High Court Addresses Limitation Defenses and Open Justice in Baroness Lawrence v Associated Newspapers Case

Citation: [2023] EWHC 2789 (KB)
Judgment on


In the case of Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon OBE & Ors v Associated Newspapers Limited, the High Court of Justice addressed several significant legal principles pertaining to limitation, abuse of process, and constraints on public access to court proceedings. This article dissects the Honourable Mr. Justice Nicklin’s judgment, highlighting key topics such as limitation defenses, the application of the Limitation Act 1980, restrictions under the Inquiries Act 2005, and the principle of open justice.

Key Facts

The Claimants, comprising public figures including Baroness Lawrence and Prince Harry, alleged that Associated Newspapers Limited (‘Associated’), through its journalists and/or private investigators, engaged in unlawful information gathering, resulting in the publication of private information. The Defendant, Associated, publisher of The Daily Mail, denied these allegations.

Associated sought to strike out the claims based on limitation grounds and breach of restriction orders from the Leveson Inquiry. Additionally, Associated filed for reporting restrictions concerning the anonymity of journalists and reference to the Ledgers used to draft the Particulars of Claim.

Limitation Act 1980

Central to the dispute was Section 32 of the Limitation Act 1980, permitting postponement of the limitation period when information relevant to the Claimants’ case had been deliberately concealed. The Court asserted a cautious approach in assessing whether the Claimants, given their unique positions and the intricacies involved, could have been expected to ascertain the concealed information earlier. The Court held that resolution of conflicting accounts, particularly the arrival of new evidence from private investigators, was unfit for summary judgment, thus dismissing the Defendant’s application.

Inquiries Act 2005

Associated contended that the Claimants’ use of the Ledgers, documents from the Leveson Inquiry, was in breach of s.19 restriction orders. Mr. Justice Nicklin concluded that the Final Restriction Order was clear in its ambit and covered the Ledgers, which were withheld by the Inquiry. The Order remained in force indefinitely, and it became an abuse of process to use the restricted material in litigation without varying or revoking the order.

Open Justice and Reporting Restrictions

The Court addressed the issue of ensuring fairness and protecting the administration of justice when derogating from open justice. Associated’s application for temporary reporting restrictions was granted for sections of the Particulars of Claim that related to the dispute of the Restriction Order Application, as well as the names of journalists accused of misconduct. The Court maintained that identification of individuals in connection with allegations they had not yet answered could be unfair and prejudicial.


The Court’s judgment resulted in the dismissal of the Limitation Application, asserting that each Claimant had a real prospect of success in facing a limitation defense due to concealment under s.32. On the Restriction Order Application, the Court ruled in favor of Associated, signifying that the alleged breach of s.19 restriction orders from the Leveson Inquiry rendered the affected sections of the Particulars of Claim impermissible for use.


The case exemplifies the delicate balance between individual rights and the broader principles of justice. It reinforces the doctrine that the pursuit to reveal concealed information must align with statutory restrictions and procedural fairness. For legal professionals, understanding the nuances of this case is paramount, as it demonstrates when claims can survive despite expiration periods and how courts safeguard the administration of justice against possible abuses of process. This judgment further underscores the inherent checks providing rigidity to the legal system, ensuring that claims rooted in substantial allegations prevail irrespective of procedural technicalities.