In this regular feature we draw attention to the last week’s law and media news and next week’s upcoming events. If readers have any news or events which they would like to draw attention to please add them by way of comments on this post. We are particularly interested in forthcoming events which readers might like to attend.
The challenge by “Lawyers for Media Standards” to the Lord Chancellor’s his decision to reduce the maximum success fee in defamation claims to 10% has finally been picked up by the mainstream media. Michael Peel wrote an article in the FT under the headline “Libel Lawyers hit back in free speech” debate. Strictly speaking, the challenge has nothing whatever to do with any “free speech debate” but, rather, relates to the lawfulness of a decision about CFA success fees.
One of the points made is that the Lord Chancellor had failed to take into account the fact that CFAs can also protect free speech (both Simon Singh and Henrik Thomsen have supported their high profile libel defences by using them). Nevertheless, overall, this is a characteristically fair and balanced piece. The members of “Lawyers for Media Standards” may well thrive on the descrption of them as an “enigmatic group”. The group has received some attention on the blogosphere for example a piece entitled “Lawyers for Media Standards: Who are they?” on the Greenslade Blog and on Richard Wilson’s “Don’t be Fooled Again” blog.
Meanwhile, the Statutory Instrument which the Ministry of Justice has asked Parliament to approve in order to reduce maximum success fees to 10% has run into parliamentary trouble. First, the House of Lords “Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee” drew the statutory instrument to the special attention of the house (see its report here). Second, Lord Martin (the former Speaker Michael Martin) tabled a “motion of regret” against the Statutory Instrument, calling for more consultation. This was reported by the Press Gazette under the headline “Ex-speaker Martin delays CFA fees cut”.
Following up on last week’s news, there is a short discussion on the “Media Society’s” website about last week’s Media Society and Stephenson Harwood debate: Roger Graef, David Leigh, Mark Stephens and the People vs. Carter Ruck’s Nigel Tait.
The Venables case has remained in the news this week. The News of the World reported that no charges will be brought against Jon Venables
“EVIL Jon Venables will escape prosecution for child porn offences but could still spend TEN YEARS in jail without trial.
That is how long the powerful parole board could cage him for breaching the conditions of his release on licence.
The News of the World has learned that Justice Secretary Jack Straw is being pushed by senior advisors to take the “easier option” of leaving the Venables case in the hands of parole chiefs”.
It is reported in the Press Gazette that Matt Lucas is seeking damages for misuse of private information against Express Newspapers in relation to stories following the death of his former civil partner. He is said to be represented by “Shillings” [sic]. Meanwhile, Schillings successfully represented Roman Abramovich in a claim against the Italian newspaper “La Republica” (see the Press Gazette report here).
“Skeptical” blogger “Jack of Kent” – written by Allen Green, who also practises law at Preiskel & Co as David Allen Green – has written a piece entitled “Privacy law: is Max Mosley right?” in the The Lawyer. The “Westminster Skeptics” “promote an evidence-based approach and critical thinking in the ares [sic] of policy, media, and legal reform”. And no, we do not know, why “skeptic” has a “k”.
Last week’s judgments
In the case of Bridle & Anor v Williams (17 March 2010) Master Fontaine struck out a claim for slander on the basis that a defence of qualified privilege and as the case was an abuse of the process. There is a 5RB case report here – attaching the 25 page judgment – and, for good measure, a news report as well.
Meanwhile in Sydney, the libel capital of the world, Nicholas J assessed damages in the case of Haertsch v Channel Nine Pty Ltd & Ors  NSWSC 182 (16 March 2010), a libel claim in respect of allegations of incompetence by a plastic surgeon. The judge awarded general damages of Aus$240,000 (£146,000) along with Aus$15,000 for economic loss giving, with interest, a total award of Aus$267,919 (£163,000).
In Habib v Nationwide News Pty Ltd  NSWCA 34 (16 March 2010) the New South Wales Court of Appeal allowed the appeal of the plaintiff, a former Guantamo bay detainee, in a libel action. The first instance judge had found the defamatory allegations proved. This was reversed by the Court of Appeal who entered judgment for the plaintiff and directed an assessment of damages.
Finally, in the third NSW libel case of the week, in Hatfield v TCN Channel Nine  NSWSC 161 (12 March 2010) Harrison J dismissed various interlocutory applications by the plaintiff in a libel action.
Next Week’s Events
On 23 March 2010 the Libel Reform campaign have organised a “mass lobby” of parliament to change the “archaic restrictive libel laws”.
On 24 March 2010, there is an event at the Frontline Club “Is the age of celebrity-obsessed media coming to an end?”
The “Index on Censorship” “Free Expression Awards” dinner is taking place on 25 March 2009 – an Inforrm supporter comments “They may not know much about libel, but they support some very important writers and film makers from round the world and deserve our support”.
In the Courts
On 24 March 2010, Pill and Wilson LJJ will hear an application for permission to appeal in the case of Fiddes v Channel 4 Television (heard at first instance on 28 January 2010). This was an application for disclosure by search of back up email tapes in a libel action concerning allegations of “faking” in a documentary about the Jackson family (see the Guardian’s discussion here of a failed application for a “gagging order”). Mr Justice Tugendhat accepted that “in an ideal world” the claimant should have disclosure but the claimant had not shown a sufficient likelihood of retrieving an email which was relevant and significant. As a result, the application was dismissed. The claimant now seeks permission to appeal.
We mention the following reserved High Court judgments in media cases:
Buturina v Times Newspapers Ltd, heard 4-5 February 2010
Budu v British Broadcasting Corporation, heard 9-10 February 2010
Dee v Telegraph Media Group Ltd, heard 24-25 February 2010
Lait v Evening Standard, heard 10 March 2010
Miller v Associated Newspapers 18 March 2010
The following Court of Appeal judgments are awaited:
British Chiropractic Association -v- Singh, heard 23 February 2010 (Judge LCJ, Neuberger MR, Sedley LJ)
Independent News and Media Limited v. DP (By his Litigation Friend The Official Solicitor), heard on 24 February 2010 (Judge LCJ, Neuberger MR and Potter P).
If you want to know why “skeptics” is spelt with a “k”, why not simply ask?
Why be snide instead?
The post may have conveyed some scepticism about skepticism but it was not intended to be snide. We would, of course, be pleased to include an explanation of the term.