22 July 2013

Loose lips sink ships

Amber Melville-Brown
Partner | US

The national media has recently been reporting the exposure of the Harry Potter creator as the thought-to-be first time author of a new novel. To great critical review, 'Robert Galbraith' had published his first book, the detective thriller, The Cuckoo's Calling. However, this was not all that it appeared, because from underneath the magic cloak of anonymity, JK Rowling has had to step forth, unintentionally outed as the author. Given her worldwide public acclaim as best selling children's author-extraordinaire, publishing in the relatively obscurity of anonymity must have been a liberating experience. So the fact of her status as author of The Cuckoo's Calling would to her have been priceless and deeply confidential. No doubt she would have preferred had Galbraith stayed slightly longer out of the media glare. So why and how was this private and confidential – and it turns out privileged – information been exposed to the world? Frighteningly, as a result of a loose-lipped lawyer. Russells solicitors represent both Ms Rowling and 'Mr Galbraith' and the fact that the two were one and the same apparently slipped out at a dinner party by one partner, to his wife's best friend; she in turn, tweeted it; and surprise surprise, it was picked up by the national newspapers. Where there is an unauthorised disclosure of confidential information, imparted in circumstances importing an obligation of confidence – in other words the recipient knew or ought to have known it was confidential – it can give rise to an action in breach of confidence. Russells has rightly apologised unreservedly for the disclosure; and indeed, many in the profession may be uttering under their breath the words, 'there but for the grace of God…'. Lawyers know that confidential information entrusted to them within the professional relationship of trust and confidence must not be uttered outside the confines of the firm, to a single soul. Mistakes can happen. But this is a salutary reminder to all of us that we live in a fast moving media world where a drop of information can turn into a raging torrent of worldwide publications at the touch of a button, the click of a mouse or a few words over the dinner table. Today, loose lips can sink ships fast; so lawyers' lips must be kept fast shut.

Category: Blog