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Dorsey James Michael v. World Sport Group

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    January 14, 2014
  • Outcome
    Other, Access to Information Denied
  • Case Number
    [2014] SGCA 4
  • Region & Country
    Singapore, Asia and Asia Pacific
  • Judicial Body
    Appellate Court
  • Type of Law
    Civil Law
  • Themes
    Protection of Sources
  • Tags
    Blog, Corruption, Public Interest

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

A fundamental cornerstone of freedom of the press is the protection of sources. This case exemplifies this important principle and protects the sources of the appellant by reversing the decision of the lower court to allow pre-action interrogatories which would have required the disclosure of confidential sources.


Facts

This case involves the appeal of a judgment granting requests for pre-action interrogatories that implicate revealing a journalist’s sources. The appellant is James Michael Dorsey who is a journalist and the respondent is Word Sport Group, an international sports marketing and management company.

This proceeding follows allegations of bribery and corruption which were compiled in a report that was subsequently published in international media across the globe. The appellant was one of the journalists who published blog posts on the alleged scandal and cited that his information came from “sources close to the Asian Football Confederation.” Word Source Group filed pre-action interrogatories on the appellant requiring him to reveal the sources of his information. Word Sport Group claimed that the sources cited by the appellant were in violation of confidentiality agreements and defamed Word Sport Group.

The case came first before the Assistant Registrar who allowed Word Sport Group to serve the interrogatories on appellant, but denied discovery of some documents. This decision was appealed to the High Court Judge who again allowed the interrogatories but limited the scope of questioning. The case was then brought before the Court of Appeals.


Decision Overview

The main issue before the court of appeals was whether the High Court Judge properly granted the order of pre-action interrogatories, which are interrogatories served before the commencement of an action, unique to the Singapore legal system. The Court discussed that pre-action interrogatories can be useful to ascertain whether a claimant actually has a cause of action but should not be used as a fishing expedition to gain information.

The Court discussed a balancing approach where the “real grievance” should be weighed against the “public interest” in prohibiting disclosure. Public interest factors include, “the strength of the possible cause of action contemplated by the applicant; whether it is necessary and proportionate response in all the circumstance; whether the information could be obtained from another source; the degree of confidentiality of the information sought; and whether it will deter similar future wrongdoing.” For deciding whether a “real grievance” exists the court must determine the degree of potential wrongdoing from the source, i.e., some reasonable basis for concluding a wrongful act has been committed.

The main determining factor is the necessity of the sources, and the court typically examines whether the disclosure of the sources is necessary to move forward with the action. The court also looks at whether it is “just” to allow these types of pre-action disclosures. In this case, the Court, looking at these factors and also at whether Word Sport Group would have a viable claim against the sources, ruled that Word Sport Group would still have effective remedies if the pre-action interrogatories were denied.

Additionally, the Court discussed the principle of confidentiality and that Word Sport Group would not have an action against the purported sources because once information enters the public domain it can no longer be considered confidential. Word Sport Group would have to provide some compelling reason why disclosure of this particular source is necessary when the supposed “leak” is all over the internet, not just in appellant’s blog posts.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

This case expands freedom of expression by protecting the journalists’ confidential sources. This allows for further freedom of the press by denying pre-action interrogatories to produce a source.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

Other national standards, law or jurisprudence

  • U.K., British Steel Corp. v. Granada Television Ltd, [1981] AC 1096 (HL)

    Case compelling disclosure of the name of an employee who revealed confidential information. The court employed a balancing approach between the public interest and whether a real grievance exists and ultimately ordered disclosure of the source because the plaintiff had an cause of action against the unidentified source.

  • Austl., John Fairfax & Sons Ltd v. Cojuangco, [1988] 165 CLR 346

    A court will not order pre-action discovery to against a source when the plaintiff has a viable claim against the defendant and not a separate claim against the undisclosed source.

  • U.K., Attorney General v. Observer Ltd and Others, [1990] 1 AC 109

    Injunction denied for distribution of a book supposedly containing confidential information. The court found that once information enters the public domain it is no longer considered confidential.

  • U.K., Long Beach Limited, Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso v Global Witness Limited [2007] EWHC 1980 (QB)

    Established the “inquiry rule” which weighs the public interest against the private interest of confidentiality. This case involved corruption of a public official and the court ruled the public interest in exposing the information outweighed the private interest of keeping the information confidential.

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

Official Case Documents

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