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.
The Westminster Legal Forum on Tuesday 15 June 2010 included an introductory talk from Professor Gavin Phillipson (which we hope to post on this blog shortly) and several interesting panel discussions, the last of which was on Lord Lester’s Defamation Bill with Lord Lester, Sir Brian Neill and Heather Rogers QC. Lord Lester, who had a meeting to discuss the bill this week with Tom McNally, justice minister in the Lords, said he had been authorised to say that “the government warmly welcomes the work that has been done on the bill and is committed to pushing forward on libel reform.”
Meanwhile, the Second Reading of Lord Lester’s Defamation Bill is to be on 9 July 2010, Lords Lester, Pannick and McNally are listed as speaking, along with Baroness Young of Hornsey. The Libel Reform Campaign has responded to the Bill – welcoming and urging the Government to support it. This is despite the fact that the Bill does not adopt many of the “Recommendations” of the campaign’s report.
The most discussed case of the week was the decision of Mr Justice Tugendhat in Thornton v Telegraph Group ( EWHC 1414 (QB)) which was the subject of a post on this blog. The decision has, perhaps not surprisingly, been warmly welcomed by those sections of the media that pay attention to court decisions. The Press Gazette reports the judgment under the headline Lynn Barber libel victory ‘raises bar’ for claimants. Writing on his Guardian blog, Roy Greenslade suggests that the ruling enhances press freedom. The decision was also noted by the Lawyer and on Outlaw.com.
A report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development appears to make grim reading for the British newspaper industry. The report, “The Evolution of News and the Internet,” says that between 2007-2009, newspaper circulation dropped 25% in the UK, compared to a 30% in the U.S. The decline was 20% in Greece, 18% in Itally and 17% in Canada. In all, 20 of the 30 OECD nations surveyed experienced a decline in newspaper circulation. However, the decline in Australia, Austria and France was less than 5% and circulation has increased in South Africa, China and Brazil. The OECD concludes
“large country-by-country and title-by-title differences and the data currently do not lend themselves to make the case for “the death of the newspaper”, in particular if non-OECD countries and potential positive effects of the economic recovery are taken into account”.
The Report is discussed by Peter Preston in the “Observer” under the headline “Good news for the world’s newspapers – except in Fleet Street”
On 16 June 2010, the Icelandic Parliament voted 50-0 to pass sweeping media reform laws aimed at increasing protections for journalists and promoting freedom of speech and transparency in government. The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) was developed in conjunction with Wikileaks partially in response to Iceland’s 2008 economic crisis The bill include protection for anonymous sources, and protections against censorship and “libel tourism”. It is being suggested that it is the strongest media protection law in any country. Iceland apparently hopes that provisions in the new law prohibiting enforcement of judgments from other countries will encourage foreign news services to move their publication services to Iceland. In 2009, following the economic crisis, it fell to ninth in the annual Worldwide Index of Freedom produced by Reporters Without Borders and appears to be concerned to regain its first place. The story is reported on by Jurist and on Roy Greenslade’s blog. Iceland is, of course, a member of the Council of Europe and it will be interesting to see how these measures survive scrutiny in the European Court of Human rights.
In the Courts
We reported last week that Mr Justice Eady was hearing yet another application to adjourn the justification trial in the long running case of Prince Radu of Hohenzollern v Houston. The application was refused and the trial will now begin on 12 July 2010 before Eady J with a time estimate of 10 to 12 days. The trial will be by judge alone.
From the Blogs
There is long post on the Jack of Kent blog with the title “Does science really still have problem with libel?” This is, as he says, an entirely serious question. His view is that
“Free discourse is crucial for progress in science, medicine, public health, and public safety. No right to private reputation should hinder such discourse, unless malice or bad faith can be shown”.
We agree with the first sentence but have doubts about the second. If a person’s professional integrity is attacked as a result of an incompetent misunderstanding of what has been done it seems to us that civilised and balanced legal system should provide some kind of redress. But these are important debates to have.
Media Cases from Other Jurisdictions
The Court of Appeal in New South Wales has been hearing an appeal by the losing plaintiff in the case of Trad v Harbour Radio ( NSWSC 750). The plaintiff is an Islamic activist who was criticised by the radio station after attacking it at a public meeting the previous day. The case has been a controversial one in Australia, with Sydney Morning Herald columnist Paul Sheehan suggesting that Trad’s argument involved suggesting that different standards should apply to the Muslim community and one blogger describing it as a “Battle for one Australia”.
In Beechwood Homes (NSW) Pty Ltd v Camenzuli ( NSWSC 521) Harrison J granted orders restraining the defendant from publishing certain material on its website in an injurious falsehood claim.
In Halifax, Nova Scotia, the fire department’s two top officials have brought defamation proceedings against seven people, including two firefighters, over comments that were made anonymously on a local weekly newspaper’s website.
A Canadian woman whose affair was exposed by a cellphone bill is suing the telephone company for $600,000, claiming invasion of privacy and breach of contract. The story is reported on the Concurring Opinions blog.
US Law and Media News
Once again, this will be the subject of a separate post.
On 22 June 2010 at 12.00pm, Lord Lester Introduces His Defamation Private Members’ Bill at the Free Word centre.
Next Week in the Courts
The trial of Fiddes v Channel Four is listed to begin on Monday 21 June 2010 before Tugendhat J.
On 21 June 2010, Eady is hearing an application in the case of Ambrosiadou v Coward. It was reported in the Daily Telegraph on 4 June 2010 that fund manager Mrs Ambrosiadou had sought an injunction against her husband Mr Coward.
We note that, although there has not been a jury trial in a libel case for nearly a year, a civil jury trial is commencing on the Royal Courts of Justice on Monday 21 June 2010 before Mrs Justice Rafferty. The case is Taylor v Chief Constable of Surrey and is, we assume, a case involving an issue of false imprisonment and/or malicious prosecution.
On 22 or 23 June 2010, the Court of Appeal (Ward, Thomas and Richards LJJ) will hear the defendants’ appeal against the decision of Tugendhat J in Clift v Slough BC ( EWHC 1150 (QB))
Judgment in British Broadcasting Corporation -v- Sugar heard on 17 May 2010 by Master of the Rolls, Moses and Munby LJJ will be given on 23 June 2010.
[Update] Judgment in Khader v Aziz and Davenport Lyons, heard 19 May 2010 by Sir Anthony May P, Carnwath and Moore-Bick LJJ will be given on 23 June 2010.
On 25 June 2010, Eady J will hear further applications in the libel case of Miller v Associated Newspapers.
The following reserved judgments in media and related cases remain outstanding:
Imerman v Tchenguiz (and linked appeals), heard 10 to 11 May 2010 (Master of the Rolls, Moses and Munby LJJ)
Flood v Times Newspapers Limited, heard 25 and 26 May 2010 (Master of the Rolls and Moore-Bick and Moses LJJ)
Fiddes v Channel Four, heard 10 June 2010 (Master of the Rolls, Maurice Kay and Sedley LJJ)
Horlick v Associated Newspapers, heard 17 June 2010 (Eady J)