Last week was Week 17 of the Phone Hacking Trial. Once again, the jury only heard evidence for four days – the court did not sit on Friday because of juror illness Rebekah Brooks continued her evidence on Monday (Day 65) and Tuesday (Day 66), completing her thirteen days in the witness box on Wednesday (Day 67).
There were two important media law judgments this week. The first was in the case of R (Evans) v Attorney-General ( EWCA 254) in which the Court of Appeal (Master of the Rolls, Richards and Pitchford LJJ) quashed a certificate issued by the Attorney-General under section 53(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 preventing access under the act to communications between Prince Charles and various Government departments.
The Press Gazette described this as a “major legal victory” for the Guardian.. The decision was widely reported and discussed in the media: for example, by the BBC, in the Independent, the Daily Telegraph and the Law Society Gazette. Roy Greenslade supported the decision in a post entitled “If Prince Charles is not neutral then the public have a right to know”. The victorious applicant, the persistent journalist Rob Evans, wrote about the decision in the Guardian. Sadly, he will not be seeing the letters yet as the Attorney-General is appealing the decision to the Supreme Court. The Press Gazette reported that former Minister Mark Harper has accused the judges of misunderstanding the will of the Parliament. The Supreme Court will, in due course, give us a definitive view as to what Parliament’s will was.
On 12 March 2014, the Supreme Court gave judgment in the case of R (on the application of BSkyB) v Commissioner of Police ( UKSC 17). They supported the view of the Administrative Court that it was unlawful to make a disclosure order against journalists without giving them full access to the evidence on which the application was based. We had a case comment on this decision. There was a report on the case in the Press Gazette.
Following the death of veteran Labour politician Tony Benn and his general recognition as a “national treasure”, Roy Greenslade pointed out that he had “endured press vilification throughout his political career”
The David Price Solicitors and Advocates’ website notes the discontinuance of a libel and harassment claim against a former Mayor of Tower Hamlets, with links to some of the documents in the case.
The new inquest into the deaths of 96 people at Hillsborough in 1989 is due to commence before Lord Justice Goldring on 31 March 2014. The Attorney-General has issued a warned about the risk of contempt in reporting on the inquest. The Press Gazette has a report about this.
On 12 March 2014 the European Parliament voted through the EU Data Protection reform package (621 in favour, 10 against, 22 abstentions). There is a post about the vote and its consequences on the Privacy and Data Security Law blog.
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
We are not aware of any statements in open court this week.
Newspapers, Journalism and regulation
There was one adjudication by the PCC this week: A man v The Sunday Times. The complaint concerned an article about the dismissal of a Government farm inspector concerning tweets about the badger cull. The inspector had responded to tweets by a man identified by the newspaper who supported the cull. He complained that his name was not available on Twitter and that, as a result, the newspaper had breached clause 3 of the Code (privacy). The newspaper responded that his name and address could be found by simple internet searches. The PCC upheld the newspaper’s view, holding that the complainant had no reasonable expectation of privacy as the author of the tweets.
There were eight published resolved complaints: two against the Daily Mail, two against the Mail on Sunday, one each against the Metro, the Guardian, the Times and the Sun.
In the Courts
On 10 March 2014, Dingemans J heard a CMC in the case of Styles v Photographer AAA and ors. The Court was told that four photographers had consented to permanent injunction. There was an Inforrm news report about the hearing.
Judgment in the case of Jerrard Blyth ( EWHC 647 (QB)) was handed down by Sir David Eady on 11 March 2014.
23-24 April 2014 “1984: Freedom and Censorship in the Media – Where Are We Now?“, University of Sunderland, London Campus, Canary Wharf.
24 and 25 May 2014 ”Understanding Transition, Austerity, Communication and the Media“, University of Bucharest.
Know of any media law events happening later this summer or in the autumn? Please let Inforrm know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Media Law in Other Jurisdictions
Corrupt former Labor minister Ian Macdonald is suing the ABC for defamation over claims he cashed in on mining deals linked to Eddie Obeid and other Labor figures.
In the case of Zeccola v Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd  NSWSC 227 McCallum J struck out various contextual imputations in the defence
The libel trial in the case of Awan v Levant continued in the Ontario Superior Court. There was a comment piece about the case in the National Post by Christie Blatchford, entitled “At Ezra Levant’s libel trial, everyone’s delicate sensitivities are on the fullest display”
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called on the Italian Parliament to reform the country’s defamation law so that journalists do not face prison sentences. This follows a ruling by the Court of Cassation on 13 March 2014, that journalists cannot be imprisoned for defamation without “exceptional circumstances.
The media in Ghana has been urged to adopt self-regulation as a way of ensuring responsible journalism. The appeal was made by Professor Audrey Gadzekpo at a forum on Press Freedom and Responsibility, organised by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in Accra. There is also a piece about “Media Freedom vs Responsibility in Ghana” by Suleman Braimah, the Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
It is reported that on 13 March, the Supreme Court upheld an eight month jail sentence against Cho hyun-oh, a former national police chief, for making defamatory remarks against late President Roh Moo-hyun. After the former President’s suicide Mr Cho had claimed that the police had found large amounts of money in a bank account under another name.
On 5 March 2014, former Minister Austin Gatt was ordered to pay €1,000 in damages to MEP Marlene Mizzi.
The Times of Malta reports that the Court has reject three libel complaints filed by former transport ministers Jesmond Mugliett against Alfred Sant, the then opposition leader.
There was yet another failed attempt by an alleged paramilitary to obtain an injunction under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights against the Sunday World. In the case of Fulton v Sunday World, Gillen J dismissed an application by a Progressive Unionist Party member to stop the newspaper from continuing to report his alleged links with the UVF. There is a report of the case in the Newsletter.
A newspaper editor in Cagayan de Oro City has been charged with criminal libel for publishing allegedly libelous advertisements in 2012. It appears that contending factions in a lending company placed the advertisements in the newspaper and then one faction filed alibel case against the other and the newspaper.
The New York Post must face libel claims for two individuals it labelled as “bag men” after the Boston Marathon bombings. In her judgment in the case of Barhoum v NYP Holdings Inc [pdf] Judge Judith Fabricant dismissed the newspapers argument that the photographs of the two individuals with the headline “Bag Men” were subject to “fair report of official action” privilege. There is a report of the judgment on the Washington Post blog.
Next week in the courts
On Tuesday 18 March 2014, Tugendhat J will hand down judgment in the case of Abbas v London Bangla Ltd.
On the same day judgment will be handed down at the Cardiff Civil Justice Centre in the case of McEvoy v Michael.
On Wednesday 19 March 2014, Tugendhat J will hand down judgment in the case of Mensah v Darroch.
The trial in the case of Taylor v Media Wales Ltd (the last one of this term) will be heard on the same day.
The following reserved judgments after public hearings remain outstanding:
A v British Broadcasting Corporation, 22 and 23 January 2014 (Supreme Court)
NAB v Serco, 7 February 2014 (Bean J)
Johnston v League Publications Ltd and others, 28 February 2014 (Sir David Eady)
Small v Turner 28 February 2014 (Sir David Eady)