copies. electronic documents to journalists.

It also ruled that there was no time limit for a request for documents and that journalists had the right to inspect documents relevant to a court judgment even after a case was concluded.

The judge said the Guardian’s request to the lower court had established “journalistic” reasons for accessing the documents, such as ensuring that any subsequent story was as accurate as possible, and also an underlying matter of public interest, especially the EFG bank anti-money. bleaching procedures.

“Far from being a case in which the principle of open justice was not strongly committed, the reverse was the case,” Tayler wrote.

“GNM has exhibited appropriate journalistic reasons for requesting the provision of the documentation. The public interest in the underlying subject matter of the proceeding was something that should also have weighed in favor of granting the application. »

The Guardian was represented by lawyers Greg Callus and Ben Hamer of 5RB. Katharine Viner, editor of the Guardian, said: “This is a significant judgment in favor of open justice and underlines the importance of allowing journalists to see the documents referred to by the employment tribunals. “

She added, “The ruling is a welcome signal that open justice and public interest journalism can and should go hand in hand.”

EFG Bank has appealed to challenge part of the judge’s decision because it argues that one set of documents should not be disclosed, while it agrees to the Guardian receiving copies of two other sets of documents.

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