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.
Libel reform continues to dominate the media law news this week. As reported by Media Lawyer, on 13 July 2010, the Ministry of Justice published a “Structural Reform Plan”, in which the fifth “Departmental Priority” is “Civil Liberties” – “Contribute to a full programme of measures to reverse the erosion of civil liberties and to roll back state intrusion”. Point 5.7 is “Develop options for reform of libel laws to protect freedom of speech” – this is said to start in June 2010 and to end in March 2011 with a “Draft Defamation Bill for the reform of libel laws published for pre-legislative scrutiny” being published in that month.
There was a debate about defamation reform in Westminster Hall on 14 July 2010. The Hansard report of the debate can be found here. The Daily Mail reports the speech of John Whittingdale MP, the Chairman of the Culture Media and Sport Committee, under the entertaining headline “Greedy libel lawyers like ‘ambulance chasers’ in search for evidence of defamation”. This report is based on the following question put by one MP to another in the course of the debate:
Paul Farrelly: [The Culture Media and Sport Committee] received evidence that aggressive firms in the field of so-called reputation management – the two names that came up most frequently were Schillings and Peter Carter-Ruck and Partners – were finding so-called defamatory articles on the internet and scouring the world for potential plaintiffs on whose behalf they could act, simply because the article was accessible from the UK. They could point out to such people that they might well win under Britain’s libel laws and say, “So bring an action.”
Mr Whittingdale: I think that there is evidence of that. I hesitate before accusing the two firms that the hon. Gentleman named, although they happened to crop up time and again in evidence. Concerns have been expressed about the way CFAs are used in ambulance-chasing cases-with ads on television saying, “Have you fallen over? Ring up this lawyer, because you can win thousands of pounds.” This is basically the same thing, so there is a legitimate concern”.
In any other field, “scouring the world for potential plaintiffs” would, doubtless, be regarded as a testament to the dynamism of British business and a potential contribution to the balance of payments. Alas, we suspect that our law firms are not so dynamic. We have not been able to find any mention of such evidence in the parliamentary record. We would be grateful if any readers can draw the evidence to our attention.
It is interesting to note that libel reform is not just an issue in this country. The Jamaica Observer reports that Media Association of Jamaica is urging the Government to carry out a pledge to reform the libel laws. It reports that
Prime Minister Bruce Golding, shortly after winning the September 2007 general election, appointed a 12-member committee led by Justice Hugh Small to review the slander and libel laws. That report, which contained some 13 recommendations, was completed and presented in March of 2008. But since then the Joint Select Committee of Parliament has been unable to reach consensus on several of the proposals contained in that report
It also mentions that defamation law reform discussions in Trinidad and Tobago are “stalemated”. The points were made at a seminar on defamation law hosted by the Media Association of Jamaica, also reported in the Gleaner. The recommendations of the “Report on the Review of the Defamation Law” are of considerable interest to our readers and will be the subject of a separate post.
In Northern Ireland, it is a reported that an action for libel against the social networking site Bebo resulting from messages about a death in a motorcycle race has been settled.
The Information Commissioner’s Annual Report 2009/10, entitled “Upholding information rights in a changing environment”. The accompanying Press Release is headed “Information Rights go Centre Stage” and notes that IC is handling record levels of business. The Datonomy Blog has a post here.
The Press Complaints Commission has received a number of complaints about last week’s coverage in the Daily Express and Daily Mail of the judicial decision to prevent the deportation of two gay asylum-seekers. The Greenslade blog reports that the PCC is to consider whether the complaints fall within the ambit of the editors’ code of practice. It also reports that the PCC is seeking public comments – a letter from Director Stephen Abell has been published in Whitehaven News in which he says that he
“would like to know about any concerns over the behaviour of journalists, or over articles appearing in the printed press”.
A number of libel settlements have been announced this week. On 15 July 2010, the long running case of Prince Radu of Hohenzollern v Houston the trial of which was due to begin on 12 July 2010 was settled with a Statement in Open Court in which the defendants made unreserved apologies, having paid substantial damages and costs.
On the same day there was a Statement in Open Court in the case of Haji-Ioannou v Ryanair arising out of a series of newspaper advertisements by Ryanair complaining about the absence of flight on-time statistics from easyJet. These advertisements effectively accused the claimant of lying. The defendant accepted that the claimant was not responsible for the publication of statistics, apologised and paid damages and costs. There is a report of the settlement on the Schillings website and a story in the Press Gazette.
On 16 July 2010, the settlement was announced of the complaint brought by Dr Rachel Polonsky and Professor Robert Service against Professor Orlando Figes of Birkbeck College, London over reviews of their works posted on the Amazon website. Dr Polonsky and Professor Service complained over an email that was circulated on 15 April 2010 by Professor Figes in which he had denied responsibility for publishing critical reviews of their books, posted under the pseudonym ‘Historian’. The settlement is reported on the Carter-Ruck and 5RB websites.
In the Courts
The most important case of the week was the decision of the Court of Appeal in Flood v Times Newspapers ( EWCA Civ 804) This was the subject of a “rapid reaction” post on this blog. The case was noted in the Press Gazette and in the Guardian which quotes “media lawyers” as describing the decision as a “blow to investigative journalism”. The Times itself quoted Mark Stephens as complaining
“People want the best quality information that is available, given in a neutral way. This judgment sets the clock back to the days of Dixon of Dock Green.”
Judgment was given this week in the remarkable confidentiality case of Ambrosiadou v Coward  EWHC 1974 (QB). Having heard substantial expert evidence on Greek civil procedure Eady J was unable to reach a clear conclusion as to whether an earlier hearing had been in public. Having considered the claimant’s 82 page Skeleton Argument and after two full days of argument Eady J refused
“the relief sought by the Claimant on the present application for a variety of reasons, depending on the particular category of information – but not on the primary ground put forward by the Defendant, to the effect that everything he chose to put in his application notice of 19 May can now be published by him freely and without legal consequences”. 
In Gora v Gora the claimant was sued her former husband for bugging her carphone in a “spiteful” campaign designed to influence their divorce proceedings. The claimant’s opening was reported in the Daily Telegraph. The case settled mid-trial with the defendant agreeing to pay substantial damages and costs. The settlement is reported on the 1 Brick Court website.
After hearing the strike out application in the case of Kaschke v Gray, (see judgment  EWHC 690 (QB)) Mr Justice Stadlen reserved judgment this week. The claimant, Ms Kaschke, has a blog post on the subject, entitled “The suspense is immense”. Permission to appeal has been refused on the papers in the case of Kaschke v Osler by Laws LJ but there is to be an oral renewal.
From the Blogs
The consistently informative Unruly of Law blog has notes the Court of Appeal decision in the Flood case under the headline “Brit Investigative Reporters take a hit in Times Libel Ruling”
Media Law in Other Jurisdictions
In N.R. v S.S. (2010 ONSC 3860) in the Ontario court of Justice granted summary judgment to the defendant to a claim for slander on the basis that the words complained of were protected by qualified privilege.
In Dillon v Cush; Dillon v Boland ( NSWCA 165) the New South Wales Court of Appeal allowed the appeal of the defendant on the basis that the judge’s analysis of qualified privilege and malice was flawed. A re-trial was ordered.
US Law and Media News
Once again, this will be the subject of a separate post.
On Tuesday 20 July 2010, the Policy Exchange is holding a debate on “Protecting reputations or strengthening freedom of speech: How should we reform our libel laws?” the event will be Chaired by the Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve QC MP and speakers will be Lord Lester, Jo Glanville, Joanne Cash, Nigel Tait and Professor Alastair Mullis.
Next Week in the Courts
On 19 July 2010, Mr Justice Tugendhat will give directions in the long running case of Smith v ADVFN plc
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)
Clift v Slough BC heard 23 and 24 June 2010 (Ward, Thomas and Richards LJJ).