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New Zealand news site LawFuel ordered to hand over communication with sources

New Zealand news site LawFuel ordered to hand over communication with sources

John Bowie is the publisher of LawFuel, a law news site based in New Zealand.

Between April and August 2020, LawFuel ran a series of articles detailing allegations of harassment and abuse by Sergey Grishin, a Russian oligarch living in California. Other newspapers, including the Sun, the Times and the Daily Mail also reported on these allegations.

In December 2020, Mr Grishin filed a pre-commencement discovery application against John Bowie before the High Court of New Zealand. Mr Grishin brought the application in order to gather information relating to LawFuel’s communications with a source. In May 2021, the High Court ordered Mr Bowie to hand over all materials relevant to the case. In practical terms, this means he must surrender emails and other correspondence he had with his sources. Mr Grishin’s law firm, Simpson Grierson, was able to secure this order without their client needing to be in the country. Instead, he remained in California.

In short, this decision sets a dangerous precedent for protection of sources and journalistic privilege in New Zealand. It will inevitably have a chilling effect on journalists there covering this story and other stories. The New Zealand Press Club recently wrote to the New Zealand Law Commission, a group that reviews law and make recommendations to the government. They noted the particular danger arising from the decision of the High Court, where claimants who are the subject matter of an international story could apply to the courts in New Zealand through an intermediary and be confident of securing information about the source of the story.

As a result of his reporting, Mr Bowie is now facing a defamation lawsuit.

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