Home Office v Hariette Harman: HL 11 Feb 1982

The defendant had permitted a journalist to see documents revealed to her as in her capacity as a solicitor in the course of proceedings.
Held: The documents were disclosed under an obligation to use them for the instant case only. That rule was imposed because ‘Discovery constitutes a very serious invasion of the privacy and confidentiality of a litigant’s affairs. It forms part of English legal procedure because the public interest in securing that justice is done between parties is considered to outweigh the private and public interest in the maintenance of confidentiality. But the process should not be allowed to place upon the litigant any harsher or more oppressive burden than is strictly required for the purpose of securing that justice is done.’
The House recognised the distinctin between ‘civil contempt’, ie conduct which is not in itself a crime but which is punishable by the court in order to ensure that its orders are observed, and ‘criminal contempt’.
Lord Diplock (dissenting) said: ‘Publicity is the very soul of justice. It is the keenest spur to exertion, and the surest of all guards against improbity. It keeps the judge himself, while trying, under trial.’
Lord Keith of Kinkel said: ‘The implied obligation not to make improper use of discovered documents is, however, independent of any obligation existing under the general law relating to confidentiality. It affords a particular protection accorded in the interests of the proper administration of justice. It is owed not to the owner of the documents but to the court, and the function of the court in seeing that the obligation is observed is directed to the maintenance of those interests, and not to the enforcement of the law relating to confidentiality.’
Lord Scarman (dissenting) said: ‘We turn now to another proposition advanced on behalf of the respondent. Counsel formulated the implied undertaking as follows: not without leave of the court or the other party to use the other party’s documents as disclosed on discovery for any purpose other than the immediate purposes of the action for which they have been disclosed. We feel some difficulty about the words we have italicised. If the undertaking is to the court (as it is common ground it is) the other party cannot arrogate the power to release (and yet it is conceded that such other party may waive what would be a ‘civil’ contempt). On the other hand, how can the court fairly relieve from the undertaking if the party making discovery did so in reliance that the document would only be used for the purpose of litigation?’
He went on to discuss the importance of open justice: ‘Reasonable expedition is, of course, a duty of the judge. But he is also concerned to ensure that justice not only is done but is seen to be done in his court. And this is the fundamental reason for the rule of the common law, recognised by this House in Scott v Scott [1913] AC 417, that trials are to be conducted in public. Lord Shaw of Dunfermline referred with approval, at p 477, to the view of Jeremy Bentham that public trial is needed as a spur to judicial virtue. Whether or not judicial virtue needs such a spur, there is also another important public interest involved in justice done openly, namely, that the evidence and argument should be publicly known, so that society may judge for itself the quality of justice administered in its name, and whether the law requires modification. When public policy in the administration of justice is considered, public knowledge of the evidence and arguments of the parties is certainly as important as expedition: and, if the price of expedition is to be the silent reading by the judge before or at trial of relevant documents, it is arguable that expedition will not always be consistent with justice being seen to be done.
Justice is done in public so that it may be discussed and criticised in public. Moreover, trials will sometimes expose matters of public interest worthy of discussion other than the judicial task of doing justice between the parties in the particular case.’

Lord Diplock, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, Lord Keith of Kinkel, Lord Scarman and Lord Roskill
[1983] 1 AC 280, [1982] 2 WLR 338, [1982] 1 All ER 532, (1982) 126 SJ 136
England and Wales
AppliedAlterskye v Scott 1948
The obligation of confidentiality for documents disclosed during litigation discovery includes a duty being: ‘the implied undertaking, under which a party obtaining discovery is, not to use documents for any collateral or ulterior purpose.’ . .
CitedAttorney-General v Leveller Magazine Ltd HL 1-Feb-1979
The appellants were magazines and journalists who published, after committal proceedings, the name of a witness, a member of the security services, who had been referred to as Colonel B during the hearing. An order had been made for his name not to . .
CitedCoco v A N Clark (Engineers) Ltd ChD 1968
Requirememts to prove breach of confidence
A claim was made for breach of confidence in respect of technical information whose value was commercial.
Held: Megarry J set out three elements which will normally be required if, apart from contract, a case of breach of confidence is to . .
CitedConway v Rimmer HL 28-Feb-1968
Crown Privilege for Documents held by the Polie
The plaintiff probationary police constable had been investigated, prosecuted and cleared of an allegation of theft. He now claimed damages for malicious prosecution, and in the course of the action, sought disclosure of five documents, but these . .
CitedD v National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children HL 2-Feb-1977
Immunity from disclosure of their identity should be given to those who gave information about neglect or ill treatment of children to a local authority or the NSPCC similar to that which the law allowed to police informers.
Lord Simon of . .
CitedHalcon International Inc v Shell Transport and Trading Co CA 1979
A document could continue to have confidentiality after being read out in court. The documents referred to in the judgment had not been read in court. ‘The general provision of English law with regard to the use of documents which have been made . .
ApprovedRiddick v Thames Board Mills Ltd CA 1977
An action was brought by a disgruntled former employee. He had been summarily dismissed and had been escorted from the premises of his employers. In the first action he claimed damages for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment based on the latter . .
CitedSaltman Engineering Co v Campbell Engineering Co Ltd CA 1948
The plaintiffs instructed the defendant to make tools for the manufacture of leather punches in accordance with drawings which the plaintiffs provided to the defendant for this purpose. The defendant used the drawings to make tools, and the tools to . .
CitedScott v Scott HL 5-May-1913
Presumption in Favour of Open Proceedings
There had been an unauthorised dissemination by the petitioner to third parties of the official shorthand writer’s notes of a nullity suit which had been heard in camera. An application was made for a committal for contempt.
Held: The House . .
CitedWilliams v Home Office (No 2) 2-Jan-1981
The plaintiff prisoner had been transferred from ordinary prison to a special control unit which had been established at the prison as a means of containing and controlling prisoners who were considered to be troublemakers and inducing them to . .
See AlsoWilliams v Home Office (No 2) 1981
Tudor-Evans J said: ‘In my judgment, the sentence of the court and the provisions of section 12(1) always afford a defence to an action of false imprisonment. The sentence justifies the fact of imprisonment and the subsection justifies the . .
CitedScience Research Council v Nasse; BL Cars Ltd (formerly Leyland Cars) v Voias HL 1-Nov-1979
Recent statutes had given redress to anyone suffering unlawful discrimination on account of race sex or trade union activities. An employee sought discovery of documents from his employer which might reveal such discrimination.
Held: The court . .
CitedThe Sunday Times (No 1) v The United Kingdom ECHR 26-Apr-1979
Offence must be ;in accordance with law’
The court considered the meaning of the need for an offence to be ‘in accordance with law.’ The applicants did not argue that the expression prescribed by law required legislation in every case, but contended that legislation was required only where . .

Cited by:
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 . .
CitedBowman v Fels (Bar Council and Others intervening) CA 8-Mar-2005
The parties had lived together in a house owned in the defendant’s name and in which she claimed an interest. The claimant’s solicitors notified NCIS that they thought the defendant had acted illegally in setting off against his VAT liability the . .
CitedHRH the Prince of Wales v Associated Newspapers Ltd ChD 13-Jan-2006
The claimant had for many years kept private journals, whose contents were circulated within a small circle of friends. He now sought to claim confidentiality and copyright in them when the defendant sought to publish them.
Held: There was an . .
CitedMohammadzadeh v Joseph and others ChD 15-Feb-2006
The parties disputed whether the defendants owned the benefit of a restrictive covenant.
Held: The covenant did touch and concern the land, and the land with the benefit of covenant. The conditions under Federated Homes were met. The covenants . .
CitedMcBride v The Body Shop International Plc QBD 10-Jul-2007
The claimant sought damages for libel in an internal email written by her manager, accusing her of being a compulsive liar. The email had not been disclosed save in Employment Tribunal proceedings, and the claimant sought permission to use the email . .
CitedBritish Sky Broadcasting Group Plc and Another v Virgin Media Communications Ltd and others CA 6-Jun-2008
The parties were involved in litigation concerning allegations of anti-consumer practices. It was agreed that commercially sensitive documents should be exchanged, but the terms protecting the confidences could not be agreed. The parties were also . .
CitedGuardian News and Media Ltd, Regina (on The Application of) v City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court CA 3-Apr-2012
The newspaper applied for leave to access documents referred to but not released during the course of extradition proceedings in open court.
Held: The application was to be allowed. Though extradition proceedings were not governed by the Civil . .
CitedRegina v O’Brien SC 2-Apr-2014
The court considered how to apply the rule that an extradition may only be for trial on matters committed before the extradition if they have been the basis of the request to a defendant’s commission of contempt of court after conviction. After . .
CitedTchenguiz v Director of The Serious Fraud Office and Others CA 31-Oct-2014
The appellant challenged an order of the Commercial Court refusing permission for documents disclosed in English litigation to be used in litigation proceedings in Guernsey. The principal issue is whether the judge correctly weighed up the . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Legal Professions, Litigation Practice, Constitutional, Contempt of Court

Leading Case

Updated: 11 November 2021; Ref: scu.211380