An interesting point of media law and local authorities has been clarified in the High Court. The case concerns the issuing of Confidential Embargoed Draft Judgements – CEDJ – and their wider circulation.

Mr Justice Fordham had sent a confidential embargoed draft judgment (CEDJ) of his decision in the planning case of Kinsey, R (On the Application Of) v London Borough of Lewisham [2022] EWHC 1774 (Admin) to the parties on 5 July 2022. This is also known as Mais House and remains a controversial planning decision.

This confidential draft embargoed judgement was given to eleven Lewisham Council staff and cabinet members on the basis that they “did ‘need’ to know in order to ‘prepare themselves for the publication of the judgment’, given their involvement with the case.” The cabinet members were Cllrs Paul Bell and Brenda Dacres.

However, the CDEJ was also shared with a press officer who was tasked with dealing with the public relations and media more widely once the judgement was officially made public or handed down.

The press officer mistakenly sent out a press release with Lewisham Council’s comments and reaction to the court’s finding before the judgement was made public. The judgement notes that the publication at 09:15 on 11 July 2022 was not to the public at large but to a portion of the press; that it was premature by 45 minutes; that it bore an ’embargo’ of its own, as to reporting to the public; and that there was no press reporting until after 10am – indeed not until 13:06 – on 11 July 2022.

The High Court has found a breach but it accepted that this was human error and stopped short of finding any contempt of court.

The Judgement will be useful for those with an interest in media law and anyone teaching or studying journalism.

It has been reported that there is concern among the senior judiciary about a spate of breaches of embargoes on draft judgments and that this has resulted in a clear warning in the updated King’s Bench Division (KBD) guide.

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