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.
The leading defendant media law firm, Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, has published an analysis of libel claims issued in London between 2006 and 2009. This is based on the Ministry of Justice’s Judicial and Court Statistics 2009 published on 23 September 2010. RPC draws attention to the fact that issued libel claims have increased from 213 in 2006 to 298 in 2009.
RPC partner Jaron Lewis is quoted as saying:
“Despite efforts to reduce the likelihood of expensive defamation litigation, the number of claims has been creeping up consistently as claimants continue to rely on favourable laws to bring expensive and often unnecessary litigation through the courts.”
The press release goes on to suggest a number of reasons why claims might have increased – including new law firms, particularly outside London, a rise in the number of claims brought relating to allegations of involvement with extremist groups and terrorism and the rapidly growing volume of material being published on a daily basis, particularly on the internet.
Another RPC partner David Hooper is quoted in Legal week as suggesting that
“The rise in celebrities bringing cases and the ‘no win, no fee’ culture has meant that there has been a significant increase in the number of defamation claims of late”
Inforrm contributor Jonathan Coad is quoted in the Solicitors’ Journal as suggesting “brand awareness” as another reason for the increase in claims.
It seems to us that all these factors are probably relevant to some degree – although bearing them in mind what is perhaps most striking is how few claims there are, and how slow the rate of increase has been. In the post-Woolf Reform era (which led to a substantial fall in the number of High Court claims), the number of defamation actions commenced each year has consistently been between 200 and 300: 241 claims in 2000, 267 claims in 2004, and 298 in 2009. If 2004, rather than 2006 is taken as the base year, the increase over 5 years was just 12%, or just over 2% a year. The 298 defamation claims in England and Wales in 2009 can be contrasted with the European average which, according to the free speech NGO Article 19 is 700 cases a year.
The “Independent” reports that Lord Lester has come up with a “new idea” to “slash the cost of actions for defamation”. He has suggested that such cases should be heard in the County Court, rather than in the High Court in London:
“You could have specially designated County Court judges. It would mean that barristers would have to travel [as far as] Newcastle, as would their instructing solicitors.”
This is an interesting idea – which we are surprised has not been aired before. This approach would be likely to reduce the costs of libel proceedings although it would make it easier for libel actions to be brought.
The operator of the “Solicitors from Hell” website has told the “Solicitor’s Journal” that he will continue to operate the site despite the summary judgment against him (see our post here). He has suggested that he will add a private subscribers’ chatroom area for the most vociferous critics. It is difficult to see what can be gained from this unless he is going to continue to charge his “removal fee” for those who do not want to subject to false accusations.
Patrick Hill from Belfast, who was wrongfully convicted of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, obtained damages and an apology over a reference to him in the preface to an anthology of verse. The full statement in open court can be read here.
In the Annual Kalisher Lecture to the Criminal Bar Association on 12 October 2010, the Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve QC, made it clear that the same editorial rigour about contempt of court which applies to the printed press should also apply to online publications. The speech is reported in the Press Gazette.
Journalism and the PCC
The weekly “Journalisted” report on the press coverage on the past week tells us that the most covered most of the week in the national press was concerned the X-Factor, with the press calling for the return of ex-contestant Gamu Nhengu, (379 articles), followed by government cuts to child benefit, (335 articles) and the newly elected Shadow Cabinet (150 articles). At the other end of the scale, was the terrorist mortar attack on British diplomats travelling by car in Yemen (17 articles). the general election in Bosnia, (10 articles) and the arrest of a Mai-Mai rebel commander, Lt. Col. Mayele, thought to have led the mass rape atrocities in the Congo (4 articles)
The BBC has launched a new edition of its editorial guidelines. The law in relation to privacy is summarised as follows
The Human Rights Act, which came into effect in 2000, includes a right to privacy.
Individuals can now take action to enforce that right. Often, they will ask the court to grant an injunction (or “interdict” in Scotland) to stop true stories about their private lives being made public.
If there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, the court will seek to balance the individual’s right to privacy against the media’s right to freedom of expression.
When broadcasting a story which contains private information, each piece of private information will need to be considered separately. If private information is conveyed by pictures, these will be subjected to special scrutiny.
The PCC Watch blog has an interesting post under the headline “Who should the PCC work for?” It is suggested that the PCC should have a clear mission to act on behalf of the public, in the public interest. Although the costs might be fewer celebrities using the PCC the benefit would have been the public being better informed about newspaper coverage.
In the Courts
The libel jury trial of Andre v Price was listed several times during the week as being about to commence but never in fact happened. A number of applications were considered by Mr Justice Tugendhat but there have, at present, been no reports about any rulings that have been made. [Update] In his Independent diary this morning, Matthew Norman reports one ruling by Mr Justice Tugendhat arising out of the Andre v Price case. It appears that he has referred the News of the World to the Attorney General over its 3 October report about the case headlined “It’s all out Jor!”, with “a source” calling defendant Ms Price “a liar”. The matter is also reported the “Press Gazette”. [Update 2] The Court of Appeal case tracker today recorded a new application for permission for appeal in the case of Andre v Price which appears to be an appeal from one of last week’s decisions.
The Grand Chamber Hearings in Von Hannover v Germany and Axel Springer v Germany took place on 13 October 2010 and was the subject of a post on 14 October 2010. Apart from a post on Journalism.co.uk picking up our own earlier post, there appears to have been no other UK coverage of this important hearing. The Court’s website has a number of photographs of the hearing.
Media and Freedom of Expression Law in Other Jurisdictions
On 15 October 2010, the High Court in Dublin was told that that lawyers for the Sunday World and Ruth Hickey has reached agreement concerning the legal costs of her failed action against the newspaper alleging breach of privacy and defamation (discussed by us here). The hearing is reported in the Irish Times. The judgment of Mr Justice Kearns is not yet available.
In Liu v The Age Company & Ors ( NSWSC 1176) McCallum J considered an application for preliminary discovery seeking identification of journalists’ sources. The application was adjourned to enable both parties to address by direct evidence matters previously sought to be proved only by evidence on information and belief
In Griffith v Australian Broadcasting Corporation ( NSWCA 257) New South Wales Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal of Jeremy Griffith in relation to its broadcast of programme examining Mr. Griffith’s book, Beyond the Human Condition. Mr. Griffith claimed the program had conveyed a defamatory imputation that Mr. Griffith’s book was of such poor standard that it had no support from the scientific community. However, the Court found that the ABC had established the defences of qualified privilege and fair comment and accordingly dismissed Mr. Griffith’s appeal.
US Law and Media News
Once again, this will be the subject of a separate post.
No events have been reported to us for next week.
From the Blogs
Brian Cathcart has a post on the Index on Censorship Free Speech blog under the headline: “BSkyB: Could Murdoch sack Andy Coulson?“
Next Week in the Courts
The jury trial in Taylor v Associated Newspapers is due to commence this week although it is not listed on Monday 18 October 2010.
On 22 October 2010, the Court of Appeal will hear the claimant’s application for permission to appeal in the case of His Holiness Sant Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj v Eastern Media Group (on appeal from  EWHC 1294 (QB)).
The following reserved judgments after public hearings remain outstanding:
Clift v Slough BC heard 23 and 24 June 2010 (Ward, Thomas and Richards LJJ).
Spiller v Joseph heard 26 and 27 July 2010 (Lords Phillips, Rodger, Walker and Brown and Sir John Dyson)