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 are interested in publicising.
Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls has set up a committee to examine the issues around the use of injunctions which bind the press and so-called ‘super-injunctions’. The announcement is here. In contrast to the Libel Working Group the group is a balanced one with two claimant lawyers, two defendant lawyers, three judges and the former Chairman of the Bar. We welcome further inquiry in this area. Perhaps it will be the prelude to the collection of full statistics on media cases before the courts. The committee is discussed on MediaPal@LSE Blog.
As we have already reported the CFA amendment order was not put before the House of Commons for a vote and will now lapse. It seems likely that the issue will return after the election. Lord Neuberger’s response to the consultation has been posted on the Judiciary website. Echoing the points made by the Law Society and the Bar Council among others, the Master of the Rolls said
In our view, it is not right to single out one particular category of defendants, who have ready access to the media, for preferential treatment. Indeed it may be thought unfair if libel claimants are placed in a distinctly less advantageous position than all other claimants in civil litigation. Furthermore, we believe that any solution to the present problem must comprise a balanced package of measures, in order to control costs whilst promoting access to justice.
This is an area of continuing interest for Lord Neuberger who has given a speech on “Costs Management, Proportionality and Insurance” to personal injuries lawyers.
There has been extensive coverage of the Simon Singh case in the press and on the blogs. We were very interested to read a thoughtful analysis by a Singh supporter on the Heresy Corner blog, under the headline “Simon Singh Appeal Ruling: Right result, wrong reasons?” In addition, we draw attention to the postings on Cearta.ie, on the Free Speech Law blog and on Two Cultures.
Meanwhile, Simon Singh is continuing his libel reform campaign. He is interviewed on podcast on Out-law Radio – reported on the OUT-LAW site under the headline, “Election with not derail libel reform”. On the same theme, the Press Gazette reports that the Conservative Party has committed to libel reform. Dominic Grieve is quoted as saying
“The Conservative party is committed, if elected, to undertaking a fundamental review of the libel laws with a view to enacting legislation to reform them. This reform could best be done by means of a separate libel bill and this is the preferred approach for us.”
The press phone hacking stories will not go away. As we reported earlier in the week the Guardian has criticised the police investigation into the News of the World telephone hacking case. In an article in the “Guardian” yesterday entitled “On phone taps the Met got it right” Assistant Commissioner John Yates has replied to these claims – although he does not seem to have convinced all the commentators on his piece. Today’s Guardian has a story about a phone tapping inquiry over the Vanessa Perroncel affair.
Meanwhile, the Government has responded to the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport Report on Press Standards (discussed by us here, here and here). We will discuss the Government’s response in more detail in a future post.
Actor Jude Law’s privacy claim against “Hello!” magazine was settled with the magazine agreeing to pay £9,500 in damages and undertaking not to publish any pictures Mr Law with his children until they are 18. The settlement was reported in the Guardian.
The Lawyer reports that members of the Jackson family will appear as witnesses at the trial of the Fiddes v Channel 4 libel action in June 2010. The claimant will be represented by Ron Thwaites QC and the defendant by Adrienne Page QC. The claimant is represented on a CFA and the Press Gazette reports criticism of this by Janet Smith LJ during the course of the recent appeal
US Law and Media News
The California Court of Appeal confirmed the summary dismissal of a libel claim by an anonymised claimant, Jane Doe against Channel 4 over an episode of the Ali G show. The action arose from a program originally broadcast on August 15, 2004 (episode), Ali G interviewed Gore Vidal (Vidal) regarding the United States Constitution and Amendments thereto. In the course of that discussion, Ali G referred to appellant by her full name, stating:
“Ain’t it better sometimes, to get rid of the whole thing rather than amend it [the Constitution]? Cos like me used to go out with this bitch called [appellant’s name] and she used to always trying [to] amend herself. Y’know, get her hair done in highlights, get like tattoo done on her batty crease, y’know, have the whole thing shaved—very nice but it didn’t make any more difference. She was still a minger and so, y’know me had enough and once me got her pregnant me said alright, laters, that is it. Ain’t it the same with the Constitution?”
The Court held that on the basis of the undisputed evidence concerning the statements’ language and the context in which the statements were made, we conclude that no reasonable viewer could have understood the statements as implying provably false assertions of fact. There are discussions of the case on Legalblogwatch and by Hollywood Reporter blog.
No events over the forthcoming week have been drawn to our attention.
In the Courts
Kaschke v Gray  EWHC 690 (QB) – is listed as a “recent judgment” but we have not discussed the case. The claim was for libel arising out of a post on Labourhome.org by John Gray, which claimed that local political activist Johanna Kaschke was arrested on suspicion of being a member of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group. An application by the operator of the blog for summary judgment was unsuccessful. The operator of the blog – which was post-moderated – had raised defences under Regulation 19 of the E-Commerce Directive Regulations. There is a discussion of the case on the OUT-LAW site.
Global BC v The Queen  BCCA 169 is an interesting case concerning media access to evidence in criminal trials. Mr. Fry had been convicted of first degree murder. He confessed to the crime to a “crime boss” in a police undercover operation involving a number of undercover police officers. The confession was recorded on videotape. After the conviction the media applied for access. The trial judge dismissed the application. The Court of Appeal held that there is a strong common law presumption in favour of access to information provided in the judicial process and that real risk to the administration of justice must be shown, not speculation, if access is to be denied. The appeal was allowed by a majority of 2:1.
The following reserved High Court judgment in a media case remains outstanding:
Dee v Telegraph Media Group Ltd, heard 24-25 February 2010