LBTH very clumsy attempt to block media access to Poplar Papers

Tower Hamlets Council legal department (yes, there is one!) has sent a letter to the journalists attempting to gain access to a 2,000 page evidential bundle containing allegations of corruption in the previous and current administration, the Poplar Papers.
This post is just to get the contents of this letter out in the public domain – ‘cos that is how we work – for reference in other posts. All future correspondence between LW and the Council regarding this issue will also be published here.
Why? Because all this is about you, the residents of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, and how your local authority works and how your money is spent.
No doubt Mayor Biggs will welcome this approach which fully embraces the concept of open and transparent local government.
The legal bit: publication of this email does not mean that any of the letter’s terms or conditions are accepted by the journalists attempting to gain access to the evidence bundle. 
More later folks!

Court order for disclosure of Category Two documents in Edmunds v Tower Hamlets Council – Case nos. 3200529/2017 & 3201434/2018 [ref DEDCS.86]
From: Tola Bello, Employment Senior Lawyer – Civil Litigation, Tower Hamlets Council
To: Michael Gillard (acting as representative for all media organisations involved).
Dear Mr Gillard,
Further to our recent email exchanges, I have now had an opportunity to discuss this with the Claimant’s representative, Francis Hoar. Mr Hoar has agreed the approach I set out below.
Please note that the Order is made against both parties so the Claimant side is equally responsible for complying with the order.
As to why we have not done anything, that is because you have not asked us until now. It is a precondition of the order that the press agree to pay our [the parties] reasonable costs of redacting the documents in question. It was our understanding (as recorded in the judgment) that you were not willing to pay any costs at all. Since you have not made any request until now, it was our understanding that that was still the case.
Are you now saying you are willing to undertake to pay the reasonable costs of doing the redactions? Please kindly consult with your media colleagues and confirm in writing that you (acting on behalf of the media organisations involved in the disclosure application) are now willing in principle to pay the reasonable costs of redacting the documents. I will await receipt of your confirmation before going ahead and commencing the process set out below.
As the employment judge thought it would be reasonable to instruct a solicitor to do the work, the reasonable costs will not be negligible and will clearly run to thousands of pounds. The judge also suggested that to keep costs down you could narrow the focus of the documents you are asking for. You are obviously free to consider this.
There are two categories of documents: those referred to in witness statements, and those referred to in oral evidence.
So far as concerns the documents referred to in witness statements, someone would have to go through all the witness statements and provide a list of all the documents required, with cross reference to either the Claimant’s bundle or the Respondent’s bundle. You can do this yourselves by working through the statements or if you require us to do it you will have to pay our reasonable costs in producing the list.
We are not presently aware of any documents referred to only in oral evidence that were not referred to in the witness statements. You can of course also ask the Claimant side if they are aware of any such documents. If members of the press are interested in any particular documents you want to see from your notes of evidence, you need to provide the page number referred to in evidence and they can be added to the list for disclosure.
Once a list of documents requested has been compiled someone will need to go through every page in every document requested to make the redactions ordered:

  1. To compile a bundle of documents requested prior to redaction.
  2. To compile a list of pages in that bundle which include any of the following:(a) names on that page of people who are not witnesses or Dinar Hossain.(b) job titles shown for any of names shown(c) personal data (home address, telephone number, mobile number, email address) indicated for any names shown.
  3. To compile a list of job titles referred to in the bundle (each job title listed just once).
  4. Parties to agree parameters for seniority levels wherever a job title is referred to.
  5. Claimant side to go through all documents requested and propose a seniority level for each job title.
  6. Respondent side to go through these proposals and agree or disagree
  7. The parties to resolve disputes if any as to classification.
  8. Someone to work through the list of pages in 2 above and redact all names other than witnesses and Dinar Hossain, all personal data, and where a job title is shown to (a) redact the job title and (b) hand-write the level of seniority and re-scan those pages and substitute those pages into the .pdf
  9. (On Respondent side) someone to skim read all redacted pages and check that no redactions have been missed.

I will ask our practice manager to obtain quotes for a junior barrister completing this work (which would need to be supervised) and also get quotes for a firm of solicitors to do it.
It is difficult to say how long this will take but I would estimate it would take in the region of 7–10 days of work. This is just an estimate and if it costs less you will pay less and if it costs more you will pay more. We will also charge for our time in managing this process / agreeing job titles / checking redactions etc.
As noted above, I have discussed this response with Francis Hoar, who agrees this approach. We look forward to receiving your response including confirmation that the press will meet the reasonable costs of redaction.
Yours sincerely,
Tola Bello
Employment Senior Lawyer – Civil Litigation
Governance Directorate
Legal Services
London Borough Of Tower Hamlets
Mulberry Place
5 Clove Crescent
E14 2BG

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