It has been announced by the Judicial Communications Office that Mr Justice Tugendhat will be the Judge in Charge of the Jury List – effectively the senior media judge in England and Wales – from 1 October 2010.   He will also be the Judge in Charge of the Non-Jury List.  Mr Justice Tugendhat replaces Mr Justice Eady who has held the jury list post since 2000.  No fixed term for the appointment has been announced.  It means that Mr Justice Tugendhat will sit full time in London largely dealing with media cases.

Sir Michael Tugendhat was born on 21 October 1944 and called to the Bar in 1972, took silk in 1986 and was appointed as a High Court Judge in April 2003 at the age of 59.  He had a wide ranging commercial and media practice at the Bar with perhaps his best known court appearance being as counsel for the claimant in the leading privacy case of Douglas v Hello! (which he conducted from the outset until the 2003 trial before Mr Justice Lindsay).  He is the younger brother of Lord Tugendhat – the former Conservative MP and EEC Commissioner.

Michael Tugendhat has had a longstanding academic interest in privacy and data protection, being one of the joint editors of the ground breaking work The Law of Privacy and the Media (OUP, 2002).   He was one of the first to appreciate the importance of the Data Protection Act 1998 as a way of protecting privacy interests – referring to this and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 as the “Article 8 statutes”.

As a judge, he has on a number of occasions given careful consideration to the interaction between privacy, human rights and libel.  In particular, in W v Westminster ([2005] EWHC 102 (QB)) and Clift v Slough BC [2009] EWHC 1550 (QB)) he provided remedies to claimants against public authorities in circumstances where the application of conventional libel principles might have appeared to lead to their refusal.

In recent times, Mr Justice Tugendhat has been at the centre of media discussions of privacy law, with some commentators (wrongly, in our view) discerning a fundamental difference of approach between him and Mr Justice Eady.  In his 2010 judgment in Terry (formerly LNS) v Persons Unknown ([2010] EWHC 119 (QB), [2010] EMLR 16) Mr Justice Tugendhat dismissed a claim for a super-injunction by the then England football captain John Terry, taking the opportunity to conduct a wide ranging survey of the relevant law and to criticise the approach of the claimant’s lawyers.  The judgment was controversial, attracting praise from the media and criticism from some legal commentators.  The case has been extensively discussed on this blog (see, for example “Sex is Back – the Media’s Revenge?” and “Interim Injunctions the Overlap between Privacy and Libel“).

Prior to the appointment of Mr Justice Eady, the Judge in Charge of the Jury List, was always a non-specialist – who came to the law of libel with an uncluttered mind.   The post was held successively by Michael Davies, Maurice Drake, Christopher French and Michael Morland – judges who had wide experience of juries but, prior to their appointment, few dealings with media law.  Practitioners will welcome the decision to continue with a specialist in the post.  Since 2002, the “senior media judge” has had less and less “jury work” and an increasingly specialist “privacy” and human rights related case load.  Mr Justice Tugendhat is exceptionally well qualified for this role and his appointment will be widely welcomed by practitioners.