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.
In a speech at the University of Westminster this week (reported by the Press Gazette Axegrinder blog) London Mayor and former editor Boris Johnson turned his analytical focus on the PCC, saying
“They [the Press] are regulated by a Press Complaints Commission whose luminaries include the editor of the Daily Mail. I’m sure that he is a fine fellow in many ways but I think it’s a bit like putting the regulation of door-to-door salesmen in the hands of Boston Strangler.”
Asked in a later Q&A session if he thought the PCC needed strengthening, Johnson said that he had no idea. “I doubt it very much … you might as well strengthen tapioca,”
We have posted on the decision of the Court of Appeal to uphold Mr Justice Tugendhat’s decision that the trial in Fiddes v Channel Four should be by judge alone. The Press Association suggested that this “could arguably jeopardise the future of trial by jury in defamation cases” while the Solicitors’ Journal described it as “a watershed moment for jury trials”. William Bennett (who has recently written about jury trial on this blog) was quoted as saying
“Although this decision doesn’t change the law as such it does highlight that as we as a society generate more and more documents that can be used in a case it becomes more difficult to justify a jury in each defamation action.
“The decision also challenges the previous conception that it was a constitutional right to have your action heard by a jury. That doesn’t really wash anymore when we talk about defamation.”
Our call for mature debate on libel reform issues was picked up PA Media Lawyer and Journalism.co.uk which mentioned William Bennett’s posting on the topic on this blog. However, the topic continues to generate considerable heat. The Guardian continues its support for libel reform with an editorial with the (slightly confusing) title “Libel Laws: in the public’s interest” urging the government to “throw its weight behind Lord Lester’s bid to improve our flawed libel laws”. The commentators on the Guardian website were generally unimpressed. One was “inclined to conclude that once again you are misusing your power in a thoroughly, nasty. complacent and self-interested way”. Another said
“In practice it’s often the big nasty newspaper that seeks the right to print lies against the small innocent member of the public. Until any campaign demonstrates how journalists and newspapers can give adequate redress to libel victims (adequate redress does not mean libel on page 1 and apology on page 89), I think I prefer the current system thanks”.
A third commentator suggested that “journalists asking for reform of the libel laws are like burglars asking for a reform of the Theft Act”. The whole string of comments (going both ways) is well worth reading.
In the Courts
In the case of R (on the application of Harper) v Aldershot Magistrates Court  EWHC 1319 (Admin) two senior police officers facing trial on criminal charges failed in an attempt to overturn a decision to make their addresses public. The case is discussed in the Press Gazette. There is a 5RB case report here and a discussion on the Panopticon Blog.
The claimant in the case of HH Sant Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj v Eastern Media Group ( EWHC 1294 (QB)) is seeking permission to appeal the decision of Mr Justice Eady staying the action because a trial would require the court to decide matters of religious doctrine. The application for permission to appeal is at present in a window from 30 July to 25 October 2010.
From the Blogs
The first instance decision in that case is discussed on the UK Human Rights Blog which suggests that the case reignites debate on the place of religion in the English courts.
The Strasbourg Observer blog has an interesting post on the case of Petrina v Romania – in which the Court of Human Rights found a breach of Article 8 as a result of the failure of a domestic defamation case – sub-titled “Serious issues of interpretation and implementation of the Convention“. The authors are highly critical of the decision which, they suggest, makes it a Convention requirement that the burden of proof is placed on the defendant in a defamation case.
Media Cases from Other Jurisdictions
We have already commented on the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Toronto Star v Canada. The decision is discussed on the Jurist
The Supreme Court of British Columbia have considered the new Canadian defence of “responsible communication” in two recent cases. The defence failed in Hunter v. Chandler 2010 BCSC 729 the plaintiff alleged that the defendant defamed him by calling his professional ethics into question and by accusing him of being in a conflict of interest denied that he had made the statements alleged and raised defences of qualified privilege, fair comment and responsible communication. The judge found that the statements were made and that there was no qualified privileged, no proper factual foundation for the comments made and the communication was not responsible. General damages of Can$15,000 (£10,000) were awarded.
However, the defence succeeded in Shavluk v. Green Party of Canada 2010 BCSC 804. This was a claim by a former Green Party candidate arising out of a press release announcing that he had been dropped as a candidate. The background is explained by CBC News. The plaintiff was dropped as the Green candidate in a Vancouver-area riding shortly before the 2008 election because, the party explained in a news release, online comments he had made two years earlier could be construed as anti-Semitic”. The defences of justification and fair comment failed but the defences of qualified privilege and responsible communication were successful.
In Singapore, the Supreme Court dismissed a libel claim brought Ms Kay Swee Pin against the Singapore Island Country Club in respect of a notice suspending her membership which, although defamatory, was justified.
US Law and Media News
Once again, this will be the subject of a separate post.
15 June 2010, “Westminster Legal Policy Forum Keynote Seminar: Libel & privacy law ‐ challenges for reform”. The agenda can be found here. Speakers include Professor Gavin Phillipson, John Whittingdale MP, Mark Thomson, Professor Alastair Mullis, Lord Lester, Simon Singh and John Kampfner.
17 June 2010, Lexis Conference, “Privacy, Defamation and the Media”, The Royal Horse guards, One Whitehall Place. Speakers include Gill Phillips, Gavin Millar QC, Heather Rogers QC and Mark Stephens.
Next Week in the Courts
The trial of Fiddes v Channel Four, which had been listed for Monday 14 June 2010 before Mr Justice Tugendhat has now been adjourned for 7 days and will begin next Monday, 21 June 2010.
On Monday 14 June 2010, Mr Justice Eady will hear an application in the long running case of Prince Radu of Hohenzollern v Houston which is, we understand, another application to adjourn the trial of the action.
The following reserved judgments in media cases remain outstanding:
Imerman v Tchenguiz (and linked appeals), heard 10 to 11 May 2010 (Master of the Rolls, Moses and Munby LJJ)
The British Broadcasting Corporation -v- Sugar, heard 17 May 2010 (Master of the Rolls, Moses and Munby LJJ)
Khader v Aziz and Davenport Lyons, heard 19 May 2010 (Sir Anthony May P, Carnwath and Moore-Bick LJJ)
Flood v Times Newspapers Limited, heard 25 and 26 May 2010 (Master of the Rolls and Moore-Bick and Moses LJJ)
Thornton v Telegraph Media Group Ltd heard 26 May 2010 (Tugendhat J)
Fiddes v Channel Four, heard 10 June 2010 (Master of the Rolls, Maurice Kay and Sedley LJJ)