The short answer is no. The Commercial Court recently confirmed in the case of Versloot Dredging BV v HDI Gerling Industrie Versicherung Ag & Ors [2013] EWHC 581 (Comm) the principle that a party may be in contempt of court if they "interfere with attempts to interview a potential witness" or "prohibit the other side from getting the facts from him".

In this case, the defendant underwriters had retained a surveyor (G) to provide an opinion as to the cause of damage to the claimant's vessel and the extent of the loss. G attended the port where the vessel was located, interviewed the crew and surveyed the vessel. He reported to defendants, reviewed the repair options, attended meetings at the claimant's offices and produced a detailed survey report that was disclosed to the claimant. The claimant did not have surveyors itself but it had unfettered access to G.

The claimant subsequently approached G and asked to meet with him. It wanted to interview him on a wide range of topics because of his intimate knowledge of the vessel and to obtain his factual evidence and technical judgment on a range of matters. The claimant wanted to interview him without the defendants or their solicitors being present.

The defendants' solicitors asked G to decline the meeting on the basis that he had been appointed by the defendants to provide factual and technical evidence. In an exchange of emails that followed the defendants' solicitors confirmed to the claimant's solicitors that any questions of fact would be put to G and also that a meeting with G could only take place if they were present.

The claimant subsequently applied for an injunction: (1) requiring the defendants and their solicitors to withdraw their instruction to and / or refrain from encouraging G not to talk with them and / or provide information and / or evidence unless the defendants' solicitors were present; and (2) restraining the defendants and their solicitors from seeking to restrict or impede the claimant's access to G.

It was accepted that G could well be in possession of confidential information and his attendance at meetings with the defendant meant he would have been privy to what were described as "privileged trains of enquiry and thought processes".

The court reaffirmed the principle that there is no property in a witness and that it may constitute contempt if attempts are made to prevent a witness from speaking to another party. Whether such attempts constitute contempt will depend on whether the interference with the witness is improper.

In the circumstances the court did not accept that it was appropriate or necessary to grant injunctive relief against the defendants on the basis they had been acting or were likely to continue acting in "an unlawful way". The court did, however, confirm that G was free to give evidence to the claimant and to be interviewed by them or on their behalf, subject to the qualification that he was not at "liberty to reveal confidential or privileged information in relation to which he owes duties to the defendants".

The parties were left in no doubt that G had a free choice as to whether he agreed to be interviewed by the claimant. He was not precluded from revealing factual information or his technical opinion to the claimant simply because he had already provided that information to the defendants. What he was not allowed to reveal was restricted to the confidential exchanges to which he had been - and may continue to be - privy.