The Chancellor's secret libel letters
August 2, 2022 11:46 AM   Subscribe

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nadhim Zahawi, has been sending threatening letters, drafted by expensive lawyers, to people investigating his tax affairs. The letters are designed to intimidate, and say they are confidential and can't be published. One was sent to me. I am publishing it.

Part of a multi-part series by Dan Neidle, that initially focused on the Conservative leadership candidates:
posted by smcg (12 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good for Neidle. I am disgusted when lawyers use the threat of a lawsuit to silence critics or discourage inquiry that's in the public interest.

Neidle is courageous and careful. I hope his questions lead to a full revelation of all the facts, and legal consequences for the Chancellor if they are warranted.

It gives me hope whenever I see someone tenaciously fighting for the truth. Thank you so much for posting this, smcg.
posted by kristi at 12:13 PM on August 2 [18 favorites]


Good for Neidle. I am disgusted when lawyers use the threat of a lawsuit to silence critics or discourage inquiry that's in the public interest.

Or non-disclosure agreements, one might add.
posted by Gelatin at 1:13 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


I know libel laws differ in the UK from the US, but back when I studied journalism, keeping something off the record required agreement by the journalist in advance. You don't get to send them a document and say "this is confidential, don't publish it." If you don't want it published, don't send it.

(You also don't get to cover a gaffe by claiming it was off the record, after the fact.)
posted by Gelatin at 1:16 PM on August 2 [20 favorites]


So, I won't say there are no honest politicians, but there seem to be very few in the upper echelons of the Conservatives....
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:53 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


back when I studied journalism, keeping something off the record required agreement by the journalist in advance.

1000%. this would never even remotely work in the US. does anyone know what arcane UK law this "without prejudice" nonsense is, where one side gets to unilaterally decide what the other does??
posted by wibari at 10:29 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


I can't enlarge Neidle's texts, so can't have an opinion about whether there's the stink of corruption or not.
posted by Narrative_Historian at 10:48 PM on August 2


does anyone know what arcane UK law this "without prejudice" nonsense is, where one side gets to unilaterally decide what the other does??

There's this guy, Dan Neidle, who wrote a blog post about it.

"Without prejudice" is somewhat analogous to US FRE 408 although I understand the latter is much more limited in scope.

During negotiations to settle matters out of court, lawyers in England & Wales may send each other settlement offers. It is not generally permissible for those to be introduced as evidence in subsequent litigation if the negotiations fail. I.e. you cannot say, "well if you were so sure of your case, why did you seriously contemplate settling for £X?" in court afterwards.

This is a pretty common-sense rule because otherwise nobody would negotiate. As noted, there is an analogous but more limited US civil procedure rule. I imagine that US jurisdictions may well have similar rules relating to plea bargaining correspondence and discussions (plea bargains are not permitted in E&W) for exactly the same reasons.

Note that this rule is procedural and it applies to lawyers, which Dan Neidle is.

In this case, the rule doesn't apply at all since there is no case, which Zahawi's lawyers have admitted, probably because they realised that taking this any further would get them into real trouble, and there was never a good faith negotiation.

So in fact this doesn't work in England either, by any reasonable interpretation of the rules, but Neidle's suspicion (well grounded) is that libel lawyers have been using this widely and that even though it would never stand up might well work as an intimidation tactic.

Keeping something "off the record" for a journalist is completely irrelevant and also has no legal meaning, only one of journalistic ethics and reputation.

Interesting to see that Hunt just paid his taxes.
posted by atrazine at 11:22 PM on August 2 [10 favorites]


Oh and Dan Neidl is the former head of Tax at Clifford Chance so not someone to trifle with.
posted by atrazine at 11:25 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


Founder of YouGov, huh? Perhaps he should have commissioned a poll to see how his failure to pay tax would be received...
posted by clawsoon at 3:16 AM on August 3 [2 favorites]


@Narrative_Historian - right click the image and choose to open the image in a new tab. In that new tab, use CTRL and + (Windows) or CMD and + (Mac) to enlarge the image.

CTRL/CMD and - shrinks it, CTRL/CMD and 0 resets.
posted by I shot a fox in Skyrim and it made me sad at 3:43 AM on August 3


Note that this rule is procedural and it applies to lawyers, which Dan Neidle is.

Aside from the reasons you mentioned, it's also not clear that it applies to Neidle as he started he would not accept confidential correspondence before they sent him confidential correspondence. Yes, if someone sends you something confidential you can't just reject the confidentiality after the fact, but it is not clear that you can force it upon someone outside of very specific circumstances relating to a pending or ongoing lawsuit when they have preemptively rejected it.
posted by Dysk at 12:55 PM on August 3


I wonder if you could just publish analogous to this and avoid any stupid blowback.
posted by kjs3 at 5:51 PM on August 3


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