This is a Media Law Update covering the last week prepared by the Legal Information Team at Matrix Chambers, which they have kindly agreed to make available to readers of Inforrm.

Smith v ADVFN plc (No.7) [2010] EWHC 3255 (QB) – 13 Dec 2010.   The claimant has brought 11 defamation claims he had brought against people he claimed had defamed. In May 2010 the Court of Appeal stayed a number of defamation actions brought by the claimant and ordered him to show cause why each of the remaining claims should not be struck out. Most of the claims concerned statements on internet bulletin boards. Tugendhat J struck out all the claims as having no real prospect of success. The words complained of were in many instances not defamatory, but abuse, and there were defences of qualified privilege and fair comment. Furthermore, the claimant was unlikely to establish that a significant number of publishees had read the words complained. The judge when on to make an extended civil restraint order against the claimant as his claims were wholly without merit.

Lait v Evening Standard Ltd [2010] EWHC 3239 (QB) . 9 Dec 2010.  The claimant former MP and the defendant newspaper company sought summary judgment on her claim alleging defamation by the defendant newspaper. Held: the newspaper’s defence of fair comment was bound to succeed. The defence of fair comment was available in respect of unreasonable, offensive and prejudiced viewpoints and that it was not necessary for a defendant to persuade a judge or jury to agree with them. All that was required was that the relevant opinion, comment or inference should be one that it was possible to express honestly in light of the facts. Given the background, in that large sections of the populace had become angry over the generous expenses politicians had received or how inappropriate it was for them to defend the old system, the viewpoint that the claimant’s letter “may risk the ire of some” could be honestly held, whether or not that was reasonable. Authority provided that if the court was firmly of the view that only one answer was available to any reasonable jury and that the defence of fair comment had to succeed, that it was the court’s duty so to rule and anything else would not be judicial self-restraint but an abdication of judicial responsibility. For news story, see 5RB Website

Latest Regulatory Decisions

Latest decisions of the Scottish Information Commissioner

Latest Decision Notices from the Information Commissioner’s Office

Latest decisions of the First-tier Tribunal, General Regulatory Chamber [Information Rights]

  • Rob Edwards v IC EA/2010/0056. FIO Act 2000, ss 27 (international relations), 36 (prejudicial to effective conduct of public affairs).
  • Christopher Lamb v IC EA/2010/0108. FIO Act 2000, s 44 (prohibited by enactment).
  • Julian Shephard v IC EA/2010/0094. EIR Regulations 2004.
  • Jaine Wild v IC EA/2010/0132. FOI Act 2000, s 40 (personal data).

Press Complaints Commission:

Claris Powell v The Sunday Telegraph . Decision – 14 Dec 2010. Complaints alleging breach of clauses 1 (accuracy), 2 (opportunity to reply) of the Code of Practice.  Decision – sufficient remedial action offered.

Keith Lee v Daily Telegraph – Decision – 16 Dec 2010.  Complaint concerning  the frequency with which certain shares – in which the column’s editor had a stated financial interest – were recommended.  Examined under clause 13 (financial journalism).  Decision – complaint not upheld.

Recent Developments

Phone hacking approved by top News of the World executive – new files, Nick Davies, The Guardian – 15 Dec 2010 Reports that lawyers have secured new evidence linking one of the News of the World’s most senior editorial executives to the hacking of voicemail messages from the phones of Sienna Miller, Jude Law and their friends and employees.

Steve Coogan phone hack writ Press Gazette – 13 Dec 2010.  Reports that comedian Steve Coogan has issued a claim for “phone hacking” damages against the “News of the World”.  The claim includes one for aggravated and exemplary damages contending that the paper’s conduct was so grave as to merit condemnation by the court.

EU, US to start talks on protecting personal data European Commission, DG Justice, Press Release – 8 Dec 2010.  Notes that European Union and United States officials will kick off talks in Washington on 9 Dec 2010 on a personal data protection agreement when cooperating to fight terrorism or crime.

Articles and Discussion

“Farewell Fair Comment, Hello Honest Comment” Nigel Hanson, Foot Anstey, “Hold the Front Page”.  Discusses the decision of the Supreme Court in Spiller v Joseph and the new approach to the defence of “comment”.

A candid camera, Paul Lambert, New Law Journal N.L.J. (2010) Vol.160 No.7445 pg.1699-1700.  Explores the use of eye tracking technology in the television broadcasting of courtroom proceedings. Considers the plans for an experimental period of use in the US federal courts, and notes that there has been no empirical effects research in the UK. Considers the arguments for and against courtroom broadcasting, and the areas that should examined in research. Discusses the UK Supreme Court’s allowance of television courtroom broadcasting and the potential for its further rollout in the courts.

No duty to surf the net, James Goudie QC, Panopticon blog – 8 Dec 2010.  Discusses Byrne v DPP [2010] IEHC 382, in which the Irish High Court held that it was not part of the function of the DPP to surf the internet in order to find and deal with any information on an accused facing a criminal trial. The material on the applicant did not suggest he was guilty of the crime with which he was charged and there was no risk of an unfair trial. His application that the DPP should seek out and have removed information on him published on the internet was refused.

BBC v Sugar: Freedom of Information Act 2000 – a cursory glance at the journalism exception. Claire Cartwright-Hignett & Alexander Carter-Silk (Speechly Bircham LLP).  Entertainment Law Review Ent. L.R. (2011) Vol.22 No.1 pgs.34-37.  Comments on BBC v Sugar [2010] EWCA Civ 715 on whether the television broadcaster BBC was entitled to resist a freedom of information request for a report on the impartiality of BBC reporting on the conflict in Israel and Palestine, on the ground that the report was held for purposes of journalism within the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Sch 1