‘I’m done with these rich men hid­ing you away’ – MP Phillips vows to fight gag­ging or­der on ‘vic­tims’ of top boss

Birmingham Post - - NEWS - Natalie Evans Staff Re­porter

BIRM­ING­HAM MP Jess Phillips has urged vic­tims to con­tact her af­ter a mys­tery busi­ness­man won a high court in­junc­tion pre­vent­ing a na­tional news­pa­per from re­port­ing al­le­ga­tions against him.

Ms Phillips, Labour MP for Birm­ing­ham Yard­ley, claimed that she was “done with these rich men us­ing our laws to hide you away”.

The Daily Tele­graph lost the lat­est round of a free speech fight with the com­pany boss.

The busi­ness­man, whose iden­tity re­mains shrouded in mys­tery, is ac­cused of “dis­cred­itable con­duct”.

Three Court of Ap­peal judges barred the news­pa­per from pub­lish­ing “con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion”.

It came af­ter analysing ri­val ar­gu­ments at a hear­ing in Lon­don.

But Ms Phillips has vowed to help fight the gag­ging or­der.

She said: “I don’t know his name so I can­not name him.”

But she added: “I plan to find out as much as I can about the case, hope that vic­tims would seek me out if I can of­fer some sort of cover, and make sure that, what­ever I do, I don’t dam­age them.”

Un­der Par­lia­men­tary priv­i­lege, Phillips would have le­gal im­mu­nity against civil or crim­i­nal li­a­bil­ity for ac­tions done or state­ments made in the course of their leg­isla­tive du­ties – for ex­am­ple, nam­ing the busi­ness­man in the House of Com­mons.

The un­named busi­ness­man, a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive in a com­pany group, plus man­agers at two com­pa­nies in the group, took le­gal ac­tion in a bid to stop the Tele­graph pub­lish­ing a story.

A High Court judge had re­fused to gag the news­pa­per in Au­gust.

But the ex­ec­u­tive and man­agers at the two com­pa­nies mounted a chal­lenge and three ap­peal judges have over­turned Mr Jus­tice Had­donCave’s de­ci­sion.

Sir Ter­ence Ether­ton, Lord Jus­tice Un­der­hill and Lord Jus­tice Hen­der­son have out­lined their de­ci­sion in a rul­ing.

They said five em­ploy­ees of com­pa­nies in the group had made al­le­ga­tions of “dis­cred­itable con­duct” by the ex­ec­u­tive.

In all five cases com­plaints had been “com­pro­mised by set­tle­ment agree­ments” un­der which “sub­stan- tial pay­ments” were made to em­ploy­ees who had com­plained.

Both sides had un­der­taken to “keep con­fi­den­tial” the sub­ject mat­ter of com­plaints.

The three judges had over­seen a Court of Ap­peal hear­ing in Septem­ber and pub­lished a rul­ing on Tues­day. The ap­peal judges have not named any­one in­volved, apart from the news­pa­per.

They named the claimant ex­ec­u­tive and com­pa­nies as “ABC & oth­ers”.

Judges said a Daily Tele­graph jour­nal­ist had con­tacted the “claimants” in July want­ing com­ments on a story the news­pa­per was propos­ing to pub­lish.

They said the re­porter was aware of agree­ments to “keep con­fi­den­tial” the sub­ject mat­ter of the com­plaints – “non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments”.

Judges said the claimants felt that the in­for­ma­tion had been dis­closed to the news­pa­per by one or more of the com­plainants, or by other em­ploy­ees who were aware of the in­for­ma­tion and of the non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments”.

They said the claimants im­me­di­ately com­menced lit­i­ga­tion and asked for an in­junc­tion pre­vent­ing the Tele­graph pub­lish­ing “con­fi­den­tial” in­for­ma­tion which had been “dis­closed in breach of con­fi­dence”.

Mr Jus­tice Had­don-Cave con­cluded that pub­li­ca­tion of the in­for­ma­tion was “clearly ca­pa­ble of sig­nif­i­cantly con­tribut­ing to a de­bate in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety” and “mak­ing a con­tri­bu­tion to a cur­rent de­bate of gen­eral pub­lic in­ter­est on mis­con­duct in the work­place”.

The judge had de­cided that pub­li­ca­tion of the in­for­ma­tion would be in the pub­lic in­ter­est.

But ap­peal judges said Mr Jus­tice Had­don-Cave had “left en­tirely out of ac­count” the “im­por­tant and le­git­i­mate role” played by non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments.

“There is no ev­i­dence that any of the set­tle­ment agree­ments were pro­cured by bul­ly­ing, ha­rass­ment or un­due pres­sure by the claimants,” said the ap­peal judges’ rul­ing.

“Each set­tle­ment agree­ment records that the em­ployee was in­de­pen­dently ad­vised by a named le­gal ad­viser.”

The rul­ing added: “The ef­fect of each of the set­tle­ment agree­ments was to put an end to ex­ist­ing or po­ten­tial lit­i­ga­tion and en­abled the em­ploy­ees to re­ceive sub­stan­tial pay­ments.”

Ap­peal judges said there was a “real prospect” that pub­li­ca­tion would cause sub­stan­tial and pos­si­ble ir­re­versible harm to the claimants.

> MP Jess Phillips (cen­tre) wants staff who suf­fered a busi­ness­man’s ‘dis­cred­itable con­duct’ to con­tact her

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