Ex parte Coventry Newspapers Ltd: CA 1993

Documents had been disclosed by the Police Complaints Authority under court order for an appeal against conviction. They related to an investigation of the conduct of police officers who had given evidence against the appellant. The newspaper, now being sued for libel by the same police officers, applied for the accused to be given leave to allow it to use the documents in its defence, on the basis that there was an implied undertaking which it was necessary to vary.
Held: The court acceded to the newspaper’s application. The interests of justice required the undertaking to be varied so as to allow the appellant in the criminal proceedings to hand over the documents to the newspaper upon its undertaking to use them only for the purposes of its defence. It was unnecessary to call those in whom the confidence inhered to consent to the disclosures.
Lord Taylor of Gosforth CJ said: ‘But for such proposed order the appellant would clearly be unable to hand over the documents: he would be subject to an implied undertaking, analogous to that arising on discovery in civil proceedings, not to use the disclosed documents otherwise than for the purposes for which discovery was given, here the pursuance of the criminal appeal, which is now, of course, successfully concluded.’ and
‘We summarise our reasoning thus. Given the central objective of this category of public interest immunity as ‘the maintenance of an honourable, disciplined, law-abiding and uncorrupt police force,’ given the grave public disquiet understandably aroused by proven malpractice on the part of some at least of those who served in the now disbanded West Midlands Serious Crime Squad, given the extensive publicity already attaching to the documents here in question following the appellant’s successful appeal, it seems to us nothing short of absurd to suppose that those who co-operated in this investigation – largely other police officers and court officials – will regret that co-operation, or that future generations of potential witnesses will withhold it, were this court now to release the documents to [the newspaper] to enable them to defeat if they can an allegedly corrupt claim in damages.’


Lord Taylor of Gosforth CJ


[1993] QB 278, [1993] 1 All ER 86, [1992] 3 WLR 916


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedMahon v Rahn QBD 19-Jun-1996
Directors of a London firm of stockbrokers brought libel proceedings against two Swiss bankers.
Held: The absolute immunity which is given to both witnesses and potential witnesses extends to all those taking part in a criminal investigation . .
CitedTaylor and Others v Director of The Serious Fraud Office and Others HL 29-Oct-1998
The defendant had requested the Isle of Man authorities to investigate the part if any taken by the plaintiff in a major fraud. No charges were brought against the plaintiff, but the documents showing suspicion came to be disclosed in the later . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Defamation, Police, Information

Updated: 27 October 2022; Ref: scu.211382