Judge orders press to return papers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 November, 1997, 12:00am

A journalist and a judge squared up yesterday over a court order demanding that reporters return documents which had been 'released without authority'.

Mr Justice Conrad Seagroatt summoned the press to his courtroom and demanded all copies of the plaintiff's opening from a case be returned immediately.

Mr Justice Seagroatt told reporters: 'The documents belong to me in my role as judge. It is for me to ensure that documents which should never be in the public domain should not find their way into the public or press.' The documents relate to an action in the Court of First Instance brought by Bruce Baron, who is battling for an insurance payout over the murder of his father. Howard Baron was shot dead in Star House, Tsim Sha Tsui, in 1972.

The judge said it was part of his role to ensure improper allegations were not aired in open court so that they 'are not given any publicity and because they can be damaging and unfair'.

But Hong Kong Economic Times chief news editor Yau Shing-mu told Mr Justice Seagroatt his paper planned to seek a review of the order.

'We have some concerns over whether the handling is proper,' said Mr Yau.

He asked for a delay on the order to return the documents to the court.

But the judge rejected the request, insisting the papers be returned immediately.

Mr Justice Seagroatt became concerned when he discovered that copies of the opening submission were circulating among members of the press.

Although none of the information appeared to have been published, the judge made a court order demanding all the documents be returned.

Reporters were summoned to his courtroom to explain how they had come by the papers and how many copies had been made.

The papers were retrieved and returned to the court.

The judge warned reporters that publication of the contents would almost certainly amount to contempt and expose newspapers to civil action.