Appeal against an order requiring Christopher Steele to give oral evidence in US libel trial dismissed


Re: Buzzfeed Inc & Anor v Gubarev & Ors [2018] EWHC 1201 (QB)

This was an appeal to parts of Senior Master Fontaine’s decision in Gubarev v Buzzfeed Inc [2018] EWHC 512 (QB) not to set aside an order acceding to a request by the US authorities asking for the oral examination of Mr Steele, who had prepared a dossier on Russian influence in the 2016 US presidential elections.

The appellant US authorities had argued that “the Senior Master failed to follow the well-established principles as to how the court should approach questions of relevance” under the Evidence (Proceedings in Other Jurisdictions) Act 1975, s 2. It was argued that “either she should have deferred to the Order of the Florida Court, which predicated that the request sought was relevant to the US proceedings, or she should have applied a low threshold in line with the judicial guidance laid down by Simon J in Credit Suisse”.

Also, it was submitted “that the Senior Master overlooked the safeguards in her Order which would afford the very protection necessary to avoid the vice she had identified. Mr Steele would be given advance notice of the questions to be asked, and his legal representative could object on the day. Further, questioning relating to the issue of verification also carried with it the same risk, if it was a risk, as regards source identification”.

Finally, Senior Master Fontaine had allegedly “asked herself the wrong question: rather than considering whether questioning on the topics as originally formulated was oppressive, she focused on whether questioning on a narrower formulation would be”.

The Court dismissed the appeal on all grounds.

Alex Bailin QC, Edward Craven, Gavin Millar QC and Ben Silverstone were involved in this case.