Obiter enjoyed an extensive tour of the Royal Courts of Justice this morning in our quest to cover the first court round of a libel battle between three Russian oligarchs, the state oil company and publishing house HarperCollins.
Some 15 journalists gathered in the stone hallways outside Court Number Four, poised to cover multiple legal attacks on Catherine Belton's 2020 book Putin’s People. Only to be told that, apart from one Press Association hack, reporters would not be allowed in the court for social distancing reasons. A select few, we were informed, might be able to watch from the public gallery upstairs.
So up we trundled – via a stuffy spiral staircase – to the sunlit uplands of the gallery. Once there, however, we were informed that there simply wasn’t enough space to accommodate us due to Covid-19. Not to be disheartened, down we went again – via the same airless passageway – to request a video link to the hearing, which was being streamed to the parties and legal teams via the Cloud Video Platform (CVP).
Unfortunately, we were told, the judge would not be sharing the CVP link with journalists. Perhaps we could try the gallery again?
After a small amount of skulduggery, journalists found some (socially-distanced) seats in time to catch the submissions of Roman Abramovich’s counsel. This case, he told the court, has not been brought lightly. Indeed, it has been unfairly characterised as ‘an attack on free speech and public interest journalism. It is not’.
Perish the thought.