Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has threatened a group of MPs with legal action, claiming they had breached his "human rights" after letters from the Newcastle United chairman explaining why he was unable to attend select committee hearing were made public.
The Scottish Affairs Committee is scrutinising the use of zero-hour contracts, the administration of fashion retail store USC and news that 200 Sports Direct employees recently lost their jobs in Scotland after a factory closure. They had summoned the 50-year-old businessman to appear at the hearing but Ashley explained why he could not attend, which the MPs made public. Sports Direct chairman Keith Hellawell will attend in Ashley's absence.
RPC, the lawyers representing Ashley, responded with the threat of legal action, which the MPs also made public: "As you know, we have expressly marked our correspondence to the committee as confidential. We can see no basis on which you were entitled to publish any of that confidential correspondence without Sports Direct International's consent.
"The fact that you have done so is considered likely to amount to a breach of our client's confidence as a matter of law and we fully reserve all of Sports Direct International's legal rights. Please confirm that any subsequent correspondence from us or our client on these matters will be treated as confidential."
The committee responded by saying it cannot be sued but RPC retorted: "The defence of Parliamentary privilege would not necessarily provide a defence to a claim that to publish correspondence that was clearly marked as 'confidential' violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights".
However, the Committee stood its ground. In a reply to the lawyers, it said: "Please provide, without further delay, the information that the committee has asked for on what immovable commitments Mr Ashley has throughout the entirety of March which are preventing him from appearing before the committee."