High Court judge rules no further action needed over embargo breach by Newham company boss
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A judge has ruled no further action should be taken after the embargo on a High Court ruling was broken by a Newham company boss.
Judge Stephen Morris pronounced his judgement at the Royal Courts of Justice today (Friday, July 23).
This comes after Newham Council announced in September that a "people's petition" calling for a referendum on how the borough is governed was invalid.
Democracy Newham Ltd wanted a judge to examine that decision at a judicial review, but Judge Morris dismissed that request on January 29.
As per procedure, a draft of Judge Morris's ruling was circulated to those involved in the case before it was made public.
The draft included a "clear" warning not to share its contents before they were given in court, Judge Morris said.
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By law, a public vote is required to change how a local authority area is governed. A referendum can be triggered by a council motion or a valid petition.
His ruling also stated the council "did not err in law or act irrationally" in reaching its decision.
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However, on January 28, co-director of Democracy Newham, Amanat Ali Butt, in an "unguarded moment, possibly under the influence of drink", disclosed the judgement to Mehmood Mirza, a supporter of the company's bid for judicial review.
Mr Butt admitted he shared the outcome of the case with Mr Mirza, the court heard.
And Mr Mirza accepted that he posted a message in WhatsApp groups saying Democracy Newham had lost its case. It read: "We're very sorry, we've lost."
Newham Council's lawyer reported the matter to the court on the morning of January 29 and steps were taken to stop the result being shared further.
Judge Morris said: "A breach of a judgement's embargo is a serious matter. It is of great importance to the proper administration of justice that confidentiality of a draft judgement is maintained before a court announces in public."
He added a breach may amount to contempt of court and it was for him to decide how to proceed.
A hearing on February 12 heard there were three options: dropping the case, referring it to the Attorney General or pursuing it through the courts.
Judge Morris accepted Mr Butt had no intention of interfering in the administration of justice.
The judge accepted Mr Mirza was unaware of the embargo, but noted his explanation about what happened changed over time.
Syed Naqvi - who was Democracy Newham's solicitor - had given clear instructions to Mr Butt about the terms of the embargo and immediately took steps to remedy the breach, Judge Morris noted.
"However, your conduct in explaining the deletion of the messages and the assistance you have provided the court has been wanting in a number of respects," Judge Morris told Mr Naqvi in reference to his witness statement.
Anthony Metzer QC, acting for Mr Naqvi, admitted his client should have "read the runes", providing his witness statement "at a much earlier stage".
Judge Morris credited Mr Butt, Mr Mirza and Mr Naqvi for apologising unreservedly.
He said: "Taking all these matters into account and the facts of this case, I have decided no further action will be taken.
"I am sure that, as a result of this extended process of enquiry by the court, each of you now fully understand the seriousness of the breach of the embargo and will have learned lessons from your experience.
"I expect no repetition in the future."
Timothy Straker QC, representing Newham Council, said the local authority's approach had been to support the court.
He explained the council would not be pressing for further costs to be covered.
Democracy Newham had been ordered to pay £6,000 in costs at the hearing in February.
Judge Morris said: "Had an application [for costs] been made, I would have given it serious consideration."
Mr Mirza thanked the judge for his mercy and said he was unsure if he should have to pay any costs with Democracy Newham being the party in this case.
But Judge Morris said: "You are to be grateful to the London Borough of Newham for not pressing the matter."