The Court of Appeal has censured two solicitors and a barrister after an embargoed draft judgment was disclosed to third parties in breach of a court order.
At the end of a hearing where the Crown unsuccessfully appealed against a ruling to stay criminal proceedings against Telford delivery driver Noshad Hussain, the circuit judge said he would reserve judgment and hand it down ‘in the usual way’.
This is understood by legal professionals to mean that the draft judgment will be given to the legal teams on a ‘strictly confidential’ basis in advance of the judgment being handed down.
Lawyers are only permitted to disclose the substance of the judgment to the client an hour before the judgment is formally handed down.
But in breach of the embargo, the solicitor dealing with the case, Shahnaz Dean, from West Midlands Solicitors, contacted Hussain’s family, the police and a local newspaper.
In the Court of Appeal’s determination on the breach, Lord Justice Treacy (pictured) said: ‘It is clearly understood that that document is strictly embargoed and that its contents are confidential to counsel and solicitors involved in the case.’
He said the judgment, communicated to counsel, is on the front page marked ‘in the clearest terms’ to indicate its confidentiality.
Treacy said the breach was compounded by the fact that Dean gave a local newspaper a ‘wholly inaccurate’ report of the outcome, telling them her client had been cleared, when in fact he had been technically acquitted without any court pronouncing on the allegations.
Dean apologised to the court, along with counsel in the case, Dean Kershaw at No5 Chambers in Birmingham and Mohammed Fiaz, partner in West Midlands Solicitors.
Treacy said that all three were ‘in one way or another at fault’ – Kershaw for not providing an emailed copy of the draft judgment making the position clear to Dean; Dean for not knowing the position or failing to take steps to find it out; and Fiaz for not supervising Dean adequately.
The court accepted that the breach was due to ‘slackness and a failure of supervision, rather than deliberate flouting of the order’ and decided not to take the matter further.
But Treacy warned: ‘A failure of this sort may be dealt with more severely in future’ and said that the court ‘will be alert’ to act in cases of breach and may consider withdrawing the use of embargoed judgments if breaches recur.
Read the full judgment.