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High Court issues gagging order against Reuters after breach of confidentiality

The High Court has issued a gagging order against international news agency Reuters, after it obtained confidential information meant for potential investors.

The Court heard how information was taken from a package – marked private and confidential – destined for Brevan Howard Asset Management (BHAM) investors.

BHAM approached the High Court on 10 March seeking an interim injunction after Reuters questioned the accuracy of the material it had received.

It is understood that the information came from a package of seven documents which BHAM sent to 36 potential investors in electronic form.

Mr Justice Popplewell said Reuters had said it had received the third-party document from a source who had given assurance that it was not obtained in breach of confidence.

“However on the evidence presently available, it is probable that the information Reuters has received is derived from those documents, most probably originating directly or indirectly from one or more of the 36 potential investors to whom they were sent in the circumstances which I have described,” he said.

“The confidentiality of the information supplied to the potential investors is apparent from both its nature and the circumstances in which it was conveyed to and received by them.

“It was sensitive commercial information not previously held in that form but created for the purposes of making candid and responsible disclosure to a limited number of potential investors; it would have the potential to be valuable to BHAM’s competitors and damaging to BHAM’s business if disseminated more widely.

“Although not a trade secret in the true sense, it is confidential business information which can properly be the subject matter of confidentiality.”

Reuters argued that the information it had received was of public interest.

But the Judge said the information enclosed did not correct a false impression created by BHAM, would not reveal any illegal or immoral dealing, or expose improper practice or concealment.

“Material which might undermine BHAM’s public reputation is a matter of public interest but it lacks the weightier public interest which publication might carry if it were necessary to expose some behaviour on the part of BHAM which involved iniquity,” said Mr Justice Popplewell.

“In this case there has been no misleading self-promotion by BHAM which could justify a public interest in publication on the grounds that it would involve exposing hypocrisy or incompetence, still less deceit or some other form of iniquity. Publication would not be for the purposes of demonstrating any behaviour which is even arguably behaviour deserving of moral censure.”

The gagging order will prevent the news agency from publishing the information to the public and restrict it from being passed onto any unauthorised third party.

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