Ex-staffer loses bid to force Labour to identify alleged leakers of report

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A former senior Labour staffer, who was named in the internal report that was distributed to the media and online last year, has lost her bid to force Labour to identify those who allegedly leaked the document.

The judge, Justice Tipples, today dismissed the application by Emilie Oldknow OBE – a Labour executive director until 2018 – saying it “smacks of a fishing expedition”, and granting it would have risked innocent parties being identified.

In response to the judgment, Labour sought its costs in relation to the application. Oldknow’s QC replied that if his client had not been “kept in the dark” by Labour, “this application could have been more targeted”.

Oldknow’s barrister William Bennett QC said Labour ought to pay its own costs, or they should be reserved as Oldknow will have to make a further application. But the judge ordered Oldknow to pay Labour’s costs.

The application was dismissed partly because Labour was asked to identify individuals it “reasonably believes” was responsible for the leak. Labour said it could not show beyond any doubt that a particular individual was responsible.

The judge said there was a “real risk” that if Labour were ordered to name individuals suspected of leaking the report, individuals innocent of wrongdoing could be identified. Five individuals accused deny leaking the report.

The judge also highlighted that Labour’s view of who was responsible for the leak could change after investigations by the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Forde Inquiry are completed and their findings revealed.

Oldknow took action against the Labour Party because she claims to have been defamed in the controversial ‘Labour leaks’ report that contained WhatsApp messages and emails between party staffers.

She applied for a Norwich Pharmacal order in a bid to identify the leakers. Labour opposed the breadth of the application: the party was willing to provide documents relating to the identities, but not to offer its view of the identities.

Labour’s opposition to the application was unusual for a Norwich Pharmacal order, typically granted against a third party that is innocently mixed up in wrongdoing and willing to disclose the information.

The party maintains that it is innocent of wrongdoing. This was the conclusion of its own internal investigation that ended in January, which found that the Labour Party did not authorise the report leak.

The Labour investigation came to a clear view of who was responsible for the leak, yet found “no smoking gun” and no email from any Labour accounts that sent the report to someone outside of the party.

During the Oldknow v Evans hearings, the Labour Party agreed with Oldknow that wrongs were committed against her and that the report should not have been disclosed to the media or anyone outside the party.

Five people accused of leaking the report were represented by Carter-Ruck’s Jacob Dean, who first acted on their behalf, then on behalf of Unite the Union after the judge ruled that the five alleged wrongdoers could not intervene.

The judge ruled on Friday that written submissions from Unite’s lawyer could be considered. Today, she therefore ordered Oldknow to pay part of Unite’s costs relating to the failed application.

Commenting on the outcome, a Unite spokesperson said the Labour-affiliated trade union is “pleased the court allowed us to intervene in this application to make submissions on behalf of our members”.

“The principles of confidentiality are vital for workers to have confidence in the workplace. We are pleased the court accepted our submissions, dismissing the application of Emilie Oldknow (and others) as nothing more than a “fishing expedition”.

“We also welcome that the court has ordered Emilie Oldknow (and others) to pay Unite’s legal costs for the making of those submissions, making clear reference to the importance of Unite’s intervention given that Labour was not offering effective opposition to the Oldknow and others application.”

The Forde Inquiry, an independent probe commissioned by Labour, has been indefinitely delayed after its chair, Martin Forde QC, said the inquiry’s findings could have the potential to prejudice the ICO’s work.

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