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.
Perhaps the most important news of the week was the commitment of all three main parties to libel reform in their election manifestos. We have already blogged about this. The Labour promise was discussed in the Guardian, Conservative commitment was covered in the “New Statesman” and on Banky’s Blog (along with the Lib Dems, also mentioned in the Press Gazette).
The fact that the BCA has decided to discontinue its libel case against Simon Singh has received extensive press coverage. Its press statement can be found here. The conclusion of this notorious libel action has been widely reported in the media, for example in the Independent, the Times, and the Press Gazette. Mr Singh is reported as saying
“It still makes me angry that our laws encourage such ludicrous libel suits. English libel law is so intimidating, so expensive, so hostile to serious journalists that it has a chilling effect on all areas of debate, silencing scientists, journalists, bloggers, human rights activists and everyone else who dares to tackle serious matters of public interest.”
Mr Singh’s supporters have, understandably, expressed great satisfaction at his victory. We refer, for example, the “Sense about Science” website and to David Allen Green’s post on his Jack of Kent blog. Mr Green has said that he intends to write a book about the case.
The Law Society Gazette draws attention to an important measure which was passed by Parliament as part of the “wash up” – the Children Schools and Families Act 2010, Part 2 of which deals with the publication of information relating to family proceedings. According to the explanatory notes the purpose of this part is to “enable wider reporting of family proceedings, within a scheme which is consistent for all levels of courts” but concerns have been expressed by the Children’s Commissioner and family lawyers.
The Law Society Gazette also notes that a solicitor has commenced proceedings against the “solicitorsfromhell.co.uk” website. The operator of the site Rick Kordowski commented, “At the end of the day it makes no difference. I have no money or assets”. The claim form refers to a Gazette article earlier this year where Kordowski explained his administration and monitoring procedure, whereby solicitors and firms listed on the site can pay between £99 and £299 to have postings removed (see  Gazette, 28 January, 1).
The Daily Express has payed substantial libel damages to four trustees of a UK charity after falsely claiming that it had links to Al-Qaida. This is reported in the Press Gazette and entertainingly discussed on the Tabloid Watch blog.
Sophie Dahl and Jamie Cullum are reported to have issued proceedings in privacy against the “Mail on Sunday” in respect of reports about their wedding plans. It said that, according to the claim form, the story headed “A Wedding wonderland for Sophie and Jamie” included confidential information about their wedding arrangements including location, guest lists, Cullum’s plans to serenade his bride with a specially written song, and an alleged disagreements between Dahl and her mother.
Nicholas Jones has a discussion entitled “Max Clifford and celebrity journalism: the “holier than thou” sage on media ethics” on his blog.
We note the commentary from the Australian law firm, Middletons, on the decision of the New South Wales Court of Appeal for preliminary discovery of episodes and transcripts of “Underbelly: the Golden Mile” (the Series) by a former member of the NSW Police, Wendy Hatfield who believes that she may be defamed in the Series. The case is Hatfield v TCN Channel 9  NSWCA 69.
Finally, we note that Twitter users now exceed 100 million!
US Law and Media News
The US Supreme Court is due to hear argument in City of Ontario v. Quon, an important Fourth Amendment case involving the privacy of electronic communications in the workplace. The posting on the ScotUSblog on the case can be found here. The case is also discussed by Daniel Solove on the “Concurring Opinions” blog. Full details of the case including all the court documents – with the briefs for petitioner, respondent and all the amicus briefs – can be found on the ScotUS Wiki.
The popular Volokh Conspiracy blog has a piece on a US libel decision arising from the Vaccine/Autism debate which has interesting echoes of the Simon Singh case.
On 7 April 2010, a New Mexico jury found an environmental activist, Arturo Uribe, guilty of defamation and harassment against the Helena Chemical Company. Damages of US$2 million were awarded, along with punitive damages of US$75,000. Mr Uribe had claimed that the chemical company’s emissions were sickening local children. His statement in response to the verdict can be found here.
The Times/Matrix Bill of Rights Forum is taking place on 20 April 2010 at Grays’ Inn. Details can be found here. (or see our post here).
In the Courts
On 21 April 2001, Sedley, Hooper and Wilson LLJ are listed to hear an application for permission to appeal in the case of North London Central Mosque v Policy Exchange  EWHC 3311 (QB) which involves the interesting question as to whether an unincorporated body has sufficient legal personality to sue in libel. Eady J at first instance thought that the conventional answer – “no” – was the right one. It seems unlikely that the Court of Appeal will be persuaded to take a different view but we will report developments.
The following reserved High Court judgment in a media case remains outstanding:
Dee v Telegraph Media Group Ltd, heard 24-25 February 2010
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