After “Super Injunction Spring” and “Phone Hacking July”, the real world has returned to the news agenda over the last couple of weeks. There are some interesting issues arising out of media coverage of the “August troubles” but in this post we will confine ourselves to the other media and law developments since our last “Law and Media Round Up” on 25 July 2011. Further recent links can be found on Meeja Law’s “Media Law mop up” for 5 August 2011.
The legal term ended on 29 July 2011 but, as we predicted, there was a flurry of end of term reserved judgments. First, there was the complex decision of the Court of Appeal in Lait v Evening Standard ( EWCA 859) in which the Court dismissed an appeal against Mr Justice Eady’s order granting judgment to the defendant. There are case comments on the 5RB website and also on the One Brick Court site. The decision involves an interesting and novel extension of the Jameel strike out jurisdiction.
Second, in Al Amoudi v Kifle ( EWHC 2037 (QB)) HHJ Parkes QC assessed damages in a libel case in the sum of £175,000. Although it seems unlikely that the award will be enforced the case contains an interesting discussion of the principles applicable to the assessment of damages in cases where the allegations are of the most serious nature.
Third, on the last day of term there was the decision of the Court of Appeal in the “cricket libel” case of Modi v Clarke ( EWCA 937) in which the Court of Appeal allowed the claimants’ appeal against Mr Justice Tugendhat’s finding that the words complained of were not capable of bearing a defamatory meaning. The reporting restrictions on the first instance judgment ( EWHC 1324 (QB)) were removed but the full first instance judgment is not yet available.
Finally, there was the judgment of the Divisional Court in the Christopher Jeffries contempt case, Attorney-General v MGN ( EWHC 2074 (Admin)). On the same day, 30 July 2011, there were a number of statements in open court and apologies by newspapers as a result of libel claims brought by Mr Jeffries. Full copies of the statements in open court can be found here. We have already posted a case comment on this and a discussion of the case by Christopher Jeffries’ solicitor.
On 4 August 2011 a statement in open court was made in respect of a libel claim brought by Prince Nayef Bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud against the Independent newspaper following their publication of an inflammatory statement falsely attributed to the Prince. The statement was reported, inter alia, by the BBC.
On 1 August 2011 the Master of the Rolls issued new “Practice Guidance on Interim Non-Disclosure Orders“. At the same time the Ministry of Justice issued a note “to advise users of the Ministry of Justice’s intention to collect and publish new summary statistics on privacy injunctions applied for in the High Court of England and Wales at the Royal Courts of Justice in London“.
The Guardian has put together what it describes as a full list of “Super injunctions, gagging orders and injunctions” based on Bailii, the RPC Privacy Blog and our own list. It comments that the list suggests that
“in most cases, the press either did not put forward a public interest defence, or abandoned it at an early stage, or took a neutral stance on the question of whether or not an injunction should be granted. In the circumstances the griping about privacy injunctions sounds rather hollow“.
In Northern Ireland, the BBC reports that Mr Justice McLaughlin granted a woman an injunction to restrain her former partner from showing, publishing or distributing a sex video or uploading it to any website, in particular, on “Facebook” with Facebook UK Ltd being named as a defendant.
The summer legal vacation has only slightly slowed the pace of developments in the phone hacking saga. There have been two further arrests. The first, on 1 August 2011, the police arrested former managing editor of the “News of the World” Stuart Kuttner who was questioned and then released on bail. Second, on 10 August 2011, former Assistant Editor (News), Greg Miskiw, was arrested and then released on bail. Mr Miskiw was previously reported to be living in Florida and appears to have returned to the UK at the request of the police.
The scandal is slowly spreading to other newspapers. A number of commentators have picked up injudicious comments by former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan on the subject of phone hacking. Private Eye recalls some of the history. The Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade suggests that Mr Morgan must “face the music” over these allegations.
Meanwhile, the Press Gazette reported that the “Daily Mail” was “reviewing editorial controls” in the wake of the scandal. Brian Cathcart has a good post on this on the “Index on Censorship” blog, suggesting that this could look at three things
“First, it could examine standards of attribution. … Second, the review could look at lines of command … Third, there is accountability“.
The effects of the investigation continue to spread. On 10 August 2011 it was reported that the Metropolitan police’s director of public affairs. Dick Fedorcio, was put on extended leave until IPCC investigation into his conduct is over. The investigation concerns Mr Fedorcio’s relationship with former News of the World executive Neil Wallis.
Finally, it has been reported that the scope of the Metropolitan Police inquiry has been extended to cover “computer hacking”.
Another victim of the phone hacking scandal was PCC Chair, Baroness Buscombe who confirmed that she would not be seeking to extend her 3 year term in January 2012. The Media Standards Trust issued a statement expressing the view that this was the right decision. The statement concluded that
“It is important that the good work of the Commission’s staff is allowed to continue, and this decision is in no way allowed to hamper their valuable mediation. At the same time, however, Baroness Buscombe’s departure should not deflect the need for, and serious discussion about, the comprehensive reform of the self-regulatory system”.
The following reserved judgments after public hearings remain outstanding:
El Diwany v Ministry of Justice & the Police, Norway, heard 16 March 2011 (Sharp J).
Ferdinand v MGN, heard 4 to 6 July 2011 (Nicol J)
WXY v Gewanter, heard 11-15, 18-19 July 2011 (Slade J)
Commissioner of Police v Times Newspapers, 18-20 & 22 July 2011 (Tugendhat J)
Morrison v Buckinghamshire CC, heard 20 to 21 July (HHJ Parkes QC)