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28 Sep 2018

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

On 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