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.
The General Election campaign continues this its last week. Former “Sun” editor David Yelland suggests, in the Guardian that “Nick Clegg’s rise could lock Murdoch and the media elite out of British politics“. The Tabloid Watch blog has a good discussion of the media coverage of immigration: “The great spoken issue”, suggesting that the problem with immigration
“is that it is dominated by the right-wing anti-immigration press who spread lies and misinformation to suit their own agenda”
Meanwhile, libel law has entered the campaign with former British Ambassador and blogger Craig Murray complains that he has been threatened with libel action by the pollsters “You Gov”. The story is also reported on Journalism.co.uk.
A Labour Candidate, Kerry McCarthy, is accused of being the first person to have broken election law via Twitter – having tweeted the result of postal voting. She is a solicitor and the Labour Party’s New Media Campaigns spokesperson (or, in tabloid speak, the “Twitter Tsar”)
In Scotland the SNP’s legal challenge to the BBC’s failure to include it in the “leaders debates” was dismissed by Lady Smith in the Court of Session (see Petition of the Scottish National Party  CSOH 56). In a subsequent article in the Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins said
In giving her verdict in Edinburgh’s court of session on the Scottish National party’s legal action against the BBC, the judge, Lady Smith, declared herself delighted with the coverage. The series, she said, “has thus far taken place according to plan”. She agreed with the BBC lawyer that involving the SNP in such debates would be “completely contrary to the public interest”. She is clearly no nationalist.
This provoked seems to have ruffled some feathers in Scotland and provoked an unusual rebuke from the Judicial Office for Scotland which, in a letter to the Guardian, printed today, complained that
“the inference that could be drawn from such remarks would appear to be that Lady Smith’s judgment was biased or motivated by her political allegiance. Such an assertion raises serious concerns about judicial independence which are both ill-founded and inaccurate”.
It is reported that the media are to challenge a ban on reporting the legal argument in the MPs expenses fraud case. Joshua Rozenberg discusses this on his well-informed Standpoint blog. He also has an interesting article about the underlying “privilege” issue in the Law Society Gazette – also discussed on the UK Human Rights blog.
A number of libel settlements have been reported. The Sun agreed to pay substantial libel damages to a Muslim doctor over false allegations linking him to terrorism. This is discussed by Tabloid Watch and there is also an item about it on the 5RB News. There was also a payment of substantial damages by “Take a Break” magazine to a couple over a story which alleged that they had conspired to get her former lover jailed by giving the police false information. Headteacher Greg Martin has won a claim for libel over false allegations made about him to the General Teaching Council. The story is also reported here.
An article in the Evening Standard dealing with what is rightly described as “Orlando Figes’ folly” (see last week’s “Law and Media“) suggests that the case “shows why we need libel reform”. This is difficult to follow: someone made a misconceived threat of libel action and then withdrew it. How does this show that reform is needed? Misconceived threats can always be made – however the law is reformed.
Another story from Scotland, where it appears that the Crown Office has refused to answer a Freedom of Information request about who paid the legal bills for a libel action against the media by the Lord Advocate.
Lord Neuberger MR gave a lecture on topic of “Privacy and Freedom of Expression: A Delicate Balance” at Eton College on 28 April 2010. We have posted about this here. The lecture is also discussed on the UK Human Rights blog.
From the Blogs
Professor Eric Johnson has a new US blog on Blog Law. This has several posts on the Jason Chen iPhone case – where the Gizmodo Blog had reviewed the stolen Apple iPhone 4G. This culminated in a police raid and interesting “shield law” questions, discussed on the PrawfsBlawg.
Family lawyer, Marilyn Stowe, has an interesting talk on her blog about media access to the family courts, entitled “Media and the Family Courts: Punishing the Innocent and Protecting the Guilty”
US Law and Media News
The “First Amendment” case of the week was Salazar v Bruno which concerned the erection of a memorial cross on public land. The Court held that the district court was wrong in barring the government from implementing the land transfer under the cross at issue. The case is discussed here on the ScotUSblog. The ScotUSWiki page for the case contains the briefs and other background material.
The Supreme Court also heard argument in the case of John Doe v Reed. We refer to the ScotUSWiki page for all the relevant background. The ScotUSblog has an interesting post about Justice Scalia’s interventions at the hearing. As the author puts it:
“Justice Antonin Scalia, using history, sarcasm and political taunts, laid down a barrage of objections Wednesday to a plea that the Supreme Court create a new constitutional right of anonymity for individuals who sign petitions to get policy measures onto election ballots”.
Justice Scalia’s interventions can be followed on the transcript.
It would obviously be entertaining to see these interventions live on TV. The Newsroom Law Blog reports that a bill to allow cameras into the Supreme Court has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The issue is also discussed on the Unruly of Law Blog.
Libel Decisions from Other Jurisdictions
In Best v Weatherall 2010 BCCA 202 the British Columbia Court of Appeal allowed the claimant’s appeal in a libel action concerning a defamatory email and awarded damages of Can$3,000 (£2,000).
In French v The Herald and Weekly Times Pty Ltd (No 2)  VSC 155, Beach J tried a libel action brought by a former professional cyclist who alleged that an article published by the defendants meant, inter alia, that he was a “drug cheat”. The judge rejected defences of truth, fair comment and qualified privilege and awarded damages of Aus$175,000 (£106,000). The case is mentioned on the Media Law Prof Blog and discussed in “The Age”
6 May 2010, 18.00, Kings College European Centre Annual Lecture, “The EU Court of Justice as a Human Rights Court?” Judge Christiaan Timmermans, European Court of Justice
In the Courts
We have previously mentioned the application for permission to appeal in the fair comment case of Thornton v Telegraph Media Group  EWHC 2863 (QB) – which was adjourned by Sedley LJ to allow the defendant to make an application to strike out. Although no judgment is presently available, we now have the transcript of Court of Appeal permission hearing. We understand that the defendant has now issued a strike out application.
On 26 April 2010, Eady J gave judgment in the “offer of amends” compensation case of Bowman v MGN  EWHC 895 (QB). Compensation of £4,250 was awarded. Having turned down offers of £5,000 and £10,000 the claimant had to pay the costs of the compensation hearing.
On 28 April 2010, Sharp J gave judgment in the case of Dee v Telegraph Media Group  EWHC (QB), granting summary judgment to the defendant. We have already posted about this decision. There is a short account in the Press Gazette. This appears to have been Mr Dee’s first defeat in his series of libel claims based on this story. The full and remarkable details are set out on what is described as his “official website“.
[Update] Two forthcoming hearings have been drawn to our attention. First there is a strike out application in the case of Hays plc v Hartley to be heard by Tugendhat J.
Second there is an appeal in the case of Brady v Norman from a judgment of Master Leslie, given on 12 November 2009 dismissing the claimant’s application for an order disapplying Section 4A of the Limitation Act 1980 under which a one‑year limitation period applies in defamation cases.
We have previously mentioned the fact that the libel case of Spiller v Joseph has been listed to be heard in the Supreme Court on 26 and 27 July 2010. The Supreme Court has, belatedly, posted the “Case Details” for this case, which show that the proposed bench for the hearing is Lords Phillips, Rodger, Walker and Brown, with Sir John Dyson as the fifth member of the court.
Judgment in the case of Mireskandari v Associated Newspapers Ltd, (heard 21 April 2010) will be given by Mr Justice Eady on 4 May 2010 at 10.00am
The following reserved High Court judgments in a media cases remain outstanding:
Shovell v Adventis Group, heard 19 to 27 April 2010 (Sir Charles Gray)
Kaschke v Osler, heard 23 April 2010 (Eady J)