Judges’ concern after libel trial featuring former spy live-streamed to Russia

Brian Farmer, PA
·2-min read

Senior judges have raised concern after part of a High Court libel trial featuring a former British spy was wrongly live-streamed to people in the United States, Cyprus and Russia.

Christopher Steele, who set up an intelligence consultancy after leaving MI6, wrote a 2016 dossier about alleged links between Donald Trump and Russia.

Russian businessman Aleksej Gubarev sued him after BuzzFeed published the “Steele Dossier” in January 2017.

He said part of the dossier made “seriously defamatory allegations”.

Mr Steele disputed his claims.

A judge oversaw the trial in a court room at the Royal Courts of Justice in London in July.

Trump dossier
Russian businessman Aleksej Gubarev (Aaron Chown/PA)

Mr Justice Warby, who has yet to deliver a ruling, made an order saying journalists and members of the public could not physically attend – because of the coronavirus crisis – but could watch proceedings screened to a nearby room via Zoom.

He subsequently discovered that a solicitor, at a law firm representing Mr Gubarev, had sent the Zoom link to seven people, who watched part of the trial from various locations around the world, without his permission.

The judge asked two other judges to examine issues relating to the “professional conduct” of McDermott Will and Emery, the law firm representing Mr Gubarev, who lives in Cyprus.

Dame Victoria Sharp and Mrs Justice Andrews, who heard evidence at a High Court hearing in London last week, have raised a number of concerns and said an order made by Mr Justice Warby had been disobeyed.

The two judges said, in a ruling published on Thursday, that McDermott Will and Emery, which has offices in London and abroad, had referred the “matter” to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

They said the Zoom link had been sent to seven people connected to Mr Gubarev, including his wife and daughter in Cyprus, the mother of one of his business associates – who gave evidence at the trial – in Russia, and lawyers he used in the United States.

Judges said for three days proceedings had been live-streamed outside the legal jurisdiction of England and Wales without Mr Justice Warby’s permission.

The Royal Courts of Justice
The Royal Courts of Justice in London (Aaron Chown/PA)

“This state of affairs is deeply worrying,” said the two judges. “As McDermott Will and Emery has already referred this matter to the SRA, it is unnecessary for us to do so.

“We will nonetheless direct that a copy of this judgment is sent to the SRA so that this court’s views of the seriousness of the breaches in this case can be made known to it.”

Judges said the lawyer who had passed on the Zoom link had told of a “memory fade”, had accepted responsibility and made a “full and unreserved apology”.

They accepted that it was not a case of “deliberate defiance” of a court order.