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Guardian and BBC settle Paradise Papers dispute with offshore law firm Appleby

By Charlotte Tobitt

The Guardian and BBC have settled a dispute with offshore law firm Appleby after it tried to force the disclosure of documents which informed their Paradise Papers reporting.

Appleby filed a breach of confidence claim against the titles in December after a global investigation into the offshore tax activities of the world’s richest people and companies, based on more than 13m documents.

About 380 journalists from 96 media organisations around the world took part in the Paradise Papers investigation, but the Guardian and the BBC were the only ones to face any legal action.

According to the Guardian, Appleby had demanded the disclosure of any of the 6m documents it owned that had informed the reporting of both organisations.

Both had pledged to defend their roles in the investigation, with the Guardian calling the legal action an “attempt to undermine our responsible public interest journalism and to force us to disclose documents that we regard as journalistic material”.

In a joint statement released earlier this month, Appleby, the Guardian and the BBC announced they had resolved their differences.

Appleby said its main objective for bringing the breach of confidence proceedings was to understand which of its confidential and privileged documents had been taken.

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This would enable the firm, it said, to respond to clients, regulators and colleagues about what information relating to them had been taken.

However Appleby said it is now clear that the vast majority of documents that were of interest in the Paradise Papers investigation were no longer owned by the firm and were therefore not legally privileged documents.

The Guardian and the BBC assisted Appleby by explaining which of its documents may have been used in their reporting, but “without compromising their journalistic integrity or ability to continue to do public interest journalism”, the statement said.

Michael O’Connell, group managing partner of Appleby, said: “From the outset we wanted to be able to explain to our clients and colleagues what information of theirs had been stolen. That was our duty. As a result of this legal action we are well on our way to achieving our objectives.”

A spokesperson for the Guardian said: “The Guardian’s reporting from the Paradise Papers is investigative journalism that has raised important issues in the public interest.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “We welcome this settlement which preserves our ability to carry out investigative journalism in the public interest.”

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