Leveson evidence 'can be anonymous'
Some journalists can remain anonymous when giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards, three senior judges have ruled.
They dismissed an action brought by Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, which said that its reputation could be unfairly tarnished by anonymous evidence which could not be fully tested or challenged.
After the hearing, the company said it was "disappointed" at the decision and was considering an appeal. The challenge was against a ruling on the admissibility of anonymous evidence by inquiry chairman Lord Justice Leveson.
In November, the chairman of the inquiry said he would be "prepared to receive anonymous evidence" after some journalists told him that they "feared for their employment" if what they said was attributed to them.
Associated Newspapers sought a judicial review of the ruling asking the judges to declare it unfair. Lawyers representing Lord Justice Leveson, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and celebrities who have given evidence to the inquiry opposed Associated Newspapers' application.
During the hearing of the application by Associated Newspapers, the three judges heard that around 20 journalists were due to give evidence later this month.
Mark Warby QC, for Associated Newspapers, questioned whether it would be fair to allow anonymous evidence which could not be fully tested or challenged. He told the judges: "The concern is about untested evidence that will tend to tar Associated Newspapers with a broad brush." In written arguments, he suggested that principles of fairness and open justice were at risk.
Robert Jay QC, for Lord Justice Leveson, said Associated Newspapers' application for judicial review was premature. "It is common ground that it is hugely preferable for the inquiry to take evidence from named witnesses than from anonymous ones," he added.
Lord Justice Toulson, announcing his decision at London's High Court, said the chairman had made a "positive decision in principle to receive anonymous evidence from journalists who wish to conceal their identity because of fear of career blight" - but that was a "general ruling".
He added: "When he comes to deal with individual applications for anonymity, he will scrutinise carefully what the witness says about his personal and professional circumstances and how far he thinks that the evidence will advance the purpose of the inquiry."