Appleby lawsuit against BBC & The Guardian (re Paradise Papers)

Paradise Papers FlickrOn 4 December 2017, the offshore law firm Appleby launched breach of confidence proceedings against the BBC and the Guardian in the English High Court over their reporting of leaked documents detailing offshore tax-avoidance schemes of some of the world’s largest companies and powerful individuals, known as the Paradise Papers.

The documents were originally leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung who partnered with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and 96 other media outlets worldwide to report on the information in December 2016. Around 6 million of the 13.4 million leaked documents originated from Appleby.

Appleby sought a permanent injunction to prevent further use of the information, disclosure of all the law firm’s documents that informed the media outlets’ reporting, as well as damages for the disclosure of what they alleged were confidential documents. The firm stated that its overwhelming responsibility was towards its clients and colleagues who had their private and confidential information taken in what they described as a criminal act. They further claimed that there was no public interest in the stories published about it and its clients.

Following the instigation of the lawsuit, the BBC and the Guardian’s spokesperson stated that the claim could have serious consequences and deter British media organizations from undertaking investigative journalism in the public interest.

The first procedural hearing in relation to Appleby’s legal action took place on 16 January 2018. On 2 May 2018, a High Court judge directed a speedy trial to resolve the main issues in the action, and requested disclosure of the documents obtained by the BBC and the Guardian from the ICIJ at an early stage of the expedited proceedings.

On 4 May 2018, Appleby, the BBC and the Guardian announced that they had settled the lawsuit. The parties said that an agreement was reached after the the BBC and the Guardian assisted Appleby by explaining which of the company’s documents may have been used to guide their journalism. This showed that the vast majority of documents used in the Paradise Papers investigation related to fiduciary business that was no longer owned by Appleby and therefore were not legally privileged.

News items

Guardian, BBC reveal Paradise Papers documents to Appleby, BVI Beacon, 14 May 2018
"MEPs call for power to tackle 'vexatious lawsuits' targeting journalists", Guardian (UK), 22 Feb 2018
BBC and Guardian sued over Paradise Papers leaks, BBC (UK), 18 December 2017

Documents from media outlets

Appleby, Guardian News and Media Limited and the BBC settle Paradise Papers dispute, BBC Press Office Statement, 4 May 2018 
Guardian to fight legal action over Paradise Papers, Guardian (UK), 18 December 2017 
Appleby launches legal action against ICIJ’s UK partners, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, 18 December 2017

Documents from Appleby

Update in relation to Appleby's legal action against the Guardian and the BBC, 2 May 2018
Why Appleby is taking legal action against the Guardian and the BBC, 26 January 2018 
Appleby takes legal action, 20 December 2017

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Article
14 May 2018

Guardian, BBC reveal Paradise Papers documents to Appleby

Author: Conor King Devitt, The BVI Beacon

In a confidential settlement, The Guardian and the BBC agreed to reveal to Appleby what documents may have supported their reporting during the massive Paradise Papers investigation, according to a joint statement from the offshore law firm and the media outlets. Appleby sued the media organisations for their role in the international journalistic expose, which reported on 13.4 million leaked files — including e-mails, loan agreements, trust deeds, financial statements, client records, bank applications and court papers — that allegedly showed evidence of offshore compliance failures and Appleby’s large-scale facilitation of multinational tax avoidance structures. “Without compromising their journalistic integrity or ability to continue to do public interest journalism, the Guardian and the BBC have assisted Appleby by explaining which of the company’s documents may have been used to underpin their journalism,” read a May 4 joint statement released by the firm. “This will allow Appleby to initiate meaningful discussions with its clients, colleagues and regulators.”

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Article
26 February 2018

MEPs call on EU to act against "vexatious lawsuits" brought by companies against journalists as a way of silencing criticism

Author: Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Guardian (UK)

"MEPs call for power to tackle 'vexatious lawsuits' targeting journalists", 22 Feb 2018

A group of European MEPs is seeking to turn the tables on companies that they allege are targeting investigative reporters with “abusive” lawsuits and other legal threats as a way to silence critical journalism. Under a new proposal put forward by six MEPs, who called for the creation of a new EU directive to tackle the problem, firms involved in so-called vexatious lawsuits could face financial fines if they pursue abusive behaviour towards journalists.

The MEPs are also proposing that the new EU directive would give investigative journalists and media groups the power to request that “vexatious lawsuits” be expediently dismissed, and would create a fund that would financially support media groups that resist lawsuits that are strictly designed to intimidate them.

...Procedures against such lawsuits - known as SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) - are common in a number of states in the US but are new to Europe. One challenge in drafting anti-SLAPP legislation is determining how to target abusive claims, without denying rights of those seeking legitimate claims.

...One was the lawsuit against this publication, the Guardian, and the BBC by Appleby, the offshore company at the heart of the Paradise Papers investigation...The MEPs expressed intense concern about...SLAPP claims, in Malta... where investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb last October. 

...The MEPs letter is also calling for the creation of a new EU register that would “name and shame” firms that pursue abusive practices.

[Also refers to Appleby]

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Article
18 December 2017

Appleby launches legal action against ICIJ’s UK partners

Author: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

Appleby, the offshore law firm at the center of the Paradise Papers investigation, has launched legal action against the BBC and The Guardian...

The Bermuda-founded law firm demanded the disclosure of documents used by the news outlets in their reporting and is seeking damages for reporting on what it says is confidential information...

...Appleby said it was “obliged” to take legal action to find out what documents were taken and how many of their clients were affected.

“Our overwhelming responsibility is to our clients and our own colleagues who have had their private and confidential information taken in what was a criminal act,” an Appleby spokesman was reporting as saying in a statement. “We need to know firstly which of their – and our – documents were taken. We would want to explain in detail to our clients and our colleagues the extent to which their confidentiality has been attacked.”

...The Guardian and the BBC said they will defend themselves. The Guardian called the lawsuit an “attempt to undermine our responsible public interest journalism.”

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Article
18 December 2017

Guardian to fight legal action over Paradise Papers

Author: Guardian (UK)

The Guardian is to defend robustly a legal action seeking to force the disclosure of the documents that formed the basis of its Paradise Papers investigation.

The offshore company at the heart of the story, Appleby, has launched breach of confidence proceedings against the Guardian and the BBC.

In legal correspondence, Appleby has also demanded that the Guardian and the BBC disclose any of the 6m Appleby documents that informed their reporting for a project that provoked worldwide anger and debate over the tax dodges used by individuals and multinational companies.

Appleby is also seeking damages for the disclosure of what it says are confidential legal documents.

...Appleby has said the documents were stolen in a cyber-hack and there was no public interest in the stories published about it and its clients.

It has brought legal action against only the Guardian and the BBC, both UK-based media organisations.

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