Newham company boss in court over petition ruling breach

A general view of the High Court on the Strand, London. Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Archive

A Newham company director has appeared before a High Court judge after an embargo on a court ruling was broken. - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

A company co-director has appeared before a judge after an embargo on a High Court ruling was broken.

Democracy Newham Ltd wanted a judge to review Newham Council's decision that its petition calling for a referendum on how the borough is governed was invalid.

Justice Stephen Morris ruled on January 29 that no petition for a referendum presented between March 16, 2020 and May 5, 2021 could be valid under coronavirus legislation.

However, the day before the ruling was allowed to be made public, Democracy Newham co-director Amanat Ali Butt shared the outcome with activist Mehmood Mirza.

Breaching an embargo of a judgement can amount to contempt of court.

Justice Morris, at a virtual hearing of the Royal Courts of Justice on Friday, February 12, explained three options: dropping the matter, referring it to the Attorney General or the court pursuing the case.

Francis Hoar, for the company and Mr Butt, called for it to be dropped.

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Mr Butt admitted meeting Mr Mirza on January 28 and revealing campaigners had lost, he said.

But he added his clients weren't aware Mr Mirza would share the verdict on WhatsApp, saying there was no evidence the activist was guilty of contempt of court.

The barrister said the "indiscretion" had not given any advantage to campaigners. The judgement's full text had also not been divulged.

The message - which said "We're very sorry, we've lost" - was "anodyne" and deleted early on. Mr Butt also apologised profusely, Mr Hoar added.

A second message in another WhatsApp group was not deleted though Mr Butt didn't send it, the court heard.

Mr Butt "appreciated" the seriousness of the breaches, but what happened after the conversation was Mr Mirza's responsibility, Mr Hoar said.

A second director of the company was out of the country and not sent the judgement before it was handed down.

Timothy Straker, for Newham, argued the Attorney General should investigate.

Mr Mirza's witness statement maintained he didn't know about the embargo. However, Mr Straker said Mr Mirza's LinkedIn profile records him as an adviser to a firm of solicitors.

Newham had "no axe to grind" and referring the case to the Attorney General would tidy up matters because the evidence wasn't as clear as expected, he added.

Justice Morris deferred taking a decision to allow for more evidence. He ordered the company to pay costs.