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 media and law story of the week is, again, phone hacking. Three applications were heard this week – each producing new information. First, there was the application by Steve Coogan and Andy Gray – heard over 3 days by Mr Justice Vos in the Chancery Division. The application concerned amendments to the defence to allege that the information was commercial in nature – in order to obtain disclosure orders against Glenn Mulcaire. Further orders were also sought against the police. Mr Coogan’s counsel told the court that a “treasure trove” of information could be accessed on his voice mails.
Counsel for Mr Mulcaire conceded her client had noted the mobile phone numbers and account details of Gray and Coogan but said “There is no evidence of interception at all. There may have been some thought of intercepting by my client but it really didn’t go further than that.” This did not appear to convince Mr Justice Vos who, in the course of the hearing criticised both the police investigation and the information provided by the “News of the World”. He described that argument that the case against News Group was “speculative” as “frankly nonsense”, pointing to evidence that Mr Mulcaire kept detailed notes of his mobile phone account number, pin number and password, and asking counsel:.
“Give me one possible reason why Mr Mulcaire would have held those pieces of information for any other reason [than to hack into Gray’s phone].”
On Thursday 17 January, Kelly Hoppen sought further disclosure from suspended News of the World journalist Dan Evans and from the Metropolitan Police. In the course of that hearing Mr Evans’ counsel told the judge that calls to Ms Hoppen’s voicemail were “accidental”, the result of “sticky keys”. Mr Justice Eady made an order for Scotland Yard to disclose to Ms Hoppen of all relevant material.
On Friday 18 January a hearing took place in relation to the claim by football agent, Sky Andrew. Reference was made to a witness statement in which Mr Mulcaire had said that he passed phone intercept information to several individuals working on the News of the World’s news desk.
Labour MP Tom Watson suggests that BSkyB turns players into stars, then News International invades their privacy. He argues that “the cycle of abuse” must end.
Writing on his “Guardian” blog, former tabloid editor Roy Greenslade asked the question “When will Wapping tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?“. He suggests that News International
“alongside, incidentally, the Met police – continue to frustrate the court by refusing to be transparent by handing over unexpurgated documentary evidence. Imagine the reaction from Wapping’s red-tops if a government department did the same? They would howl long and loud. Instead, NGN obfuscates and obstructs with impunity. Only The Guardian and The Independent are covering the unfolding daily drama in the courts. Where is the Daily Mail when you want it? Or Wapping’s paper of record, The Times? Silence in journalism is not golden. It makes a travesty of the mission to inform the public”
An article in today’s “Independent” describes the “widening web of litigation” and suggests that
“Lawyers have said they are fighting or preparing cases on behalf of 115 public figures who suspect, claim or have been officially informed that their mobile phones were hacked by people working for the News of the World”
The Government’s consultations on Legal Aid and Civil Litigation funding both closed on Tuesday 14 February. It appears that the Legal Aid consultation attracted over 5,000 responses. The Civil Litigation Consultation – which covers CFAs – also attracted a large number of replies. However, as Neil Rose pointed out in the “Guardian” despite the media’s focus on the role of CFAs in libel, the real battleground is personal injury,
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
We are not aware of any Statements in Open Court or published apologies in libel actions in England and Wales this past week.
In the Courts
There were two judgments this week given on “return dates” of privacy injunctions. On 14 February Mr Justice Supperstone gave judgment in the case of POI v A Person Known as “Lina” ( EWHC 234 (QB)). The injunction and anonymity order were continued. On 15 February Mr Justice Tugendhat gave judgment in Hirschfeld v McGrath ( EWHC 249 (QB)). There is a 5 RB case note in the second of these cases.
We note that no public judgment has yet been handed down from the 2 February 2011 return date in the case of OPQ v BJM and others when Mr Justice Eady continued a privacy injunction granted to on Saturday 30 January 2011.
Three judgments in libel cases were given on 18 February 2011. Mr Justice Tugendhat handed down judgments in the cases of Hunt v Evening Standard ( EWHC 272 (QB)) and Henry v News Group ( EWHC 296 (QB)) and Mr Justice Eady gave judgment in Lord Ashcroft v Foley ( EWHC 292 (QB)). There are 5 RB case notes in both Henry and Ashcroft.
Media and Freedom of Expression Law in Other Jurisdictions
In the case of Bou Malhab v Diffusion Métromedia CMR Inc (2011 SCC 9) the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an appeal against a decision that a “class libel action” could not be maintained on behalf of Montréal taxi drivers whose mother tongue is Arabic or Creole. This will be the subject of a separate post.
Also in Canada, Father Raymond Gravel, a former Member of Parliament, has commenced a Can$500,000 libel suit against LifeSiteNews Canada which accused him of being “pro-abortion”. The priest suggests in his claim that articles from LifeSiteNews caused him to lose his position as a chief catechist in the Diocese of Joilette.
In Liberia, former agriculture Minister Chris Toe, was awarded US$1.5 million in libel damages against the “Front Page Africa” newspaper over allegations that he diverted millions of dollars intended for Guthrie Rubber Plantation and the people of Bong and Lofa Counties in early 2009. The editor and publisher of “Front Page Africa” accused the plaintiff of jury tampering and said they would appeal.
The Indian Government has indicated that it will consider an amendment to the Indian Penal Code to decriminalise defamation.
In Ireland,The Sunday Tribune and journalist Matt Cooper have apologised before the High Court to businessman Dermot Desmond over two articles published in the newspaper in 2001 and 2002.
In Italy, prosecutors have brought criminal libel proceedings against the parents of Amanda Knox. The charge is based on their June 15, 2008 Sunday Times interview where Curt Knox alleged that police had physically and verbally abused their daughter Amanda during questioning after Meredith Kercher’s 2007 murder, but before Amanda was arrested.
In South Africa a judge has awarded punitive costs against a developer who sued four environmentalists for defamation. The costs judgment recognised the idea of “Slapp” litigation — an acronym for “strategic litigation aimed against public participation”.
US Law and Media News
Once again, this will be the subject of a separate post
On the Blogs
On Thursday there was a seminar on legal blogging organised by the UK Human Rights Blog at 1 Crown Office Row. The seminar is discussed on the UK Human Rights Blog, Meeja Law, in the Lawyer by Catrin Griffiths (who chaired the discussion) and on the Twitter thread #lawblogs.
We draw attention, once again, to the Meeja Law “Mid Week Media Mop Up” (moved from Mondays).
No events for next week have been reported to us.
Next Week in the Courts
On 23 February 2011, the Court of Appeal (Master of the Rolls, Hooper and Rimer LJJ) will hear an application for permission to appeal against the decision of Eady J in Mireskandari v Associated Newspapers ( EWHC 967 (QB)) and an appeal against the decision of Sharp J in the same case on 19 February 2011
Incidentally, we understand from Mr Benjamin Pell that the two remaining jury trials listed for this term have settled. There will, again, be no libel jury trials in London this term.
The following reserved judgments after public hearings remain outstanding:
Bowker v Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, heard 21 October 2010 (Sharp J).
Coogan and Gray v News Group Newspapers, heard 14, 15 and 16 February 2011 (Vos J)