Vicky Pryce: what should the Sunday Times have done?

Over at the Spectator my friend Nick Cohen has blogged about the disclosure of evidence by the Sunday Times  in respect of the prosecutions of Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce.

Nick in turn links to a statement from the Crown Prosecution Service about this disclosure.  There are two points of particular interest in that statement.

First, it would appear that the the CPS regarded that evidence as determinative in bringing the prosecutions.  In other words, had the evidence not been provided, the prosecutions of Huhne and Pryce would never have happened.

Second, the CPS tells us that the Sunday Times dropped an appeal against the court order obliging the disclosure.  The newspaper instead complied with the order without putting it to challenge before a more senior court.

Of course, a newspaper should not be above the law.  Court orders are there to be complied with; that is part of what the “Rule of Law” means.

For example, the Guardian once complied with a court order which meant their source was revealed to be the civil servant Sarah Tisdall, who was then prosecuted and convicted.  But the Guardian fought this to the House of Lords before they complied.

In contrast, the Sunday Times did not appeal the order which appears to have led to the convictions of  Huhne and Pryce.  It also did not judicially review any relevant decision either.  We do not know why: perhaps the legal advice was unfavourable, or that they did not wish to air certain matters in open court.  However, unlike the Guardian in the Tisdall case, the Sunday Times would have had the benefit of the Human Rights Act and Article 10 of the European Convention.  How would the appeal courts have dealt with such an appeal?  We will never know.

As we do not know why the Sunday Times neither appealed or seek to judicially review the decision to grant the order, we cannot necessarily assume the worst.  But it is a cause for concern that the Sunday Timesdid not appeal an order which appears to have led directly to the conviction of a source. A newspaper surely should protect its sources to the fullest extent possible.  In not appealing, the Sunday Times appears not to have done this.

And whatever one’s view of the conduct of the relevant journalist in all this, it is highly unlikely that the decision not to challenge the court order was her decision.  The litigation decisions of newspapers are made by senior editors and in-house lawyers: so if Isabel Oakeshott is culpable in any way (and views do differ), it almost certain that she was not responsible for the Sunday Times not appealing the court order.

But someone did make that decision; and it would be interesting to have their explanation.

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