International & Commercial Litigation
The Spy who must be deposed - Court Orders Christopher Steele to Face Deposition in London
Aleksej Gubarev, XBT Holdings SA and Webzilla Inc v. Buzzfeed Inc and Ben Smith
Christopher Steele, a former MI6 officer, wrote what has become known as “the Trump Dossier”. The dossier is a collection of reports concerning alleged Russian efforts to influence the United States Presidential election, and possiblelinks between Russia and the then Presidential candidate, and later President, Donald Trump.
In January 2017 Buzzfeed published an online article entitled “These Reports Allege Trump has Deep Ties to Russia”. The article included a copy of the dossier with some redactions.
The Plaintiffs are suing Buzzfeed and its editor for libel in the United States and Mr Steele and his company, Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd, in England.
The United States Court for The Southern District of Florida Miami Division issued a letter of request to the English Court, asking that Mr Steele be ordered to provide evidence for trial in the American Court, broadly in relation to steps taken to verify the information contained in the dossier relating to Mr Gubarev and his companies. The English Court made an order for Mr Steele to give evidence.
Despite Mr Gubarev's solicitors having agreed to curtail the topics for questioning and expressing themselves open to discussion to take into account any further concerns Mr Steele might have, Mr Steele insisted on applying to set aside the order made by the English Court. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office indicated that it might have an interest in the matter, if any concerns about national security arose.
After a hearing on 5 February 2018 before Senior Master Fontaine in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court which lasted a day, judgment was reserved and handed down on 16 March 2018.
The Senior Master found,
“In my judgment it is obvious that the author of the paragraph complained of in the Florida proceedings would be a relevant witness in defamation proceedings which are entirely based on the allegations in thatparagraph, in a jurisdiction where the Plaintiffs have to prove that the allegations are false.”
The English Court also decided that the giving of evidence byMr Steele would not breach his rights pursuant to Article 6 ECHR, even though there are also proceedings against him in England. The Court also found that the requirement to give evidence at an earlier stage than in the English proceedings is not of itself oppressive.
As the Plaintiffs had agreed not to question Mr Steele about his sources of information, the English Court decided that any residual concerns about confidentiality could be dealt with by conditions in the Order for Mr Steele's examination.
The Court made very minor amendments to the order most of which the Plaintiffs' English lawyers had offered before Mr Steele's application was issued.
Mr Steele is not appealing the order. However, Buzzfeed is appealing to the extent that it wishes to widen the scope of questioning.
As a result of Mr Steele's application to set aside the order having failed, Mr Steele will now be deposed (compelled to give evidence) in London. That evidence will be used at the trial of the action in Florida.
Mr Gubarev and his companies are represented by Steven Loble.
“The Court found that Christopher Steele has relevant evidence to give in relation to a dossier prepared by him. The Court has rightly ordered that Christopher Steele must now answer under oath relevant and appropriate questions to be put to him in deposition.”