2012This is the third part of Judith Townend’s review of the media and legal news for 2012.  Part 1, covering January to April was published on 31 December 2012 and Part 2, covering May to August on 2 January 2013.

September 2012

Following an emergency telephone hearing on the eve of publication, the judge dismissed the application in McClaren v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2012] EWHC 2466 (QB) and refused to grant an injunction. The defendant ran the story the very next day.

And just as things appeared to have calmed down after “Harrygate” there was a second royal privacy story: the long lens photos of a topless Duchess of Cambridge. St James’s Palace confirmed that legal action against French Closer magazine for breach of privacy had commenced, following publication of photographs showing the Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing topless. The Irish Daily Star also published the photographs. A French court granted an injunction prohibiting further publication of the Duchess of Cambridge photographs in France.

The Defamation Bill reached Report stage and had its third reading in the House of Commons on 12 September 2012.

There was news of 40 new phone hacking claims against News International in the High Court.

In the Cabinet re-shuffle, the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP kept his position as Attorney General, but there was a new appointment for Solicitor General, Oliver Heald MP. Rt Hon Lord Wallace of Tankerness QC remains as the Advocate General for Scotland.

Kenneth Clarke became a minister without portfolio with Chris Grayling MP taking over as Secretary of State for Justice. Maria Miller MP became Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport; and Minister for Women and Equalities.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to charge Daniel Thomas for posting a homophobic message on Twitter, the social networking site, about the swimmer Tom Daley.

The Upper Tribunal gave judgment in Evans v IC and Others (Seven Government Departments) [2012] UKUT 313 (AAC), which allowed the publication of Prince Charles’ correspondence with government ministers, following Freedom of Information requests made by Guardian reporter Rob Evans.

There were now 14 people arrested as part of the Metropolitan Police Tuleta inquiry into allegations of computer hacking. Fifty people had now been arrested as part of Operation Elvedon, which is investigating alleged corrupt payments to public officials.

The Director of Public Prosecutions published final Guidelines for prosecutors on assessing the public interest in cases affecting the media.

QOTM: Their Royal Highnesses have been hugely saddened to learn that a French publication and a photographer have invaded their privacy in such a grotesque and totally unjustifiable manner. The incident is reminiscent of the worst excesses of the press and paparazzi during the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, and all the more upsetting to the Duke and Duchess for being so,” St James’s palace, commenting on the publication of photographs of the Duchess on holiday.

October 2012

It was disclosed that there were now 154 claims before the courts and that the Metropolitan Police had given disclosure of documents to a total of 620 potential claimants. Since the “second round” of the litigation began in February 2012 News Group Newspapers had settled 80 actual or threatened civil claims, and one claim in its “compensation scheme”.

It was confirmed that Prince Harry would not be making any PCC complaint about the Sun’s publication of nude photographs of him.

The Ministry of Justice published its latest statistics on privacy injunctions – with the number of applications up from 4 in 5 months to 9 in 6 months.

The Defamation Bill received its second reading in the House of Lords.

Mr Justice Tugendhat refused to continue an injunction granted to comedian Freddie Starr by Mrs Justice Cox.

In a judgment in the phone hacking litigation ([2012] EWHC 2692 (Ch)), Mr Justice Vos ruled that further database searches for generic disclosure at News Group Newspapers are not justified, although disclosure in specific cases would still be required.

Showbiz journalist Caroline Whitmore accepted undisclosed damages, an apology and payment of her legal costs from News Group Newspapers in Whitmore v News Group Newspapers Ltd.

Payam Tamiz, the former Conservative council candidate for Salmestone settled his libel case against the Evening Standard and political editor Joe Murphy, with the Evening Standard apologising and agreeing to pay damages over an article entitled ‘Tory resigns over “Thanet girls are slags” outburst‘.

The South African Constitutional Court gave a significant ruling on freedom of speech in Print Media South Africa v Minister of Home Affairs ([2012] ZACC 22), which concerned the constitutionality of aspects of the Films and Publications Act, 1996 (the Act) following its amendment in 2009.

In the case of C v Holland ([2012] NZHC 2155), the New Zealand High Court recognised, for the first time, the existence of a “privacy intrusion” tort – in a claim arising out the surreptitious filming of the plaintiff in the shower.

A teenager from Lancashire was sent to prison for making sick jokes on his Facebook page about missing 5 year old April Jones and Madeline McCann. Azhar Ahmed was sentenced to 240 hours of community service for posting an offensive update to his Facebook page about British soldiers in Afghanistan, following the death of six British soldiers. Both were convicted under s127 of the Communications Act 2003.

The words complained of in libel claim brought by Elton John against The Times were “not capable of bearing the meanings attributed to them by the claimant or any other meaning defamatory of him”, according to Mr Justice Tugendhat in John v Times Newspapers [2012] EWHC 2751 (QB).

The online travel review website TripAdvisor, gave up its jurisdictional challenge in a case brought in a Scottish small claims court by guesthouse owner Richard Gollin.

Richard Horton, the police detective who was outed as the author of an anonymous blog about his police work settled his claim of breach of confidentiality, misuse of private information and deceit against The Times and accepted £42,500 in compensation plus legal costs.

The row over the BBC’s treatment of the Jimmy Savile story erupted, following the broadcast of an ITV documentary.

The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, vetoed the release of letters written by Prince Charles to government ministers, after the Upper Tribunal found in favour of disclosure on 18 September 2012 (Evans v Information Commissioner [2012] UKUT 313 (AAC)).

In France, the search giant Google said it will no longer list links to French publishers’ content in search results if a new law is introduced which requires search engines to license all of the content.

It was announced that the Scottish Judiciary is to conduct a “fundamental review” of the current policy on the use of television cameras in court, twenty years after a note allowed broadcasting authorities to apply for permission to televise proceedings in the Court of Session and High Court of Justiciary.

The comedian Frankie Boyle was successful in his action for libel against MGN, the publishers of the Daily Mirror – in the second jury trial of the year. He was awarded damages of £54,650.

The former owner of the Daily Telegraph Conrad Black was back in the UK from serving 37 months in a US prison for fraud and obstruction of justice.

It was reported that phone hacking claims were being brought by four individuals against Mirror Group Newspapers in claims involving the Sunday Mirror and The People – the first voicemail litigation not involving News International. The Claimants included Sven-Goran Eriksson, Shobna Gulati, Abbie Gibson and Garry Flitcroft.

The Daily Mail and Daily Mirror, which were found guilty of contempt of court in June for articles published after Levi Bellfield’s conviction for the abduction and murder of schoolgirl Milly Dowler, were each fined £10,000.

Judgment was handed down on in the long-awaited libel trial of Joseph v Spiller [2012] EWHC 2958 (QB). The judge found in the Claimants’ favour but awarded only nominal damages. He found one of the three claimants, Craig Joseph, to have abused the process of the Court by “attempting to deceive the court by fabricating a part of their claim for special damages“.

The European Court of Human Rights delivered judgment on trade union freedom of expression in Szima v. Hungary.

QOTM: “I am here to sell books; I am not here to enjoy your somewhat predictable questions,” Conrad Black, to interviewer Adam Boulton who asked why he had agreed to appear on BBC2’s Have I Got News for You.

November 2012

The Court of Appeal delivered judgment in the joined cases of Cairns v Modi and KC v MGN Ltd ([2012] EWCA Civ 1382). Both appeals concerned the assessment of damages in libel actions. The appeal in Cairns was dismissed; the award was found to be proportionate to the gravity of the allegations made against Cairns. In KC, however, the award of damages was reduced to £50,000.

It was announced that Louise Hayman was to step down as Group General Counsel at The Independent after 16 years. She will continue working three days a week for The Independent and Evening Standard. Janet Youngson is to take up the post of Group General Counsel.

While the BBC continued to investigate the Savile scandal, there was another outcry, following a BBC Newsnight broadcast about sexual abuse in children’s homes in North Wales in the 1970s and 1980s.

Although the programme did not name him, Lord McAlpine settled with the BBC for £185,000 plus costs, and threatened legal action against tweeters who published his name following Newsnight’s false allegations. He reportedly planned to sue up to 10,000 Twitter users.

The director general George Entwistle resigned after 54 full days in post.

Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor, challenged a high court ruling that News International does not have to pay his legal fees over the phone hacking scandal in the Court of Appeal.

The National Union of Journalists was under fire in the press and online for its stance on media regulation – in favour of statutory underpinning.

It was reported that Bradley Manning, the US Army private who had been charged with sending government secrets to Wikileaks was offering to plead guilty to some offences.

International Day to End Impunity was on Friday 23 November 2012. It marked the anniversary of the 2009 Ampatuan massacre in the Philippines, when 32 journalists and media workers were murdered.

The Principal of St Mary’s University College in Twickenham, south-west London abandoned legal action against the editor of Independent Catholic News (ICN) who said she was not prepared to name the author of a letter which had appeared on her website.

Peter Cruddas, former co-treasurer of the Conservative Party accepted a substantial donation to charity in settlement of a libel action over the Independent’s claim that he was willing to accept an illegal donation to party funds, which referenced allegations published in the Sunday Times.

David Walliams and his wife Lara Stone, were unsuccessful in their attempt to include a freelance photographer as a named defendant in an anti-harassment injunction application they brought against unknown people in 2010 (Stone & Anor v WXY (Person Or Persons Unknown) [2012] EWHC 3184 (QB) (12 November 2012, hearing 30 October 2012)).

On 12 November 2012 judgment was given in the Australian case, Trkulja v Google Inc LLC (1) Google Australia Pty Ltd (2) [2012] VSC 533 with $AUD200,000 damages awarded.

The Crown Prosecution Service announced that four former News International editors and journalists would stand trial on charges of conspiring to commit misconduct in public office.

Tugendhat J handed down judgment on costs in (Joseph v Spiller [2012] EWHC 3278 (QB). The Claimants would receive only nominal damages, by which he meant 1p. He ordered the Claimants to pay 75 per cent of the defendants’ costs.

Mr Justice Tugendhat rejected a breach of confidence claim brought by Peter Abbey in November 2011 against journalist Andrew Gilligan and Associated Newspapers (Abbey v Gilligan & Ors [2012] EWHC 3217 (QB)).

The Northern Ireland High Court ordered Facebook to take down a page entitled “Keeping our kids safe from predators” on an application made by a convicted sex offender.

In O’Dwyer v ITV [2012] EWHC 3321, Tugendhat J struck out a defamation claim from a self-represented litigant: it was “not arguable” that the ITV programme “Homes from Hell: Chasing the Dream” harmed Mr O’Dwyer’s reputation.

The Government’s ‘secret courts’ bill (the Justice and Security Bill [HL]) cleared the House of Lords and was presented to the House of Commons.

The Crime and Courts Bill [HL] reached Report stage in the House of Lords on 27 November.

Independent News & Media publicly apologised to Lord Ashcroft at the High Court on 26 November before Eady J, over articles published in The Independent newspaper concerning his business interests in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The agreed statement brought three years of litigation to an end.

Mr Justice Bean dismissed the claim in Mengi v Hermitage [2012] EWHC 3445 (QB) (30 November 2012), finding for the Defendant on both justification and qualified privilege.

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson won his appeal against a High Court ruling that News Group Newspapers (NGN) did not have to pay his legal costs arising from the phone hacking litigation (Andrew Coulson v News Group Newspapers Limited [2012] EWCA Civ 1547).

Lord Justice Leveson published his long-awaited report, which contained 1,987 pages and over one million words.

The Law Commission published a consultation paper on reform of contempt of court laws.

QOTM: “Editor-in-chief apologises and pleads total ignorance. Press having field day! What are editors for?”… News Corps CEO Rupert Murdoch, apparently commenting on the BBC Newsnight programme.

December 2012

National newspaper editors said they will adopt the broad proposals of the Leveson Inquiry, but not the call for statutory underpinning. Their statement can be found here.

An Australian radio station’s hoax telephone call to the hospital treating the Duchess of Cambridge dominated news headlines; it was later reported that the nurse who answered the prank call had died in a suspected suicide.

A five-person panel was appointed to consider the recommendations of the Leveson Report in Scotland.

The under Secretary of State for Justice, Mrs Helen Grant, issued a ministerial statement announcing that the provisions of the LASPO Act which would remove the recoverability of success fees and insurance premiums will not come into force for defamation and privacy claims until a “new regime of costs protection” has been introduced for these proceedings.

Twenty-two claimants in the News of the World phone hacking litigation accepted damages in settlement of their cases. Other cases are likely to settle by January, with a “substantial” number of claims going forward, as the BBC reports here. In October 2012 it was reported that there were 167 claims on the register.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) published its Report on the Defamation Bill, ahead of the Bill’s Committee stage in the House of Lords. The House of Lords Constitution select committee published its own report on the bill here.

James Harding resigned as editor of the Times, announcing that it had been “made clear” to him “that News Corporation would like to appoint a new editor of The Times“.

Sally Bercow is to be represented by Carter Ruck in a libel claim brought by Lord McAlpine, the Lawyer reports.

Guantanamo inmate Shaker Aamer is to sue the British Government for defamation on the basis that US interrogators were supplied with “knowingly false information” by the UK security services.

Naomi Campbell is to pursue a libel claim against the Daily Telegraph, concerning an article about her involvement in an elephant polo tournament in India.

The Telegraph claimed that Maria Miller’s special advisor warned a journalist off a story about her expenses, by reminding her of the culture minister’s involvement in Leveson discussions.

Judgment was handed down in the privacy case Price v Powell & Ors [2012] EWHC 3527 (QB). The judge dismissed the application by the fourth defendant to strike out the claim as an abuse of process.

Mrs Justice Sharp awarded management consultant Andrew Miller libel damages of £65,000 against the Daily Mail over an allegation that there reasonable grounds to suspect that he was a willing beneficiary of improper conduct and cronyism ([2012] EWHC 3721 (QB)).

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, published Interim guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media.

Lord Justice Leveson gave two speeches in Australia, covering privacy and the internet.

The former Times’ editor, William Rees-Mogg died, aged 84.

QOTM: I treat the Report as a judgment and judges simply do not enter into discussion about judgments they have given; they do not respond to comment, however misconceived; neither do they seek to correct error. The judgment, or in this case, the Report, has to speak for itself. I am entirely content that it does“, Lord Justice Leveson, speaking at the University of Melbourne [PDF].

What to watch out for in 2013

  • Lord Justice Leveson’s Inquiry – will Part Two go ahead?
  • The development of a new regime of press regulation
  • The progress of the Defamation Bill, the Crime and Courts Bill, the Justice and Security Bill and the Draft Communications Data Bill
  • The outcome of police investigations Weeting, Elveden and Tuleta
  • Ongoing phone hacking claims against News International
  • The trial for conspiracy to intercept voicemail messages and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice

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This review was compiled for Inforrm by Judith Townend, a freelance journalist and PhD researcher examining legal restraints on the media.