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 News of the World phone hacking saga continues (although it is still notably absent from large sections of the press). On Friday it was reported that prosecutors are to conduct a “comprehensive assessment” of all material collected by Scotland Yard linked to the phone hacking scandal.
“The exercise will involve an examination of all material considered as part of the original investigation into Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire and any material which has subsequently come to light. The assessment will be carried out by the principal legal adviser, Alison Levitt QC”.
The “Observer” reports that Paul Gascoigne is considering legal action against the News of the World. The paper has a feature – with a nice graphic – entitled “Four years on phone hacking scandal is still growing”.
Following the exclusion of the Express and Star titles from PCC regulation (which we discuss further below), Roy Greenslade has researched all the libel settlements and apologies involving that newspaper group since March 2008, in a “Catalogue of legal pay outs that shames Express Newspapers”. The Media Blog points out that the total of disclosed damages is £2.5 million with a large number of “undisclosed” payments as well.
The Editor’s Weblog has a piece about the Inforrm/MST event at Gray’s Inn “Libel Reform: in the public’s interest?”. A number of posts about the event and video footage can be found on the Media Standards Trust website. Kevin Marsh’s contribution to the debate was posted by us and picked up by the “Guardian Legal Network”. Some similar sentiments are found in an article by Sholto Byrnes on the “New Statesman” blog with under the headline “In praise of libel law”. He concludes by saying
“I would not like to see the poison of US-style political discourse become the norm in this country. But nor do I trust the British media to act responsibly without considerable legal constraints. As someone who used to write for columns whose every sentence had to be checked by in-house lawyers, I can tell you that it concentrates the mind wonderfully when you are daily reminded that the slightest error could cost the paper several thousand pounds in damages, and possibly your job”
There is also a post about libel reform on Fergus O’Rourke’s blog “Of Laws and Men“ – under the headline “Nice People should not have to Defend themselves”.
The hearing of Max Mosley’s application in Strasbourg was widely discussed in the media. Max Mosley himself had a piece about his case on the Guardian “Comment is Free” site. There were substantial articles in the “Independent” and the “Daily Telegraph”. In the “Evening Standard” Roy Greenslade wrote an article under the headline “Max Mosley’s revenge could put a shackle on the press” – arguing that success by Mr Mosley would damage investigative journalism. The example he gives – the Telegraph investigation into MPs expenses – is a bad one as no sensible MP would ever have sought to restrain publication of this material.
The “Tonight” programme on the “the rise of super-injunctions, asking whether they protect privacy or limit press freedom” can be viewed here.
Journalism and the PCC
The most important story of the week under this heading is the expulsion of the “Express” and “Star” newspapers from the PCC for failing to pay their subscriptions. Roy Greenslade points out the limited coverage of this development in the press – with nothing in the “Times” or the “Telegraph”. He has also blogged about the “dangers of leaving Desmond the rogue out in the cold”. The withdrawal was, not surprisingly, reported by the Express Watch blog.
The interesting “Full Fact.Org” website – an independent fact-checking organisation – draws attention to a suggestion by the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, that the withdrawal brings statutory regulation a step closer. “Full Fact Check” indicated that it was stepping up its scrutiny of the “Express” and has sought help in keeping tabs on these papers. “Tabloid Watch” has reported that the PCC has already dropped outstanding complaints against the “Star” and the “Express”.
We had a post a few weeks ago on “Vince Cable, Subterfuge and the Public Interest” – dealing with the lack of a public interest justification for the “Daily Telegraph” entrapment of the Business Secretary. The PCC has now announced that it is conducting an investigation into the conduct of the newspaper. Brian Cathcart has an interesting post about the issues on the “Index on Censorship” blog.
The PCC Watch blog has raised some questions with the PCC about the effect of withdrawal on the annual budget of the organisation and has been told that there will be none. It also carries the MST’s response to the withdrawal – there is an interesting list of questions for both Northern and Shell and the PCC.
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
There was one Statement in Open Court this week – on 11 January 2011, in Vardy v Tribune Publications. This was widely reported in the media – for example in the claimant’s local paper the “Sunderland Echo” and by the BBC.
In the Courts
The first libel judgment of the year was given on 11 January 2011 – in Cambridge v Makin ( EWHC 12 (QB)). The claimant was successful and recovered damages of £30,000. The defendant’s application for permission to appeal was unsuccessful although it was indicated that it would be renewed before the Court of Appeal. The case is discussed on the 5RB website and on “Outlaw.com“.
On Friday 14 January 2011, the Master of the Rolls, Maurice Kay and Smith LJJ heard the appeals of the claimant in the privacy anonymity cases of JIH v News Group (No.1) ( EWHC 2818 (QB)) and (No. 2) ( EWHC 2979 (QB)). We reported on the hearing here. Judgment was reserved.
Media and Freedom of Expression Law in Other Jurisdictions
In Bermuda it is reported that a criminal libel trial of a defence lawyer who is accused of posting defamatory material about a police officer on facebook has been delayed so the Supreme Court can decide if the offence he has been charged with is unconstitutional.
In Canada, there are two interesting decisions of Ontario Superior Court of Justice in libel cases. In Daboll v. DeMarco, 2011 ONSC 1 a lawyer successfully sued his former client for libel over allegations which were, inter alia, posted on a website known as “Dirty Lawyer.com”. Defences of justification and public interest were rejected and damages of Can$50,000 were awarded.
The case of Hutchens v. SCAM.COM, 2011 ONSC 56 was also a libel action over internet postings – most of which were anonymous. An interim injunction to restrain publication was refused.
Meanwhile it is reported that, in Quebec, lawyers for a former justice minister being sued by the Premier for libel will argue that accusations of lying have become so common in Quebec politics that the action cannot be justified. An interesting argument on which we express no view.
There is also an interesting blogpost by Michael Power about linking privacy damages to Charter values in Canadian cases.
In the case of Blackeney-Williams and others v Cathay Pacific ( HKCA 397) the Hong Kong Court of Appeal considered a claim by a number of pilots who had been sacked by Cathay Pacific which, included, inter alia, a claim for defamation. The Reynolds defence was rejected. However, the judge’s award of damages of HK$3.3 million to each plaintiff was reduced to HK$700,000. The case contains an interesting discussion of the principles applicable to the assessment of libel damages in Hong Kong. There is a news report about the case in Business Week.
In Ireland, it is reported that Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh has initiated defamation proceedings against the Sunday World over an article which, he claims, wrongly accused him of failing to report a serious crime to the Garda.
Finally, in Nigeria, it is reported that the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Wuse, Abuja, has dismissed a libel suit brought against former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), Bashorun J. K. Randle by Mr Kayode Sunmola. Justice Olasumbo Goodluck held that the defendant had made out a defence of justification.
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.
We refer, again, to the Meeja Law blog’s “Monday Media Mop Up”.
Next Week in the Courts
On 19 or 20 January 2011, the Court of Appeal will hear the appeal in Brady v Norman (No.2) ( EWHC 1215 (QB))(there is a 5RB case note here). Permission to appeal was granted by Sir Richard Buxton on 18 August 2010. This is the Appellant’s Skeleton. The appeal is expected to be heard by the President of the Queen’s Bench Division, Smith and Aikens LJJ.
The following reserved judgments after public hearings remain outstanding:
Bowker v Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, heard 21 October 2010 (Sharp J).
Pritchard Englefield & anr v Steinberg heard 19 November 2010 (Eady J)
Wallis & anr v Meredith heard 29 November and 1 December 2010 (Christopher Clarke J)
JIH v News Group Newspapers, heard 14 January 2011 (Master of the Rolls, Maurice Kay and Smith LJJ)