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United Kingdom House of Lords Decisions

You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> United Kingdom House of Lords Decisions >> D v National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) [1977] UKHL 1 (02 February 1977)
Cite as: [1977] UKHL 1, [1976] 2 All ER 993, [1978] AC 171

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    Parliamentary Archives,




    Lord Diplock
    Lord Hailsham of St. Mary-Marlebone
    Lord Simon of Glaisdale
    Lord Kilbrandon
    Lord Edmund-Davies

    Lord Diplock

    my lords,

    In form this is an interlocutory appeal upon a summons relating to the
    discovery of documents by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
    to Children (N.S.P.C.C.) in a pending action brought against them by the
    respondent (Mrs. D.). In substance, the question for your Lordships is
    whether the N.S.P.C.C. can be compelled in legal proceedings to disclose
    the identity of persons who give them information that a child is being
    ill-treated or neglected.

    The N.S.P.C.C. is a voluntary society founded in 1889 and incorporated
    by Royal Charter in 1895. Its purposes are: —

    1. To prevent the public and private wrongs of children, and the
      corruption of their morals ;

    2. To take action for the enforcement of laws for their protection;

    3. To provide and maintain an organisation for the above objects ;

    4. To do all other such lawful things as are incidental or conducive
      to the attainment of the above objects.

    Action for the enforcement of laws for the protection of children may
    take two forms:

    1. The prosecution of offenders for criminal offences against children,

    2. The institution of care proceedings in a juvenile court under section 1
      of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1969.

    That section authorises a juvenile court to make a variety of different
    Orders for the protection of children or young persons who are being ill-
    treated or neglected. By subsection (1) care proceedings may only be brought
    by a local authority, a constable or an " authorised person ". By the Children
    and Young Persons Act 1969 (Authorisation for the purposes of section D
    Order 1970, the N.S.P.C.C. is the only authorised person under the Act. It
    had also been an authorised person for the purposes of taking proceedings
    under the corresponding section, section 62 of the previous statute of the
    Children and Young Persons Act 1933.

    Although empowered to bring care proceedings, neither constables nor
    the N.S.P.C.C. are under any statutory duty to do so. In this respect their
    position differs from that of a local authority. By section 2(2) where it appears
    to a local authority that there are grounds for bringing care proceedings in
    respect of a child who resides or is found in their area it is the duty
    of that authority to bring such proceedings unless they are satisfied that it
    is neither in the child's interest or the public interest to do so, or that some
    other person is about to do so or to charge him with an offence. By section
    2(3) constables and the N.S.P.C.C. are required to give notice to the local
    authority before beginning care proceedings themselves.

    The detailed events which gave rise to the action brought by Mrs. D.
    against the N.S.P.C.C. are vividly recounted in the judgment of the Master
    of the Rolls as reported at [1976] 3 W.L.R. 124, to which reference may be
    made. For present purposes it is sufficient to summarise them as follows: —

    In the afternoon of 13th December, 1973, somebody told the N.S.P.C.C.
    that the 14-month old daughter of Mrs. D. had been beaten and ill treated


    over the past six weeks. On receipt of this information an inspector of the
    N.S.P.C.C. called upon Mrs. D. at her home in order to see the condition
    of the child. The information turned out to be untrue. The child showed
    no signs of ill-treatment. She was healthy and well-cared for.

    Mrs. D. was naturally very upset by this visit and to learn of the false
    accusation against her. As a result of this her health was affected. She
    wanted to know the name of the N.S.P.C.C.'s informant; but this was refused.
    After an unsuccessful attempt under Order 24, Rule 7(a) to obtain discovery
    of documents from the N.S.P.C.C. before commencing any proceedings, she
    issued a writ and statement of claim on 19th June, 1974, claiming relief of
    two different kinds against the N.S.P.C.C.

    1. Damages for failure to exercise reasonable care in investigating the
      complaint that had been made about her child before repeating it
      to her; and

    2. An order that the N.S.P.C.C. disclose to her all documents in their
      custody, possession or power relating to the complaint and the identity
      of the complainant.

    The particulars of negligence included an allegation that the N.S.P.C.C.:

    " failed to make or cause to be made any or any proper sufficient in-
    " quiries of the complainant having regard to the identity and/or status
    " and/or means of knowledge of the complainant and/or the nature
    " and/or substance of the complaint in order to check that the complaint
    " was made bona fide and not maliciously, before visiting the Plaintiff."

    At the present stage of the proceedings your Lordships are not concerned
    with the question whether the statement of claim discloses a good cause of
    action on the part of the plaintiff against the N.S.P.C.C. for damages for
    breach of duty or for negligence. That is a matter which will fall to be
    decided at the trial of the action, if it ever comes to trial. The present
    appeal must be disposed of on the basis that the facts pleaded in the state-
    ment of claim, if true, do constitute a good cause of action ; and accord-
    ingly that any documents which disclose the identity of the person who gave
    the false information relate to matters in question in the action and are
    prima facie subject to disclosure under Order 24, Rule 1(1).

    On the 26th September, 1974, the N.S.P.C.C. took out a summons under
    Order 24 (Rule 2(5)) for an order that there should be no discovery by the
    defendants of documents where such documents reveal or are capable of
    revealing the identity of the N.S.P.C.C.'s informant.

    On llth December, 1974, Master Jacob dismissed this application. He
    ordered discovery and inspection in the usual form. On 26th June, 1975,
    Mr. Justice Croom-Johnson allowed an appeal from Master Jacob's order
    and ordered that there should be no discovery or inspection of documents by
    the defendants where or to the extent that such documents reveal or are
    capable of revealing the identity of the N.S.P.C.C.'s informant. From this
    order Mrs. D., with leave of the judge, appealed to the Court of Appeal.
    On 6th May, 1975, the Court of Appeal by a majority, Lord Denning M.R.
    dissenting, allowed the appeal and reinstated the Master's order for discovery.

    Before this House the claim of the N.S.P.C.C. to refuse discovery of docu-
    ments which could reveal the identity of their informant was based squarely
    upon the public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of information
    given to the Society so that it may take steps to promote the welfare of a
    child, whether, as happens in the great majority of cases, by giving support,
    advice and guidance to the family of which the child is a member or, if this
    be necessary in the interest of the child, by instituting care proceedings in
    respect of him or prosecuting those who have committed offences against

    To assist them to carry out the purposes of their charter and their functions
    as a person authorised to take care proceedings under S.1. of the Children
    and Young Persons Act 1969, the N.S.P.C.C. invite the help of the general
    public in telling the Society's officers of any child of whom they know who


    may be suffering because of misfortune, ignorance, neglect or ill-treatment.
    The leaflets, which the Society distributes widely to enlist the public's aid,
    contain the promise " Your name and the information you give for the
    " purpose of helping children will be treated as confidential." The uncontra-
    dicted evidence of the Director of the N.S.P.C.C. is that the work of the
    Society is dependent upon its receiving prompt information of suspected
    child abuse and that, as might be expected, the principal sources of such
    information are neighbours of the child's family or doctors, school-teachers,
    health visitors and the like who will continue to be neighbours or to maintain
    the same relationship with the suspected person after the matter has been
    investigated and dealt with by the N.S.P.C.C. The evidence of the Director
    is that without an effective promise of confidentiality neighbours and others
    would be very hesitant to pass on to the Society information about suspected
    child abuse. There is an understandable reluctance to " get involved " in
    something that is likely to arouse the resentment of the person whose
    suspected neglect or ill-treatment of a child has been reported by the
    informant, however true the information may be. Unless the N.S.P.C.C.
    can guarantee the anonymity of its informants, its ability to learn of cases
    where children are at risk would be drastically reduced.

    The fact that information has been communicated by one person to
    another in confidence, however, is not of itself a sufficient ground for pro-
    tecting from disclosure in a court of law the nature of the information or
    the identity of the informant if either of these matters would assist the court
    to ascertain facts which are revelant to an issue upon which it is adjudicating.
    (Alfred Crompton Amusement Machines Ltd. v. Customs and Excise Com-
    (No. 2) [1974] A.C. 405 at pp. 433/4). The private promise of con-
    fidentiality must yield to the general public interest that in the administration
    of justice truth will out, unless by reason of the character of the information or
    the relationship of the recipient of the information to the informant, a more
    important public interest is served by protecting the information or the
    identity of the informant from disclosure in a court of law.

    The public interest which the N.S.P.C.C. relies upon as obliging it to
    withhold from the plaintiff and from the court itself material that could
    disclose the identity of the Society's informant is analogous to the public
    interest that is protected by the well established rule of law that the identity
    of police informers may not be disclosed in a civil action, whether by the
    process of discovery or by oral evidence at the trial. (Marks v. Beyfus [1890]
    25 Q.B.D. 494.)

    The rationale of the rule as it applies to police informers is plain. If their
    identity were liable to be disclosed in a court of law, these sources of
    information would dry up and the police would be hindered in

    of preventing and detecting crime. So the public interest in preserving the
    anonymity of police informers had to be weighed against the public interest
    that information which might assist a judicial tribunal to ascertain facts
    relevant to an issue upon which it is required to adjudicate should be withheld
    from that tribunal. By the uniform practice of the judges which by the time
    of Marks v. Beyfus had already hardened into a rule of law, the balance
    has fallen upon the side of non-disclosure except where upon the trial of
    a defendant for a criminal offence, disclosure of the identity of the informer
    could help to show that the defendant was innocent of the offence. In that
    case, and in that case only, the balance falls upon the side of disclosure.

    My Lords, in Reg. v. Lewes Justices [1973] A.C. 388 this House did not
    hesitate to extend to persons from whom the Gaming Board received
    information for the purposes of the exercise of their statutory functions under
    the Gaming Act 1968 immunity from disclosure of their identity analogous
    to that which the law had previously accorded to police informers. Your
    Lordships' sense of values might well be open to reproach if this House
    were to treat the confidentiality of information given to those who are
    authorised by statute to institute proceedings for the protection of neglected
    or ill-treated children as entitled to less favourable treatment in a court of
    law than information given to the Gaming Board so that gaming may be

    306983 A 2


    kept clean. There are three categories of persons authorised to bring care
    proceedings in respect of neglected or ill-treated children: local authorities,
    constables and the N.S.P.C.C. The anonymity of those who tell the police
    of their suspicions of neglect or ill-treatment of a child would be preserved
    without any extention of the existing law. To draw a distinction in this
    respect between information given to the police and that passed on directly
    to a local authority or to the N.S.P.C.C. would seem much too irrational
    a consequence to have been within the contemplation of parliament when
    enacting the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. The local authority
    is under an express statutory duty to bring care proceedings in cases where
    this is necessary if neither the police nor the N.S.P.C.C. have started them;
    while, as respects the N.S.P.C.C., the evidence shows that, presumably
    because it is not associated in the public mind with officialdom, the public
    are readier to bring information to it than to the police or the welfare services
    of the local authority itself.

    Upon the summons by the N.S.P.C.C. for an order withholding discovery
    of documents to the extent that they were capable of revealing the identity
    of the Society's informant, it was for the judge to weigh the competing public
    interests involved in disclosure and non-disclosure and to form his opinion
    as to the side on which the balance fell. In a careful judgment in which he
    reviewed the relevant authorities Croom-Johnson J. ordered that disclosure
    should not be given. Upon an interlocutory summons relating to discovery
    this was a matter upon which the judge had a discretion with which an
    appellate court would not lightly interfere; but the reasoning by which his
    decision was supported is of wider application. It would also rule out any
    attempt to ascertain the identity of the N.S.P.C.C.'s informant by questions
    put to witnesses at the trial and would dispose of the plaintiff's claim to dis-
    closure of the informant's identity as part, and perhaps to her the most
    important part of the substantive relief the plaintiff seeks. The interlocutory
    judgment thus raises matters of principle fit for the consideration of this

    For my part I would uphold the decision of Croom-Johnson J. and reverse
    that of the Court of Appeal. I would do so upon what in argument has been
    referred to as the " narrow " submission made on behalf of the N.S.P.C.C.
    I would extend to those who give information about neglect or ill-treatment
    of children to a local authority or the N.S.P.C.C. a similar immunity from
    disclosure of their identity in legal proceedings to that which the law accords
    to police informers. The public interests served by preserving the anonymity
    of both classes or informants are analogous: they are of no less weight in the
    case of the former than of the latter class, and in my judgment are of greater
    weight than in the case of informers of the Gaming Board to whom
    immunity from disclosure of their identity has recently been extended by this

    In the Court of Appeal, as in this House, counsel for the N.S.P.C.C.
    advanced, as well as what I have referred to as the narrow submission, a
    broad submission that wherever a party to legal proceedings claims that there
    is a public interest to be served by witholding documents or information
    from disclosure in those proceedings, it is the duty of the court to weigh
    that interest against the countervailing public interest in the administration of
    justice in the particular case and to refuse disclosure if the balance tilts
    that way. This broad submission, or something rather like it confined to
    information imparted in confidence, was adopted in his dissenting judgment
    by the Master of the Rolls, but as I have already indicated there is the
    authority of this House that confidentiality of itself does not provide a ground
    of non-disclosure; nor am I able to accept the proposition that the basis of
    all privilege from disclosure of documents or information in legal proceed-
    ings is to prevent the breaking of a confidence. For my part, I think this
    House would be unwise to base its decision in the instant case upon a
    proposition so much broader than is necessary to resolve the issue between the


    The majority of the Court of Appeal rejected both the broad and the narrow
    submissions. In essence their ground for doing so was that " public interest"
    as a ground for witholding disclosure of documents or information was but
    another term for what had before Conway v. Rimmer [1968] A.C.910 been
    called "Crown privilege" and was available only where the ... public
    interest involved was the effective functioning of departments or other organs
    of central government. " Crown privilege " they regarded as having always
    been so confined; Conway v. Rimmer [1968] AC 910 did not extend the
    ambit of Crown privilege: all it did was to decide that a claim by a Minister
    of the Crown that documents were of a class which in the public interest
    ought not to be disclosed was not conclusive but that it was for the court
    itself to decide whether the public interest which would be protected by
    on-disclosure outweighed the public interest in making available to the court
    information that might assist it in doing justice between the litigants in the
    particular case.

    This narrow view as to the scope of public interest as a ground for
    protecting documents and information from disclosure was supported in
    argument before this House by copious citations of passages taken from
    judgments in previous cases in the course of which documents for which a
    claim to non-disclosure had been described as relating to essential functions
    of government, to the performance of statutory duties, to the public service
    or to the interests of the State. From this your Lordships were invited to
    infer that the document in question would not have been entitled to pro-
    tection from disclosure unless it fell within the description used in the particu-
    lar case.

    My Lords, the maxim expressio unius, exclusio alterius is not a canon of
    construction that is applicable to judgments. To construe a judgment as
    if its function were to lay down a code of law is a common error into which
    the English reliance upon precedent makes it easy to fall. A cautious judge
    expresses a proposition of law in terms that are wide enough to cover the
    issue in the case under consideration; the fact that they are not also wide
    enough to cover an issue that may arise in some subsequent case does not
    make his judgment an authority against any wider proposition.

    I see no reason and I know of no authority for confining public interest
    as a ground for non-disclosure of documents or information to the effective
    functioning of departments or organs of central government. In Conway v.
    Rimmer the public interest to be protected was the effective functioning of
    a county police force, in In re D [1970] 1 W.L.R. 599 the interest to be
    protected was the effective functioning of a local authority in relation to the
    welfare of boarded-out children. In the instant case the public interest to be
    protected is the effective functioning of an organisation authorised under an
    Act of Parliament to bring legal proceedings for the welfare of children. I
    agree with Croom-Johnson J. that this is a public interest which the court
    is entitled to take into consideration in deciding when the identity of the
    N.S.P.C.C.'s informants ought to be disclosed. I also agree that the balance
    of public interest falls on the side of non-disclosure.

    I would allow this appeal.

    The Rt. Hon. Lord Hailsham of St. Marylebone

    my lords,

    The question for decision in this appeal is the extent to which, if at all,
    the appellants, that is the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
    Children, are entitled to refuse to disclose the identity of informants who
    have supplied information to the Society making allegations of possible child
    abuse against a third party. The question comes before the House on a
    summons under 0.24 r.2(5) requesting an order limiting discovery. But in
    other circumstances it could well have arisen on a summons relating to
    interrogatories or the sufficiency of an answer to interrogatories, or on a
    question posed at the trial on behalf of a party to a witness. It is, in short,


    primarily a question of the law of evidence rather than discovery, although in
    different circumstances the result might depend to some extent on the stage
    which the proceedings had reached, or the type of proceeding on which the
    issue had been raised.

    Both parties have pursued their position as a matter of principle, with
    pertinacity, and with manifest sincerity, and there are powerful arguments on
    both sides. In order to appreciate their force it is necessary to rehearse me
    salient facts.

    The story begins at 8.30 p.m. on the night of 13 December 1973. The
    respondent to this appeal, plaintiff in these proceedings, was alone in her
    suburban house with a Norwegian au pair girl and her baby. This baby, a
    girl of fourteen months, was upstairs asleep in her cot. There was a ring at
    the door, and, when the door was opened there appeared a stranger, a
    Mr. Jenkins, who identified himself as what he is, an officer of the Society
    and craved admittance. He was admitted with the somewhat reserved
    cordiality accorded to those who are expected to solicit alms or support for
    a well-known charity. But it speedily became apparent that he was present on
    a more serious, and, it may be thought, a more sinister mission. He was the
    recipient of a circumstantial complaint against the respondent alleging mal-
    treatment of the baby girl upstairs. According to what he said, the complaint,
    which would have to some extent have been investigated before his visit.
    was that the baby's head and stomach were bruised, that she was curiously
    immobile for her age, and that she received no stimulation at home. Accord-
    ing to Mr. Jenkins, the informant claimed to have seen the bruises and the
    maltreatment of the baby was alleged to have taken place over the previous
    six weeks, though the information had been in his own possession only from
    4;30 p.m. on the same day. Mr. Jenkins said that there could be no mistake
    in the identity of the respondent or her house.

    All this information, it must now be assumed for the purpose of this appeal,
    except of course the identity of the respondent, was entirely without founda-
    tion. The baby was brought downstairs, undressed, and showed no marks.
    At the respondent's insistence, the family doctor, a Dr. Basden, was sent for.
    He examined the baby in the presence of Mr. Jenkins, and said, and subse-
    quently certified, that there was nothing whatever wrong with her. She was
    in fact " a perfect baby ". She had been seen by himself or his partner three
    times since the 23rd July. There was no indication of any kind that on any
    of these occasions the baby was being maltreated or was backward.
    Dr. Basden's impression, subsequently verified by affidavit, was that she
    was a baby " well cared for by a loving mother ". I mention these details
    because in his dissenting judgment, the Master of the Rolls [1976] 3 W.L.R.
    at p. 132, claimed to make the assumption that the unknown informant had
    been making his (or her) allegations in good faith. I can make no such
    assumption. The circumstantiality of the allegations was such that if, as I
    must now assume, they were in fact erroneous, it is difficult to reconcile them
    with good faith and a sound mind. It may, of course, be that at the trial,
    where, if it takes place, these questions may be canvassed, some perfectly
    innocent explanation may emerge. In the meantime, however, I make no
    assumption either as to the good or bad faith of the informant. But, whether
    I am right or wrong, what is plain is that, if the Appellant Society's claim
    to withhold disclosure is upheld, the non-disclosure would serve to protect
    a malicious or reckless as well as a bona fide informant.

    It is evident that such an encounter as that which I have described would
    cause resentment, even anger, on the part of the respondent, and it is clear
    that it did so in the present case. On the 21st December 1973 the respondent's
    present solicitors wrote to the appellants a long circumstantial letter ending
    with a demand, amongst other things, that the appellants disclose the name
    of the informant and the nature of the information, and on the 31st Decem-
    ber 1973 this letter was answered by the appellants' present solicitors as
    categorically refusing on behalf of their clients to make the disclosure
    required. From these uncompromising attitudes the parties have never resiled.
    By originating summons dated the 22nd April 1974 the respondent sought


    disclosure under section 31 of the Administration of Justice Act 1970 and
    O.24 r. 7A of the Rules of the Supreme Court. After considering the cases
    of Norwich Pharmacal Co. v. Commissioners of Customs & Excise [1974]
    A.C. 133, and Dunning v. United Liverpool Hospitals [1973] 1 W.L.R. 586,
    this summons was dismissed by Master Jacob on the 18th June 1974. The
    dismissal was accepted without appeal by the respondent. On the following
    day, 19th June 1974, the respondent commenced the present proceedings by
    writ accompanied by a statement of claim. This statement of claim both
    in its original and amended form (delivered on the 15th May 1975) is in
    substance an action for personal injury alleged to be due to the negligence
    of the Society alleging severe shock, depression with a suicidal tendency, and
    continuing insomnia. For the purposes of the present proceedings we are
    asked to assume, and I do assume without deciding, that the statement of
    claim discloses a cause of action. The relief claimed in the statement of
    claim includes: damages and, unusually, in proceedings for personal injuries,
    an order " that the defendants disclose to the plaintiff all documents in their
    custody, possession or power relating to the said complaint and the identity of
    the complainant". The next relevant step was the application under O.24 r.2
    (5) by the appellants which gives rise to this appeal. It asked that " there
    should be no discovery or inspection of documents under O.24 r.2(l) of the
    RSC 1965 by the defendants where or (by an amendment) to the extent that,
    such documents reveal or are capable of revealing the identity of any person
    . . . who made complaint of the defendants concerning the conduct of the
    plaintiff towards the child . . .".

    This summons has given rise to a considerable degree of judicial disagree-
    ment. Master Jacob dismissed the summons and made the familiar type
    of order for discovery against the appellants. Croom-Johnson J. in Cham-
    bers allowed an appeal from Master Jacob and made an order to the effect
    requested by the appellants. By a majority of two to one (Scarman L.J. and
    Sir John Pennycuick, Lord Denning M.R. dissenting) the Court of Appeal
    reinstated the order of Master Jacob, but granted leave to appeal to the
    House of Lords. So the matter comes before your Lordships' House. I do
    not believe that the question involved has been decided in this precise form
    before, and therefore whichever way the appeal be decided it must to some
    extent break new ground.

    I start with the assumption that every court of law must begin with a
    determination not as a general rule to permit either party deliberately to
    withhold relevant and admissible evidence about the matters in dispute.
    Every exception to this rule must run the risk that because of the withholding
    of relevant facts, justice between the parties may not be achieved. Any
    attempt to withhold relevant evidence therefore must be justified and requires
    to be jealously scrutinised. It is in this frame of mind that I approach the
    question at issue.

    At the same time I utter a word of caution. The facts, disclosure of which
    is required, must be required for the purpose of deciding the dispute. A
    collateral purpose is not justified and must be disregarded. It is impossible
    to recite the sequence of facts which I have rehearsed without agreeing with
    the observation of Croom-Johnson J. in the course of a careful judgment
    when he said:

    " I do not think that there is really any doubt that what she (the
    " respondent) is most interested in is discovering who the informer was."

    To the extent that the respondent may have a collateral purpose in eliciting
    the information that purpose must be disregarded.

    However that may be, this is not the same thing as saying that the
    respondent's only interest is the elicitation of the informant's name for the
    purpose of other proceedings and I proceed on the assumption which I make,
    and to which both parties adhered, that these are bona fide proceedings
    arguably disclosing a good cause of action which the respondent genuinely
    desires to pursue for their own sake, and not simply for discovering the name


    of the informant for the purpose of initiating fresh proceedings against him
    (or her). It is on this basis that I proceed to discuss the questions of this

    Before any other question arises, one must first consider whether the
    information which the respondent demands is relevant to her action against
    the appellants. This matter, though fiercely contested up to and including
    the proceedings in the Court of Appeal, is now conceded. Apart from
    allegations of aggressiveness and other misbehaviour or tactlessness during
    his visit against Mr. Jenkins, the respondent's case consists in the assertion
    that, before authorising his visit, which, she says, was certain to cause distress,
    the Society should have checked more carefully the accuracy of the
    informant's credentials. It may be open to question whether this claim gives
    adequate weight to the Society's obligation to protect the interests of a child
    supposedly at risk. It may also be questioned whether there were any pre-
    liminary steps open to the Society to check the information preferable to an
    actual visit to the mother. But it seems obvious that these matters can
    hardly be fully canvassed without tracing the information in the possession
    of the Society to its source, identifying the informant, examining his (or her)
    bona fides, and assessing the value of the whole. By what right can the
    courts, the respondent might well ask your Lordships rhetorically, permit
    a defendant in such proceedings to withhold relevant information, which in
    the vast majority of cases the courts would have to insist should be laid
    before the tribunal in order that a just result might be obtained in accordance
    with law? There are, it is conceded by both parties, some notable exceptions
    to the general principles concerned. But, says the respondent, the need for
    complete disclosure in the interest of truth for the purposes of a just result
    must be paramount, except in a few well-established classes of information,
    which, says the respondent, should by no means be extended. She divides
    these exceptions into cases where the public interest is involved, and cases
    where a privilege, like legal professional privilege can be said to exist.

    This has led to a wide discussion by both parties of the nature and
    limitation of the exceptions, with particular reference to the decisions in your
    Lordships' House from 1967 onwards beginning with the case of Conway v.
    Rimmer [l968] A.C. 910.

    The appellant Society argued, in effect, for a general extension in range
    of the nature of the exceptions to the rule in favour of disclosure. This, it was
    suggested, could be summarised in a number of broad propositions, all in
    support of the view that, where an identifiable public interest in non-disclosure
    can be established, either there is a firm rule against disclosure (e.g., legal
    professional privilege or State secrets) or the court has a discretion whether
    or not to order disclosure, and that this discretion must be exercised against
    disclosure in all cases where, after balancing the relevant considerations, the
    court decides that the public interest in non-disclosure outweighs the ordinary
    public interest in disclosure. The appellants contended that new cases
    will arise from time to time calling for a protection from disclosure in classes
    of case on which it was not previously extended, and that the courts had in
    practice shown great flexibility in adapting these principles to new situations
    as and when these arise. The appellants contended that some of those
    entitled to the benefits of protection had, and some had not, been subject to
    statutory or common law duties or been clothed with Government authority
    or been answerable to Parliament or the executive. This contention was
    aimed at the majority judgments in the Court of Appeal which in substance
    disallowed the appellants' claim to immunity on the grounds that they are a
    private Society clothed arguably with authority to fulfil a function but not
    a duty which they are compelled to perform, and that they are not in any
    sense either an organ of central Government or part of the public service.
    The appellants noted that the dissenting judgment of Lord Denning M.R.
    which was in their favour, largely relied on the confidentiality which the
    appellants had pledged to potential informants. Their own contention was
    that, while the mere fact that a communication was made in confidence did
    not of itself justify non-disclosure, the fact of confidentiality was relevant
    to reinforce the view that disclosure would be against the public interest. In


    this connection the appellants cited Alfred Crompton Amusement Machines
    v. Customs and Excise Commissioners (No. 2) [19741 A.C. 405. Lastly
    the appellants contended that there was no reported case in which the court,
    once it had identified a public interest in non-disclosure, had ever regarded
    itself as debarred from taking it into consideration or from weighing its
    importance against the damage to be apprehended from excluding relevant

    The contentions have at least the merit of propounding a lucid and
    coherent system. Nevertheless, I am compelled to say that, in the breadth
    and generality with which they were put forward, I do not find them

    They seem to me to give far too little weight to the general importance
    of the principle that, in all cases before them, the courts should insist on
    parties and witnesses disclosing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but
    the truth, where this would assist the decision of the matters in dispute. In
    the second place, I consider that the acceptance of these principles would
    lead both to uncertainty and inconsistency in the administration of justice.
    If they were to be accepted, we should remember that we should be laying
    down a large innovation not merely in the law of discovery, but equally in
    the law of evidence, which has to be administered not merely in the High
    Court, but in the Crown court, the county courts, and the magistrates' courts
    throughout the land. What is the public interest to be identified? On
    what principles can it be defined? On what principles is the weighing-up
    process to proceed? To what extent, if at all, can the right to non-disclosure
    be waived? Can secondary or extraneous evidence of the facts not disclosed
    be permitted? To what extent should the Crown be notified of the fact
    that the issue has been raised? These questions are all manageable if the
    categories of privilege from disclosure and public interest are considered to
    be limited. Indeed, reported authority, which is voluminous, shows that
    largely they have been solved. But to yield to the appellants' argument on
    this part of the case would be to set the whole question once more at large,
    not merely over the admitted categories and the existing field but over a
    much wider, indeed over an undefined, field.

    Thirdly, and perhaps more important, the invitation of the appellants
    seems to me to run counter to the general tradition of the development of
    doctrine preferred by the English courts. This proceeds through evolution
    by extension or analogy of recognised principles and reported precedents.
    Bold statements of general principle based on a review of the total field are
    more appropriate to legislation by Parliament which has at its command
    techniques of enquiry, sources of information and a width of worldly-wise
    experience, far less restricted from those available to the courts in the course
    of contested litigation between adversaries.

    On the other hand, I find equally unattractive the more restricted and
    even, occasionally, pedantic, view of the authorities advanced on behalf of
    the respondent. This was based on a rigid distinction, for some purposes
    valuble, between privilege and public interest, and an insistence on a
    narrow view of the nature of the interest of the public, reflected in the
    reasoning of the majority in the Court of Appeal, which would virtually
    have restricted the public interest cases to the narrower interests of the
    central organs of the State, or what might be strictly called the public service.
    The effect of the argument would not merely limit the ambit of possible
    categories of exception to the general rule. In my view, it would virtually
    ensure that the categories would now have to be regarded as effectively
    closed. In her printed case the respondent contended that:

    " No party is protected from his obligation to disclose documents on
    " the grounds of public interest unless there is some connection between
    " the claim for protection and the functions of central government or
    " the public service of the State . . . The expression ' Crown privilege'
    " has been criticised but ... it accurately reflects the basic requirement
    " that there must be a connection with the Crown or the public service
    " of the State."


    In support of this contention the respondent referred inter alia to Conway v
    Rimmer (supra), to Reg.
    v. Lefes Justices ex parte the Home Secretary [1973]
    A.C. 388 and to Alfred Crompton Amusement Machines Ltd. v. Customs &.
    Excise Commissioners
    (No. 2) (supra). There is, of course, a sense, which
    will become apparent as I proceed, in which the appellants' claim can be
    brought squarely within the respondent's principle. But the principle is
    itself, as I shall show, open to criticism. In particular the argument was
    based on what was described as a fundamental principle that the exceptions
    to the general rule requiring disclosure all come within one or the other
    of two rigidly confined categories, one described as privilege, when secondary
    evidence could be given or the privilege could be waived, and the other as
    " Public interest" where these possible escapes were excluded. But this,
    it was contended, was virtually restricted to the category formerly, but
    inaccurately, referred to as " Crown privilege ".

    The result of this is that I approach the problem with a caution greater
    than that contended for the appellants, but with a willingness to extend
    established principles by analogy and legitimate extrapolation more flexible
    than that contended for by the respondent.

    I am emboldened to do so by the reflection that, quite apart from legislation
    like the Civil Evidence Act 1968, the law of evidence has steadily developed
    since my own practice at the Bar began in 1932. This can be seen by a
    consideration of cases like McTaggart v. McTaggart [1949] P. 94, Mole v.
    [1951] P. 21, Theodorapoulas v. Theodoropoulas [1964] P. 311, which
    undoubtedly developed from the long recognised category of " without
    prejudice " negotiations but which in my opinion has now developed into a
    new category of a public interest exception based on the public interest in
    the stability of marriage. I think the case, widely canvassed in argument of
    Reg. v. Lewes Justices (supra) was a clear extension of the previous " Crown
    privilege " type of case by which, for the first time, communications to
    the Gaming Board were recognised as a suitable object of such " privilege ".
    Possibly In re D [1970] 1 W.L.R. 599 is another example, for it decided, I
    think, for the first time, that local authority records of child care investigations
    were immune from disclosure in wardship proceedings to which they would
    otherwise be relevant. I believe that traces of similar evolution for instance
    in the field of legal professional privilege can be found in the nineteenth
    century authorities.

    I find it also interesting to note that the report (16th report of the Law
    Reform Committee Cmnd. 3471) to which judges of every Division of the
    High Court were signatories, which was referred to extensively by counsel
    for both sides, shows a definite development in the law and practice in the
    precise field now under discussion from what it was generally considered to
    be when I entered the profession in 1932.

    According to paragraph 1 of that report, which is before us, but which
    represents no more than contemporary text book authority:

    " Privilege in the main is the creation of the common law whose
    " policy, pragmatic as always, has been to limit to a minimum the
    " categories of privileges (sic) which a person has an absolute right to
    " claim, but to accord to the judge a wide discretion to permit a witness,
    " whether a party to the proceedings or not, to refuse to disclose
    " information where disclosure would be a breach of some ethical or
    " social value and non disclosure would be unlikely to result in serious
    " injustice in the particular case in which it is claimed." (emphasis mine)

    This doctrine was not merely an incidental statement at the beginning of the
    report. It runs right through it, and forms the basis of some of the most
    notable conclusions (see e.g. paragraph 3, paragraph 7, paragraphs 36, 37,
    paragraphs 41, 43, paragraph 48-52).

    Counsel for the respondent, who was himself, as he candidly confessed,
    signatory to the report, was constrained to argue that the report, the authors
    of which included Lords Pearson and Diplock, Winn and Buckley L.JJ.,
    Orr J. and the present Vice Chancellor, was an inaccurate representation


    of the then existing state of the law, and that the two cases (Attorney-General
    v. Clough [1963] 1 Q.B. 773 and Attorney-General v. Mulholland [1963]
    2 Q.B. 477) cited in the report to support the proposition, did not in truth
    do so, were wrong if they did, and, being modern, departed from legal
    principle. Speaking for myself, I am sure that the law has in fact developed
    in this field during my life time, and I find it incredible that paragraph (1)
    of the report cited bearing the weight of judicial authority I have described
    does not represent the current practice of the courts in 1967, although in
    fact it goes plainly beyond the current practice of my youth.

    For these reasons, I feel convinced that I am entitled to proceed more
    boldly than counsel for the respondent argued, though more timidly than
    the robust counsels of the appellants' counsel urged.

    The authorities, therefore, seem to me to establish beyond doubt that the
    courts have developed their doctrine in this field of evidence. An example
    of this is seen in the privilege extended to editors of newspapers in the
    nineteenth century, before the present O.82 r.6 was passed, to refuse to
    answer interrogatories in defamation cases where the issue was malice, and
    the plaintiff desired to discover their sources (cf. Hope v. Brash [1897] 2 Q.B.
    188 ; Hennessy v. Wright [1888] 21 Q.B.D., Plymouth Mutual Co-operative
    and Industrial Society Ltd.
    v. Traders' Publishing Association Ltd. [1906]
    1 K.B. 403). This practice, robustly developed by the judges of the Queen's
    Bench Division (in contrast with the contemporary Chancery Division practice
    even after 1873) can only have been based on public policy. It has been
    stressed that these cases relate to discovery and not to questions to witnesses
    at the trial. This may well be so, at least at present, but certainly they
    illustrate the use of the court of a discretion, and its sensitiveness to public
    policy where discretion exists. Until the introduction of the new rules it is
    within my recollection that interrogatories and discovery on the lines dis-
    allowed in the newspaper cases were frequently allowed in other defamation
    cases where malice was in issue, although it was pointed out in argument
    that the newspaper principle was, at least once, applied rather strangely, to
    M.Ps. in Adam v. Fisher (1914) 30 T.L.R. 288.

    In all this argument, however, two facts stand out unmistakeably as true
    beyond dispute. The first is that the welfare of children, particularly of young
    children at risk of maltreatment by adults, has been, from the earliest days
    a concern of the Crown as parens patriae, an object of legal charities, and in
    latter years the subject of a whole series of Acts of Parliament, of which the
    Act of 1969 is only an example, and that not the latest. The second is that
    the information given by informants to the police or to the Director of
    Public Prosecutions, and now, since Reg. v. Lewes Justices (supra) to the
    Gaming Board is protected from disclosure in exactly the manner demanded
    by the appellants. The question, and it is I believe the only question
    necessary to be decided in this appeal, is whether an extension of this
    established principle to information relating to possible child abuse supplied
    to the appellants is a legitimate extension of a known category of exception
    or not. For this purpose it is necessary to consider the position of the
    appellants in relation to the enforcement provisions of the Children and
    Young Persons Act 1969.

    For the purposes of this enquiry the provisions of the Act can be shortly
    summarised. A child at risk in certain ways can be brought before a juvenile
    court in care proceedings. Such proceedings can only be brought by three
    classes of person, each of whom has a locus standi (see section 1(1) of the
    Act). These classes of person are (i) a constable (ii) the relevant local
    authority and (iii) an authorised person, that is a person authorised by the
    Secretary of State for Home Affairs in this behalf. Other persons may of
    course bring prosecutions for breaches of the criminal law, and under section
    28 can bring proceedings to enable a child in imminent danger to be brought
    before the court, detained, and taken to a place of safety. But care proceed-
    ings can only be brought before the juvenile court by one of the three classes
    of person. It is common ground that the only " person " authorised by the
    Secretary of State within the meaning of section 1 of the Act is the appellant


    Society, a body founded in 1889, and incorporated since 1895 by Royal
    Charter. To that extent the Society has been charged with the performance
    of a public responsibility by the Home Secretary under the direct authority
    of an Act of Parliament.

    It is true that, by virtue of section 2 of the Act, whereas the local authority
    is under a residual duty to take care proceedings where no-one else does, the
    other two classes of person have only the capacity to do so. Though the
    contrary was argued, and the argument may have found favour with the
    majority in the Court of Appeal, I do not believe that this can make any
    difference to the degree of protection afforded to a member of the public
    who desires to give information regarding child abuse. Such potential
    informants can hardly be expected to understand such niceties. In point of
    fact the evidence is that they more frequently prefer the appellants to the other
    two classes of potential initiators of care proceedings as recipients of their

    It is also true that statistically only a small proportion of the Society's cases
    in fact end up in court. This again appears to me to be irrelevant to the
    point under consideration. The function of the Society, or, for that matter,
    the police or the local authority, appears to me to receive the information and
    to sift it. In a majority of cases no court proceedings result, even where the
    information proves reliable. A wise word to the parent, an indication to the
    child that he should return home, may well prove to be enough. But the
    Society must make up its mind as to the appropriate course to take only
    after receiving and processing the information. No doubt the same is true
    of the police and the local authority. The undisputed evidence for the
    appellants is that Society which solicits information from the public under the
    pledge of secrecy would suffer a " drastic reduction " in the flow of informa-
    tion available to it to the danger of many children were it known that the
    name of the informant was subject to disclosure in the event of subsequent
    proceedings against the Society.

    Of the three classes with locus standi to initiate care proceedings, it is
    common ground that information given to the police is protected to the
    extent demanded by the Society. This is clear from many cases including
    Marks v. Beyfus [1890] 25 Q.B.D. 494 C.A. (which applied the principle to
    the Director of Public Prosecutions), and many of the recent cases in your
    Lordships' House. The rule relating to the immunity accorded to police
    informants is in truth much older, so old and so well-established, in fact, that
    it was not and could not be challenged in the instant case before your
    Lordships. Once, however, it is accepted that information given to the
    police in the instant case would have been protected, it becomes, in my
    judgment, manifestly absurd that it should not be accorded equally to the
    same information if given by the same informant to the local authority (who
    would have been under a duty to act on it) or to the appellant Society, to
    whom according to the undisputed evidence, ordinary informants more
    readily resort.

    The last point seems to have been realised, at least to some extent, by
    Sir John Pennycuick. See for instance the passage in his judgment at [1976]
    3 W.L.R. at p. 144E. But I cannot see the sense of allowing the immunity
    where care proceedings actually result, but not in cases where the society
    or the local authority, after sifting the information, and assessing the
    credentials of the informants, decide in the event upon an alternative course.
    It is not for the informant to predict what course the recipient of the
    information may take, nor does his (or her) right to anonymity depend upon
    the outcome. The public interest is that the parties with locus standi to
    bring care proceedings should receive information under a cloak of confi-
    dentiality. It may well be that neither the police, the local authority, nor
    the society can give an absolute guarantee. The informant may in some
    cases have to give evidence under subpoena. In other cases their identity
    may come to light in other ways. But the police, the local authority and the
    society stand on the same footing. The public interest is identical in relation
    to each. The guarantee of confidentiality has the same and not different


    values in relation to each. It follows that the Society is entitled to succeed
    upon the appeal.

    The Master of the Rolls, in his dissenting judgment, places his own
    reasoning on the pledge of confidentiality given by the Society, and seeks to
    found the immunity upon this pledge. I do not think that confidentiality by
    itself gives any ground for immunity (cf. e.g. per Lord Cross in Alfred
    Crompton Amusement Machines Ltd.
    v. Customs and Excise Commissioners
    (No. 2) [19741 A.C. 405 at p. 433). Confidentiality is not a separate head of
    immunity. There are, however, cases when confidentiality is itself a public
    interest and one of these is where information is given to an authority
    charged with the enforcement and administration of the law by the initiation
    of court proceedings. This is one of those cases, whether the recipient of
    the information be the police, the local authority or the N.S.P.C.C. Whether
    there be other cases, and what these may be must fall to be decided in
    the future. The categories of public interest are not closed, and must alter
    from time to time whether by restriction of extension as social conditions
    and social legislation develop.

    The result is that this appeal must be allowed, and an order made in
    the terms formulated by Croom-Johnson, J.

    Lord Simon of Glaisdale

    my lords,

    In many unsettled societies antisocial behaviour is restrained, if at all,
    by fear of reprisal. But in such societies self-interest (or its idealisation in
    the concept of honour) is thought to require counter-reprisal; and the
    vendetta ensues as a social institution. In many such societies the earliest
    intervention of central government in the establishment of public order is
    by control of the vendetta through limitation of the range and class of
    kindred entitled to visit reprisal or be its victim, and also of modes of
    reprisal. But as society gradually becomes more settled and central govern-
    ment more effective, society is able to insist that antisocial conduct shall
    be controlled, not at all by individual or clan violence, but by adjudication
    in independent courts of law according to an objective and enduring code
    of law. Even though sometimes delegated, the punishment of antisocial
    conduct becomes exclusively the prerogative of society itself—in its poli-
    tically organised aspect, the State. Moreover, civil wrongdoing, in primitive
    societies barely differentiated from criminal conduct, must also be brought
    to the bar of independent judgment according to a code. The foregoing,
    even if not true of the evolution of every society, marks the early evolution
    of our own.

    Thus it is clear that the administration of justice is a fundamental public
    interest. But it is also clear that it is not an exclusive public interest. It is
    an aspect (a crucially important one) of a broader public interest in the
    maintenance of social peace and order. The same conclusions can be as
    readily reached analytically as historically.

    As the judicial function becomes differentiated so also do the executive
    functions of central and local government. Central and local government,
    indeed, come to take on functions additional to the maintenance of internal
    order and of security against external enemies; and are recognised to be
    so performing functions which are also in the public interest. For the most
    part the various organs of the constitution so evolved can proceed on their
    complementary functions without collision or friction. But occasionally
    priorities have to be established. Conway v. Rimmer [19681 A.C.910
    exemplifies the legal recognition of a situation where two public interests are
    in competition, and establishes how the competition may be resolved.

    The conflict in Conway v. Rimmer arose because the public interest in the
    administration of justice prima facie requires that the objective and enduring


    code of law established by society should be applied to all facts relevant to
    the dispute before the court, whereas another public interest was said to call
    for the withholding of such evidence. (Lord Reid in Conway v. Rimmer at
    p.940.) But even the public interest in the administration of justice allows
    some qualification of a rule of universal admissibility of all relevant evidence.
    Experience has shown that some evidence may appear to have more weight
    than it really has. For example, past experience showed that evidence of
    facts which are retold at second or further hand was generally less reliable
    than of those told at first hand ; so hearsay evidence, however relevant, is
    still rarely admitted in a criminal trial. Then again, evidence of propensity
    to commit crime in general, or the particular sort of crime in question, is
    only exceptionally admitted; because, although undoubtedly relevant, its
    relevance is, in general, liable to be grossly outweighed by its prejudice to
    the accused—in other words, experience has shown that, if admitted, it is apt
    to be given more weight than is its due so that a fair trial of the accused may
    be prejudiced.

    Nearer the heart of the argument in the instant appeal lies another class
    of relevant evidence which the public interest in the administration of justice
    itself demands should be withheld from the courts. This is evidence
    excluded by legal professional privilege. Our national experience found that
    justice is more likely to ensue from adversary than from inquisitorial
    procedures—Inquisition and Star Chamber were decisive, and knowledge of
    recent totalitarian methods has merely rammed the lesson home. To
    promote justice the adversary procedure involves advocacy of contrary
    contentions by representatives with special gifts and training. In the words
    of Dr. Johnson :

    " As it rarely happens that a man is fit to plead his own cause, lawyers
    " are a class of the community who, by study and experience, have
    " acquired the art and power of arranging evidence, and of applying to
    " the points at issue what the law has settled. A lawyer is to do for
    " his client all that his client might fairly do for himself if he could."

    This process would be undermined if the trained advisers were compelled
    to divulge weaknesses of their cases arising from what they had been told by
    their clients. Indeed, the adversary system, involving professional
    assistance, could hardly begin to work effectively unless the client could
    be sure that his confidences would be respected. And a legal representative
    with only partial knowledge of his case would be like a champion going into
    battle unconscious of a gap in his armour. But it is only the rare case which
    has to be fought out in court. Many potential disputes, civil especially, are
    obviated or settled on advice in the light of the likely outcome if they had to
    be fought out in court. This is very much in the interest of society ; since
    a lawsuit, though a preferable way of settling a dispute to actual or threatened
    violence, is wasteful of human and material resources. Thus similar
    considerations apply whenever a citizen seeks professional guidance from a
    legal adviser—whether with a view to undertaking or avoiding litigation,
    whether in arranging his affairs in or out of court.

    My Lords, I have just dealt with a class of evidence which may be excluded
    by the balance of the public interest in the administration of justice partly

    in furtherance of the forensic process itself, partly in its obviation. The
    next stage is a class of evidence which may be excluded by public interest
    in the obviation of litigation alone. These are "without prejudice"
    communications. Since litigation is wasteful and disruptive, society benefits
    if disputes can be settled out of court through negotiation between the
    parties. This inevitably involves concessions by one side or the other or by
    both. But a party would be deterred from making a concession if it could
    in the event of breakdown in negotiation, be used against himself in court'
    is more important to society that parties should be able without such
    embarrassment to negotiate towards a settlement of their dispute than that


    any admission made in the course of negotiation should, in the event of
    breakdown, be adduced in court so that judgment might be pronounced in
    the light of all relevant evidence. The law therefore, in response to society's
    needs, says that the desirability of the objective code being applied to all
    relevant evidence is outweighed by the desirability that parties should be able
    to negotiate freely towards a settlement.

    Then the law proceeds to recognise that the public interest in the
    administration of justice is one facet only of a larger public interest—namely,
    the maintenance of the Queen's Peace. Another facet is effective policing.
    But the police can function effectively only if they receive a flow of
    intelligence about planned crime or its perpetrators. Such intelligence will
    not be forthcoming unless informants are assured that their identity will not be
    divulged. (See Lord Reid in Conway v. Rimmer at pp.953G-954A.) The
    law therefore recognises here another class of relevant evidence which may
    —indeed, must—be withheld from forensic investigation—namely, sources
    of police information: Rex v. Hardy 24 State Tr.199, 508; Hennessy v.
    Wright (1888) 21 Q.B.D.509, 519; Marks v. Beyfus (1890) 25 Q.B.D.494.

    Here, however, the law adds a rider. The public interest that no innocent
    man should be convicted of crime is so powerful that it outweighs the general
    public interest that sources of police information should not be divulged ; so
    that, exceptionally, such evidence must be forthcoming when required to
    establish innocence in a criminal trial: see citations at [1973] A.C. p.408A.
    It would appear that the balance of public interest has been struck, both in
    the general rule and in its rider, in such a way as to conduce to the general
    advantage of society, with the public interest in the administration of justice
    as potent but not exclusive.

    I cannot leave this particular class of relevant evidence withheld from the
    court without noting, in view of an argument for the respondent, that the
    rule can operate to the advantage of the untruthful or malicious or revengeful
    or self-interested or even demented police informant, as much as of one who
    brings information from a high-minded sense of civic duty. Experience
    seems to have shown that though the resulting immunity from disclosure
    can be abused, the balance of public advantage lies in generally respecting it.

    Then, to take a further step still from the public interest in the
    administration of justice, the law recognises other relevant public interests
    which may not always even be immediately complementary. For example,
    national security. If a society is disrupted or overturned by internal or
    external enemies, the administration of justice will itself be among the
    casualties. Silent enim leges inter arma. So the law says that, important as
    it is to the administration of justice that all relevant evidence should be
    adduced to the court, such evidence must be withheld if, on the balance of
    public interest, the peril of its adduction to national security outweighs its
    benefit to the forensic process—as to which, as regards national security in
    its strictest sense, a ministerial certificate will almost always be regarded as
    conclusive: see Lord Parker of Waddington in The Zamora [1916] 2 A.C.77,

    My Lords, without attempting to be exhaustive I have tried to show that
    there is a continuum of relevant evidence which may be excluded from
    forensic scrutiny. This extends from that excluded in the interest of the
    forensic process itself as an instrument of justice (e.g., evidence of propensity
    to commit crime), through that excluded for such and also for cognate
    interests (e.g., legal professional privilege), through again that excluded in
    order to facilitate the avoidance of forensic contestation (e.g., " without
    prejudice" communications), to evidence excluded because its adduction
    might imperil the security of that civil society which the administration of
    justice itself also subserves (e.g., sources of police information or state
    secrets). These various classes of excluded relevant evidence may for ease
    of exposition be presented under different colours. But in reality they
    constitute a spectrum, refractions of the single light of a public interest which
    may outshine that of the desirability that all relevant evidence should be


    adduced to a court of law. I have emphasised this because it bears on both
    the argument for the respondent and the main argument for the appellants.

    The argument for the respondent was that there are two separate categories
    of excluded evidence, which go respectively by the names of " Privilege
    and "Public Policy"; and that each contains sub-categories which are
    established and unextendable, either through the recognition of new sub-
    categories or by analogy with those which have been already recognised.
    They are not to be extended because, first, the public interest with which
    your Lordships are paramountly concerned is in the administration of
    justice, which demands that all relevant evidence should be adduced to the
    court, and, secondly, it is nowadays for Parliament and not the courts
    to give legal recognition to new heads of public policy (see Fender v.
    St. John-Mildmay fl938] A.C.I, 10-12, 23, 28). It is true that one of the
    established sub-categories under the head of " Public Policy " is " Evidence
    excluded by considerations of State interest"; but, "State", it was argued,
    here refers only to the Crown and the departments of central government.
    This last was indeed the main ground of decision of the majority of the
    Court of Appeal; and I shall return to it later.

    With regard to the argument based on categorisation, counsel for the
    respondent relied on the high authority of Phipson and Cross on Evidence,
    both of which deal in separate chapters with evidence excluded by
    respectively " Privilege" and " Public Policy". But this, I venture to
    suggest, is merely for convenience of exposition. I hope that I have shown,
    first, that the classes of excluded evidence extend beyond what is dealt with
    in these chapters and, secondly, that the principle underlying the
    exclusion from forensic scrutiny of any relevant evidence is an overriding
    public interest which demands its exclusion. But when it comes to the point
    of forensic impact the potentiality of exclusion may enure solely for the
    benefit of one of the parties or a witness before the court. Such, for
    example, is the actual impact of legal professional privilege, notwithstanding
    that it is required generally for the rule of law, forensically its particular
    incidence is exclusively for the benefit of the client. Quilibet potest
    renunciare juri pro se introducto.
    The client can therefrom waive the
    exclusion ; so that it is properly and conveniently called a " privilege " and
    grouped with other similar evidence. By contrast, the exclusion of evidence
    because its adduction would imperil the security of the State enures to the
    advantage of citizens generally, so that its exclusion cannot be waived by
    any party or witness before the court: Marks v. Beyfus at p.500. Nor, of
    course, in such case can secondary evidence be given of the excluded matter.
    There is no harm in categorising this sort of non-waivable exclusion under
    the heading of " Public Policy ": provided that it is recognised, first, that the
    exclusion of any relevant evidence is to be justified on grounds of public
    policy (which may be the public interest in the efficiency and fairness of the
    forensic process itself); secondly, that dealing with it in this way merely
    signifies methodologically that it constitutes the residuum of classes of
    excluded evidence which cannot be dealt with appropriately under other
    headings (e.g., hearsay, " the best evidence rule", non-compellability or
    privilege); and, thirdly, that the label " Public Policy " here does not mean
    that the courts must necessarily wait upon Parliament or must necessarily
    refrain from the normal common-law process of applying an established rule
    to circumstances analogous to those in which the rule was established (in
    the absence of contra-indication on grounds of justice or convenience): see
    Parke B., giving the advice of the judges to your Lordships' House, in
    Mirehouse v. Rennell (1833) 1 Cl. & F. 527 546, cited with approval in Shaw
    v. D.P.P.
    [1962] A.C.220, 261, 289, 291, 302-3.)

    The overriding rule is the general one that courts of law must recognise
    their limitations for decision-making—that there are many matters in which
    the decision is more appropriately made by the collective wisdom of Parlia-
    ment on the advice of an executive (itself collective in a. system of Cabinet
    government) briefed by officials who have investigated over a wide field the
    repercussions of the decision. Such, for example, are those decisions which


    may affect the national balance of payments or the public safety, in contra-
    distinction to decisions where the court can feel reasonably confident that
    there are unlikely to be unforeseen repercussions requiring extra-forensic
    action—for example, where the subject-matter is " lawyers' law " (see, e.g.,
    D.P.P. v. Shannon [1975] A.C.717). '

    The question in the instant case is peculiarly within the competence of
    the judge in his control of the cursus curiae; the development of the law
    has generally been judicial; parliamentary intervention is likely to be at
    best occasional and delayed; and the Law Commissioners do not appear to
    have taken cognisance of the problem.

    Nevertheless, invocation of " public policy " does impose even more than
    normal self-restraint on a court. Of course, every rule of law is a legal
    manifestation of public policy. But your Lordships are, as counsel for the
    respondent rightly emphasised, instantly concerned with "public policy"
    in a narrower sense—namely, consideration of social interests beyond the
    purely legal which call for the modification of a normal legal rule (here
    the rule that all relevant evidence should be adduced to the court): cf. Lord
    Wright in Fender v. St. John-Mildmay at p.28. In such circumstances the
    correct approach to the function of the courts is, in my view, expressed
    by Lord Thankerton in Fender v. St. John-Mildmay at p. 23 :

    " Their duty is to expound, and not to expand, such policy. That
    " does not mean that they are precluded from applying an existing
    " principle of public policy to a new set of circumstances, where such
    " circumstances are clearly within the scope of the policy."

    This suggests, in my judgment, that a narrow rather than a wide ground
    of decision would be desirable in the instant case, if the former is available;
    that your Lordships should primarily look to see whether the law has
    recognised an existing head of public policy which covers the case; and
    that, if so, your Lordships should if possible vindicate such policy by means
    already adapted by the law to vindicate some analogous head of public

    I turn, though, first to the argument that your Lordships are here con-
    cerned with what was formerly called " Crown Privilege " and that it was
    " Privilege " not " Crown " which was misleading ; so that the public interest
    which may exclude relevant evidence is only that of the Crown or the
    public service of the State—" State " here being restricted to the organs
    or departments of central government. There seems to me to be a number
    of objections to these arguments. First, so to restrict the principle on which
    relevant evidence may be excluded runs counter to its rationale as I have
    ventured to submit it to your Lordships, according to which both " Crown "
    and " Privilege " must be misnomers. Secondly " the State " cannot on any
    sensible political theory be restricted to the Crown and the departments
    of central government (which are, indeed, part of the Crown in constitutional
    law). The State is the whole organisation of the body politic for supreme
    civil rule and government—the whole political organisation which is the
    basis of civil government. As such it certainly extends to local—and,
    as I think, also statutory—bodies in so far as they are exercising autonomous
    rule. Thirdly, there is a recurrent transfer of functions between central,
    local and statutory authorities. For example, near the heart of the issue
    before your Lordships, the Crown as parens patriae had traditionally a
    general jurisdiction over children: a residue is now exercised in the High
    Court, but the bulk has been devolved by statute on local authorities.
    Recently, posts and telegraphs have ceased to be the concern of a
    department of central government responsible to Parliament and have
    become the function of a virtually autonomous statutory body. They have
    become a nationalised industry under a largely independent Board—in no
    real political or legal sense the Crown or a department of central govern-
    ment! Some nationalised industries are carried on by Regional Boards:
    others have been, but no longer are. The delimitation proposed on behalf


    of the respondent would thus work out capriciously and mutably. Fourthly,
    a number of the cases are against the respondent's contentions. In Adam
    v. Fisher (1914) 30 T.L.R.288 it was held, on a summons relating to interro-
    gatories in a libel suit, that an M.P.'s sources of information need not be
    disclosed. In Conway v. Rimmer the appeal concerned reports on a pro-
    bationary police constable in a county constabulary. In In re D [1970]
    1 W.L.R.599 the material protected from disclosure was case records compiled
    in pursuance of statutory regulation relating to a child boarded out with
    foster-parents by a local authority. In Reg. v. Lewes Justices it was infor-
    mation supplied to the Gaming Board of Great Britain. Adam v. Fisher
    may be explained away as relating solely to discovery of documents, which
    still retains an element of its discretionary origin (see the explanations in
    Attorney-General v. Clough [1963] 1 Q.B. 773, 790, and in Attorney-General
    v. Mulholland, Attorney-General v. Foster [1963] 2 Q.B.477, 490, where
    Lord Denning M.R. described Adam v. Fisher as expressing a rule of prac-
    tice not law). But the other cases simply cannot be fitted into the respon-
    dent's attempted limitation of this category of excluded evidence.

    Before I leave the authorities I venture to note that there is a line of cases
    which defies the respondent's argument that there is a closed number of
    unextendable categories of relevant evidence which may be withheld from
    forensic scrutiny. These are the cases relating to marriage conciliation (see
    e.g., McTaggart v. McTaggart [1949] P.94; Mole v. Mole [1951] P.21;
    Theodoropoulas v. Theodoropoulas [1964] P.311), where we can watch a
    recent development of the law. Incidentally, too, they provide a neat example
    of the way that " Privilege " in this branch of the law is based on public
    interest just as much as those categories of excluded evidence collected under
    the heading of " Public Policy ". With increasingly facile divorce and a vast
    rise in the number of broken marriages, with their concomitant penury and
    demoralisation, it came to be realised, in the words of Bucknill L.J. in
    Mole v. Mole at p.23.

    " in matrimonial disputes the State is also an interested party ; it is more
    " interested in reconciliation than in divorce."

    This was the public interest which led to an application by analogy of the
    privilege of " without prejudice " communications to cover communications
    made in the course of matrimonial conciliation (see McTaggart v. McTaggart,
    Cohen L.J. at p.96, Denning L.J, at p.97; Denning L.J. in Mole v. Mole at
    p. 24; Theodoropoulas v. Theodoropoulas at p.314)—so indubitably an
    extension of the law that the textbooks treat it as a separate category of
    relevant evidence which may be withheld from the court. It cannot be
    classified, like traditional " without prejudice" communications (see 16th
    Report of Law Reform Committee, Cmnd. 3472 of 1967, para. 18), as a
    " privilege in aid of litigation ".

    There have been three attempts to impose a comprehensive and coherent
    pattern on this branch of the law: I have great sympathy with the object,
    though I feel bound to express reservations in the case of each. They are
    that of Lord Denning M.R. in the instant case, that of the Law Reform
    Committee in their 16th Report, and that of counsel for the appellants
    in his main argument. The solution of the learned Master of the Rolls was
    to suggest confidentiality of a communication (or in the relationship of the
    parties) as the criterion for exclusion. The Law Reform Committee found
    a common factor in:

    " a wide discretion [in the court] to permit a witness, whether a party to
    " the proceedings or not, to refuse to disclose information where dis-
    " closure would be a breach of some ethical or social value and non-
    " disclosure would be unlikely to result in serious injustice in the
    " particular case in which it is claimed."

    Counsel for the appellants, while relying on much in the Law Reform
    Committee's Report, put his case with slightly different emphasis. He argued
    that in each case (save those governed by an existing rule against disclosure)
    the court will weigh any public interest in the withholding of information
    against the public interest that all relevant evidence should be adduced to
    court; and if the former is preponderant the evidence will be excluded.


    I do not think that the confidentiality of the communication provides in
    itself a satisfactory basis for testing whether relevant evidence should be
    withheld. First, it does not sufficiently reflect the true basis on which any
    evidence is excluded—namely, the public interest. Even Wigmore (Evidence,
    1st ed. 1905, vol. IV, sec. 2285; ib. 3rd ed. 1940), who stipulates for a
    principle of confidentiality as a condition of testimonial privilege (and I
    emphasise that he is dealing only with privilege) states (sec. 2286 ; ib. 3rd ed.):

    " In general, then, the mere fact that a communication was made in
    " express confidence,
    or in the implied confidence of a confidential
    " relation, does not create a privilege. This [3rd ed., Common Law]
    " rule is not questioned today." (his italics)

    In the words of Wigmore, for the privilege to attach, the relationship between
    the parties to the communication:

    " must be one which in the opinion of the community ought to be
    " sedulously fostered." (his italics)

    Secondly, a juridical basis of confidentiality does not explain why, in relation
    to certain classes of excluded evidence, there can be no waiver of the
    immunity. Thirdly, certain evidence is excluded, not because it is confidential
    (even in the sense of being secret), but because it relates to affairs of state.
    For example, it was on that ground and not irrelevance that Cobbett was
    precluded in his trial for seditious libel from asking a witness whether it
    would not be wise to follow his (Cobbett's) advice as to how to deal with
    current civil disturbance (R. v. William Cobbett (1831) 2 State Tr. 789, 877).
    Fourthly, the law would operate erratically and capriciously according to
    whether or not a particular communication was made confidentially: Delane,
    the great 19th century editor of The Times, always refused to receive
    information under the seal of secrecy, because sooner rather than later he
    would get the same information from a source he could use. Fifthly, it is
    undesirable that exclusion should be conferred by confidentiality irrespective
    of the public interest: after all, an attempt to bribe is generally made
    confidentially (cf. Lewis v. James (1887) 3 T.L.R. 527; In re Hooley,
    Rucker's Case
    (1898) 79 L.T. 306; McGuinness v. Attorney-General of Victoria
    (1940) 63 C.L.R. 73). Sixthly, confidentiality was in fact the original and
    far-reaching ground of exclusion. A man of honour would not betray a
    confidence, and the judges as men of honour themselves would not require
    him to. Thus originally legal professional privilege was that of the legal
    adviser, not the client. (For the foregoing see Wigmore, secs. 2286, 2290).
    But, with the decline in the ethos engendering the rule, the law moved
    decisively away from it. The turning point was The Duchess of Kingston's
    (1776) 20 Howell St.Tr.353, 386-391, where both the Duchess's
    surgeon and a personal friend, Lord Harrington, were compelled to give
    evidence in breach of confidence. Seventhly, there is massive authority in
    addition to Wigmore and the Duchess of Kingston's Case against confi-
    dentality by itself conferring exclusion: Sir G. Jessel M.R. in Wheeler v.
    le Marchant (1881) 17 Ch.D. 675, 681 ; Lord Parker of Waddington C.J. in
    Attorney-General v. Clough [1963] 1 Q.B.773, 787; Lord Denning, M.R.,
    in Attorney-General v. Mulholland, Attorney-General v. Foster [1963] 2 Q.B.
    477, 489, Donovan L.J. and Danckwerts L.J. agreeing; Lord Salmon in Reg.
    v. Lewes Justices at pp.411H-412A; Lord Cross of Chelsea in Alfred
    Crompton Ltd.
    v. Customs and Excise Commissioners [1974] A.C.405, 433H ;
    O'Brennan v. Tully (1935) 69 Ir. L.T. 115 (cited with approval in Attorney-
    v. Mulholland at p. 491); McGuiness v. Attorney-General of Victoria
    (1940) 63 C.L.R. 73, which contains a judgment of characteristic authority
    by Dixon J. dealing with the plea of confidentiality, (cited with approval
    in Attorney-General v. Clough at pp.790-791 and in Attorney-General v.
    Mulholland at p.491). See also Bray on Discovery (1885 ed. p.303). 1
    think the true rule is expressed in Wigmore and in the passage referred to in
    the speech of Lord Cross of Chelsea:

    "' Confidentiality ' is not a separate head of privilege, but it may
    " be a very material consideration to bear in mind when privilege is
    " claimed on the ground of public interest."


    (It is only right to say that counsel for the appellants did not rely on con-
    fidentiality pur sang as a criterion of exclusion, but rather on the way it
    was put by Lord Cross.) For the reasons I have given I do not myself think
    that confidentiality in itself establishes any public interest in the exclusion
    of relevant evidence: but rather that it may indirectly be significant where a
    public interest extrinsically established (e.g., provision of professional legal
    advice or effective policing) can only be vindicated if its communications have
    immunity from forensic investigation.

    I naturally feel the same temerity in approaching the Report of the
    powerful Law Reform Committee as I do in approaching the judgment of the
    learned Master of the Rolls. But since counsel for the appellants relied
    greatly on the Report for his wide general proposition, I feel bound to
    express my reservations. I would start by pointing out that the Committee
    was concerned only with civil proceedings, and within them only with
    " privilege " from disclosure. Even though the rules of criminal evidence
    may differ in some respects from civil, any wide judicial discretion to admit
    or reject evidence should, I think, at least be tested against what would be
    acceptable in a criminal trial. Secondly, I do not think that dough's case
    or Mulholland's really supports the existence of such a wide discretionary
    power as the Committee considered to vest in the court (except for the
    judgment of Donovan L.J. at p.492 of the latter case). Thirdly, the massive
    authority I referred to in the preceding paragraph of this speech must at
    least be weighed in the other scale. See also Marks v. Beyfus (at pp.498
    Lord Esher M.R., 500 Bowen L.J.—not a matter of discretion, but a rule of
    law.) Fourthly, I think that the true position is that the judge may not only
    rule as a matter of law or practice on the admissibility of evidence, but can
    also exercise a considerable moral authority on the course of a trial. For
    example, in the situations envisaged the judge is likely to say to counsel:
    " You see that the witness feels that he ought not in conscience to answer
    that question. Do you really press it in the circumstances?" Such moral
    pressure will vary according to the circumstances—on the one
    hand, the relevance of the evidence ; on the other, the nature of the ethical
    or professional inhibition. Often indeed such a witness will merely require
    a little gentle guidance from the judge to overcome his reluctance. I have
    never myself known this procedure to fail to resolve the situations acceptably.
    But it is far fom the exercise of a formal discretion. And if it comes to the
    forensic crunch, as it did in many of the cases I have referred to (to which
    can be added the Parnell Inquiry Commission—103rd day, see footnote to
    Wigmore para. 2286 ; also another passage cited in Mulholland's case at
    pp.490-491), it must be law not discretion which is in command. It may be
    that the members of the Law Reform Committee considered that a consistent
    use of moral suasion had resulted in a rule of practice emerging, cf. Povey v.
    Povey [1972] Fam. 40, 48-49 (although I am not convinced myself that it
    has). Lastly, many of the practical objections voiced by my noble and
    learned friend, Lord Hailsham of St. Marylebone, to the main and wider
    proposition advanced on behalf of the appellants seem to me to apply equally
    to the proposition of the Law Reform Committee. But it may be that some
    of the relationships will need re-examination as matters of practice or law ;
    and it is to be borne in mind that it has been found expedient in some
    jurisdictions to modify the common law rule of disclosure by giving
    statutory immunity to, e.g., doctors or priests.

    My Lords, I have dwelt on this matter because, as I said, counsel for the
    appellants relied considerably on the Report for his wide proposition—a
    general discretion in the court to weigh conflicting public interests in the
    adduction or exclusion of evidence. He also, of course, relied on Conway v.
    Rimmer, where conflicting public interests were indeed weighed. But your
    Lordships' House was really there concerned with the validity of claims by
    the Crown (based on Duncan v. Cammell Laird & Co. Ltd. [19421 A.C.624)
    that the executive could procure the exclusion of evidence by a conclusive
    ministerial certificate that the evidence belonged to a class the disclosure of
    any part of which would be detrimental to the public interest. Your
    Lordships' House overruled Duncan v. Cammell Laird & Co. Ltd. in this


    respect and further laid down that if in doubt the court could itself look at a
    document in the light of any ministerial certificate in order to ascertain whether its
    forensic publication could really affect the public interest adversely. I do
    not think that Conway v. Rimmer provides any real foundation for the
    appellants' wide proposition.

    That proposition does, on the other hand, reflect the general principles
    underlying this branch of the law, as I endeavoured to state them near the
    outset of this speech. Nevertheless, your Lordships are here concerned with
    public policy, with all the circumspection which such concern enjoins.

    The first question on such a circumspect approach is not so much to
    canvass general principle as to ascertain whether the law has recognised an existing head of public policy which is relevant to this case. Of that there can be no doubt.
    The need of continuity in society; the legal application to children of the
    traditional role of the Crown as parens patriae; its exercise in the Court of
    Chancery in such a way as to make the welfare of a child the first and
    paramount consideration in matters of custody and guardianship (In re Thain
    [1926] Ch. 676); a vast code of legislation starting with the Prevention of
    Cruelty to Children Act 1889 and culminating in the Children Act 1975;
    In re D decided in this very branch of the law—all this attests beyond
    question a public interest in the protection of children from neglect or

    The patria potestas in respect of children in need of help has been largely
    devolved on local authorities. But the appellants, not only by royal charter
    but also by statutory recognition, have an important part to play. Apart
    from the police and the local authority, they are the only persons authorised
    to take care proceedings in respect of a child or young person (Children and
    Young Persons Act 1969, section 1 ; S.I. 1970/1500). They have, of course,
    other important functions for the protection of children from neglect or
    ill-usage; my noble and learned friends who have preceded me have set
    them out.

    Before passing to the next question I must deal with an argument on
    behalf of the respondent which arises at this point. Counsel emphasised that
    the appellants have legal and other powers and functions, but no legal duties
    in this field. Only the local authority has a duty to take care poceedings
    and, for example, provide places of safety. The law, it was argued, will only
    exclude sources of information from disclosure in court if the information is
    given to someone who has a duty to act. No authority was cited in support
    of this assertion ; and, with all respect, I cannot agree with it. First, it is
    the performance of the junction of safeguarding children who may be in
    peril which is the concern of society ; enjoining a legal duty is merely a way
    of ensuring that the junction is performed. Secondly, the police too have
    only a function (not a duty); but it is accepted that police
    sources of information about children who may be in peril cannot be
    as regards care proceedings investigated in court.

    This brings me to the penultimate question. Is protection of their sources
    of information necessary for the proper performance of their functions by the
    appellants? As to this there is uncontradicted and entirely plausible
    evidence. The answer is Yes. This satisfies Wigmore's second test: the
    element of confidentiality is " essential to the full and satisfactory
    maintenance of the relation between " the appellants and their informants.
    And the answers to this and the preceding question together meet Wigmore's
    third criterion: the relation is " one which in the opinion of the community
    ought to sedulously fostered."

    The final question, my Lords, is whether the appellants' sources of
    information can be withheld from forensic investigation by extending on
    strict analogy an established rule of law. I have already cited long-standing
    and approved authority to the effect that sources of police information are
    not subject to forensic investigation. This is because liability to general
    disclosure would cause those sources of information to dry up. so that police


    protection of the community would be impaired. Exactly the same argument
    applies in the instant case, if for " police " you read " N.S.P.C.C." and tot
    "community" you read "that part of the community which consists of
    children who may be in peril". There can be no material distinction
    between police and/or local authorities on the one hand and the appellants
    on the other as regards protection of children. It follows that, on the strictest
    analogical approach and as a matter of legal rule, the appellants are bound
    to refuse to disclose their sources of information.

    I would therefore allow the appeal.

    I would, however, add three observations. First, if the correct view were that the judge has a discretion to weigh
    conflicting public interests, either as indicated by the Law Reform Committee
    or as urged on behalf of the appellants in their main and wide proposition,
    I think that it was exercised by Croom-Johnson J. in his careful judgment.
    Secondly, I agree with my noble and learned friend, Lord Hailsham of St.
    Marylebone, that your Lordships are here concerned with an aspect of the
    law of evidence, not discovery. Thirdly, I agree with my noble and learned
    friend on the Woolsack as to the inappropriateness of treating judgments
    as if they were instruments to be interpreted by application of the maxim
    " expressio unius . . . ".

    Lord Kilbrandon

    my lords,

    I have had the advantage of reading in draft the speech of my noble and
    learned friend Lord Hailsham of St. Marylebone. I am so entirely in
    agreement with his reasoning and conclusion that it would not be helpful if
    I were to attempt to state my own. I would allow this appeal on what has
    been termed the narrow ground.

    Lord Edmund-Davies

    my lords,

    It is a truism that, while irrelevant facts are inadmissible in legal
    proceedings in this country, not all inadmissible facts are irrelevant. To be
    received in evidence, facts must be both relevant and admissible, and under
    our law relevant facts may nevertheless be inadmissible. It is a serious step
    to exclude evidence relevant to an issue, for it is in the public interest that
    the search for truth should, in general, be unfettered. Accordingly, any
    hindrance to its seeker needs to be justified by a convincing demonstration
    that an even higher public interest requires that only part of the truth should
    be told.

    The most unfortunate litigation giving rise to this appeal has been conducted
    on the basis that the plaintiff has a good cause of action against the defendant
    Society if she can establish the allegations she makes. It is also common
    ground that the identity of the person who made an unfounded complaint
    to the Society regarding the welfare of her child is relevant to that cause
    of action. But it is established in our law that the mere fact that information
    is imparted in confidence does not, of itself, entitle the recipient to refuse
    disclosure of the identity of the informer (Attorney-General v. Clough [1963]
    1 Q.B. 773, per Lord Parker CJ. at 787; A. Crompton Ltd. v. Customs &
    [1974] A.C. 405, per Lord Cross of Chelsea at 432H.) This is so
    even although the information takes the form of allegations of blameworthy
    conduct, and it led Professor Hanbury to observe that: "Few situations
    " in life are more calculated to arouse resentment in a person than to be


    " told that he has been traduced, but cannot be confronted with his traducer.
    " It is submitted that, ideally, nothing but the very pressing demands of public
    " security, where the vital interests of the community are unquestionably
    " involved, can require that private individuals should be expected
    " to acquiesce in their vulnerability by an invisible foe. Yet this is precisely
    " the situation which may become common, if the principle of anonymity
    " of informers is to be treated as universal. . . . Does our law issue a
    " tacit invitation to any spiteful or eccentric busybody, such as Mr. Frankland,
    " in The Hound of the Baskervilles, to ransack the Statute-book, draw up
    " for his own guidance a list of offences, and watch for breaches of them,
    " sheltered by the assurance that his identity will never be revealed to his
    " victims? May not the common informer, now mercifully deprived of the
    " power of personal action, continue his career through this, as an alternative
    " form of activity? " (1952 68 L.Q.R., at p. 181.)

    There are further ways in which injustice may result from the exclusion of
    relevant matter. Sir Rupert Cross has illustrated this by his comments on
    Hennessy v. Wright (188) 21 Q.B.D. 509 (see his " Evidence ", 4th Ed. 265).
    And, since a just conclusion is one arrived at after considering all relevant
    evidence, something far short of it would have been attained in Garner v.
    Garner (1920) 36 TLR. 196, where a wife petitioned for dissolution on the
    ground of her husband's cruelty in communicating syphilis to her, had the
    husband's doctor not been compelled by McCardie, J., to disclose that he had
    in fact treated him for that disease. In Ellis v. Home Office [19531 2 All
    E.R. 149 Devlin J., when upholding a Home Office claim against disclosure
    of documents on the ground that it would be against the public interest
    to do so, expressed the view that, whether or not justice had been done, it
    certainly would not appear to have been done.

    Many other cases to the like effect could be cited. Accordingly, it would
    be unthinkable to vest the judiciary with a power to exclude in its discretion
    evidence relevant to the issues in civil proceedings merely because one side
    wants it kept out and the judge thinks that its disclosure is likely to prove
    embarrassing. In other words, the exclusion of relevant evidence always calls
    for clear justification. The importance of the present appeal lies in the clash
    between the widely differing submissions of the parties in civil actions as to
    the manner in which the courts should direct themselves where relevance is
    said to be at variance with admissibility.

    I should serve no useful purpose by again reciting the facts or by
    embarking upon yet another review of the decided cases. And I am more
    than content to adopt the observations of my noble and learned friend, Lord
    Hailsham of St. Marylebone, regarding what were called the ' broad' and
    the " narrower " submissions advanced on behalf of the appellants and his
    reasons for rejecting the former. But, while I am also in agreement with his
    rejection of " the more restricted and even, occasionally, pedantic view of
    the authorities advanced on behalf of the respondent", I have unfortunate
    misgivings about his treatment of the 16th Report of the Law Reform
    Committee (1967 Cmnd. 3471). In the first paragraph its distinguished
    signatories referred to " the common law, whose policy, pragmatic as always,
    has been to limit to a minimum the categories of privileges which a person
    has an absolute right to claim, but to accord to the judge a wide discretion
    to permit a witness, whether a party to the proceedings or not, to refuse to
    disclose information where disclosure would be a breach of some ethical or
    social value and non-disclosure would be unlikely to result in serious injustice
    in the particular case in which it is claimed."

    The only decisions cited in support of that " wide discretion " are Attorney-
    v. Clough (ante) and Attorney-General v. Mulholland [1963] 2
    Q.B.477. It is to be noted that in the latter Lord Denning, M.R., began (at
    p.489) by stressing that :

    " The only profession that I know which is given a privilege from
    " disclosing information to a court of law is the legal profession, and
    " then it is not the privilege of the lawyer but of his client. Take the


    " clergyman, the banker or the medical man. None of these is entitled
    " to refuse to answer when directed to by a judge."

    Having made that matter perfectly clear, it is then only that the Master of
    the Rolls continued:

    " Let me not be mistaken. The judge will respect the confidences
    " which each member of these honourable professions receives in the
    " course of it, and will not direct him to answer unless not only it is
    " relevant but also it is a proper and, indeed, necessary question in the
    " course of justice to be put and answered. A judge is the person
    " entrusted, on behalf of the community, to weigh these conflicting
    " interests—to weigh on the one hand the respect due to confidence in
    " the profession and on the other hand the ultimate interest of the
    " community in justice being done . . .If the judge determines that
    " the journalist must answer, then no privilege will avail him to refuse."

    During the hearing of this appeal it was suggested that the Report
    demonstrated that it is no longer right to say that " the only profession . . .
    " which is given a privilege from disclosing information to a court of law is
    " the legal profession " and that a judge is, for example, nowadays always
    entitled to direct a doctor not to answer a question concerning his patient's
    health on the simple ground that disclosure was opposed by his patient. I
    know of no decided cases supporting such a view or of any text-book writers
    who indicate that such is the law. On the contrary, the writers are
    unanimous that only in the case of lawyers and their clients is the court so
    empowered; see Phipson (llth Ed., 1970, para.587), Cross (4th Ed., 1974,
    p.255); and Halsbury's Laws of England, 4th Ed., Vol.17 (1976) p.166.
    The Criminal Law Revision Committee similarly stated in its llth Report
    (1972), to which Sir Rupert Cross was a signatory, that "We have no
    doubt that the only kind of professional privilege which English law allows
    is that of legal adviser and client " (para.272). This is in accordance with
    the statement in para.41 of the 16th Report itself that:

    " At Common law there exists no absolute privilege of non-disclosure
    " of communications made pursuant to a confidential relationship other
    " than that of client and lawyer which we have classified as a privilege
    " in aid of litigation."

    No reported case supports the proposition advanced in para. 51 of that
    report that a judge is entitled to direct a doctor not to disclose information
    regarding his patient's health, save that where

    " for instance, there was an issue as to whether the patient's mental
    " state was caused by the alleged cruelty of her husband or by anxiety
    " resulting from her own adultery, it may well be that the balance of
    " public interest will tilt in favour of her psychiatrist's being required
    " to answer a question about any admission of adultery she may have
    " made to him. But in the absence of some issue of this kind, we think
    " it likely that, if the psychiatrist had persisted in his refusal, the
    " Commissioner's exercise of his discretion in insisting on an answer
    " would have been reversed by the Court of Appeal."

    I believe the law to be quite otherwise. The report of Nuttall v. Nuttall [1964]
    108 Sol.J. 105 (to which para. 51 refers) is far too exiguous to entitle one to
    criticise the conduct of the Divorce Commissioner who there directed a
    doctor to answer questions about his patient's health. To assert, without
    more, that his direction " would [probably] have been reversed by the Court
    " of Appeal" is to put the doctor/patient relationship in the same class as
    that of lawyer/client, to which under our law it does not belong. If the law
    is to be altered (as I have long thought it should), that can be done only
    by a decision of this House, in a suitable case raising the issue, or by the

    In the result, I believe that the law applicable to all civil actions like the
    present one may be thus stated:


    (I) In civil proceedings a judge has no discretion, simply because what
    is contemplated is the disclosure of information which had passed between
    persons in a confidential relationship (other than that of lawyer and client),
    to direct a party to that relationship that he need not disclose that information
    even though its disclosure is (a) relevant to, and (b) necessary for the attain-
    ment of justice in the particular case. If (a) and (b) are established, the
    doctor or the priest must be directed to answer if, despite the strong dissuasion
    of the judge, the advocate persists in seeking disclosure. This is also true
    of all other confidential relationships in the absence of a special statutory
    provision, such as the Civil Evidence Act 1968, regarding communications
    between patent agents and their clients.

    (II) But where (i) a confidential relationship exists (other than that of
    lawyer and client) and (ii) disclosure would be in breach of some ethical
    cr social value involving the public interest, the court has a discretion to
    uphold a refusal to disclose relevant evidence provided it considers that, on
    balance, the public interest would be better served by excluding such evidence.

    1. In conducting the necessary balancing operation between competing
      aspects of public interest, the presence (or absence) of involvement of the
      central government in the matter of disclosure is not conclusive either way,
      though in practice it may affect the cogency of the argument against dis-
      closure. It is true that in Blackpool Corporation v. Locker [1948] 1 K.B.349
      the Court of Appeal dismissed a local authority's claim to exclude their
      interdepartmental communications in the public interest, Scott L.J. saying
      (at p. 380): " No such privilege has yet, as I know, been conceded by the
      " courts to any local government officer when his employing authority is in
      " litigation ". But it is worthy of note that he went on to observe that,
      although " Public interest is, from the point of view of English justice, a
      " regrettable and somewhat dangerous form of privilege, though at times
      " unavoidable, . . . no such ground was put forward in the plaintiff's
      " affidavit ". (The italics are mine.) We therefore cannot be sure how that case
      would otherwise have been decided, but we do know from Conway v. Rimmer
      11968) A.C.910 and In re D [1970] 1 W.L.R.599 that an organ of central
      government does not now necessarily have to be involved before a claim for
      non-disclosure can succeed. In my judgment, Scarman L.J. therefore went
      too far in asserting in the Court of Appeal in the present case [1976] 3 W.L.R.
      at 139B) that, " State interest alone can justify the withholding of relevant
      " documents ". So to assert is, in the wise words of one commentator, " to
      " place too high a value on the arbitrary factor of the status of the possessor
      " of the information. It also assumes that organisations can be classified into
      " those which have the status of ' a central organ of government' . . . and
      " those who do not. Such a classification is surely impracticable." (Jacob,
      1976 Public Law, 138).

    2. The sole touchstone is the public interest, and not whether the party
      from whom disclosure is sought was acting under a " duty " —as opposed
      to merely exercising " powers ". A party who acted under some duty may
      find it easier to establish that public interest was involved than one merely
      exercising powers, but that is another matter.

    (V) The mere fact that relevant information was communicated in
    confidence does not necessarily mean that it need not be disclosed. But
    where the subject-matter is clearly of public interest, the additional fact (if
    such it be) that to break the seal of confidentiality would endanger that interest
    will in most (if not all) cases probably lead to the conclusion that disclosure
    should be withheld. And it is difficult to conceive of any judicial discretion
    to exclude relevant and necessary evidence save in respect of confidential
    information communicated in a confidential relationship.

    (VI) The disclosure of all evidence relevant to the trial of an issue being
    at all times a matter of considerable public interest, the question to be
    determined is whether it is clearly demonstrated that in the particular case
    the public interest would nevertheless be better served by excluding evidence


    despite its relevance. If, on balance, the matter is left in doubt, disclosure
    should be ordered.

    Croom-Johnson J. appears to have directed himself on the foregoing lines
    in the course of his admirable judgment in this case. He concluded that,
    " there is no doubt at all that the public interest in protecting the defendants'
    " sources of information overrides the public interest that Mrs. D. should
    " obtain the information she is seeking in order to obtain legal redress ". In
    my judgment, it cannot properly be said that the learned trial judge was
    disentitled to come to that conclusion. On the contrary, I think he was
    clearly right. I would therefore be for restoring his decision and allowing
    this appeal.

    (306983) Dd 896296 140 1/77 St.S.

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