The “Plebgate” libel trial began on Monday 17 November 2014 before Mr Justice Mitting in Court 13 at the Royal Courts of Justice. We had a widely read case preview last week.
The case began with short opening speeches by Counsel. James Price QC for Mr Mitchell said that there was a “web of lies, deceit and indiscipline” which brought his client down. Desmond Browne QC for PC Rowland described Mr Mitchell as a “Mr Hyde and Dr Jekyll” character who mixed “charm and menace”. Gavin Millar QC for the Sun said that police documents suggested that Mr Mitchell had “form or history” of “verbal aggression against police”.
Mr Mitchell then gave evidence. He categorically denied using the word “pleb” but accepted that it was possible that he had described a security official as a “little shit” and said to another police officer in 2011, “That’s a bit above your pay grade Mr Plod”.
The claimant in the other claim, PC Toby Rowland, was the next witness. He denied inventing the tirade attributed to Mr Mitchell. Another police officer, PC Richardson, said that there was a “Mexican stand off” but he had not taken more copious notes because he “couldn’t be arsed”. Several other police officers gave evidence over the course of the week. There were full reports across the media, for example, in the Daily Mail and on the BBC. The case continues this week and seems likely to conclude on Friday with judgment being reserved.
The press were particularly taken with one of Mr Mitchell’s character witnesses, Sir Bob Geldolf. The Independent summed the case up with the headline, “Plebs, public school boys and politics: class war breaks out in Court 13”.
Meanwhile, there are three “Operation Elveden” criminal trials is in progress.
- The “Sun Six” trial at Kingston Crown Court – we have had regular posts on this Martin Hickman (courtesy of Hacked Off).
- The HMRC Leak Trial at the Old Bailey involving Sun journalist Clodagh Hartley has now reached the stage of closing speeches – the prosecution told the jury that ‘This is not Watergate or Wikileaks, it is easy money for lazy journalism’ whilst, the defence as ‘Do we want a press that simply regurgitates press releases from Government?’
- The Sun ‘Mobile Phone’ Trial at the Old Bailey of Sun journalist Nick Parker began on Tuesday with the prosecution opening speech. We had a number of posts about this case as well.
The Panopticon Blog has a post on the decision of the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) in the case of R v Dryzmer and Play Media Distribution Ltd in which it was held that the prohibition on supplying video recordings which have not been classified by the British Board of Film Classification is not rendered unlawful either by ECHR Article 10, on freedom of expression, or by TFEU Articles 34-36 on non-interference with trade.
On 19 November 2014, the former Lord Justice of Appeal and current Chairman of IPSO, Sir Alan Moses, gave the annual Bingham Lecture, with the title “Wearing the Mourning Robes of our Illusions: Justice in a Spin” [pdf] There was a report of the lecture in the Guardian.
The Telegraph has an obituary of its libel lawyer, Richard Sykes, who died on 30 October 2014 aged 88. He is described as “exuding old school courtesy” and keeping legalism at bay.
The ICO blog has a post entitled “Is someone watching you right now? A warning as website targets insecure webcams” pointing out the dangers of using weak passwords or leaving default login details on online cameras.
Leanne O’Donnell has a useful collection of material about data retention entitled “Update on how the ‘west’ is backing away from data retention”
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
Newspapers, Journalism and regulation
The departure of Paul Vickers, Trinity Mirror’s Legal Director, did not get much publicity this week. Roy Greenslade had a post “If only Paul Vickers had staged a real investigation into phone hacking…” and we had a post from Brian Cathcart noting Mr Vickers’ role as the architect of the still sleeping regulator IPSO.
As a result of this departure the “Regulatory Finance Company” – the body which controls IPSO – will need a new chairman. We await, with interest, the advertisement of this important post.
The text of Emily Bell’s 2014 Reuters Memorial Lecture, “Silicon Valley and Journalism: Make up or break up” is available on the Reuters Institute website.
It is reported that Brian Aitken, editor of The Journal is to appeal against a decision fining him £1,600 after his newspaper broke an anonymity order in a child sex case.
Last Week in the Courts
As already mentioned, on Monday 17 November 2014 the trial of preliminary issues in the “Plebgate” case of Mitchell v News Group, Rowland v Mitchell commenced before Mitting J. Evidence from the two claimants and a number of other witnesses was heard.
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
In the case of Setka v Abbott  VSCA 287, the Court of Appeal of Victoria dismissed an appeal by trade union leader John Setka in his libel action against the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. There were reports of the decision in the Age and the Herald Sun.
In the case of Bateman v Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd (No 3)  NSWSC 1601 McCallum J struck out a number of contextual imputations in the defence but gave leave to re-plead two of them.
In the case of Brian Stanley Fisher v Channel Seven Sydney Pty Ltd (No 4)  NSWSC 1616 a school bus driver who was defamed by Channel Seven’s Today Tonight was awarded damages of Aus$125,000, despite the fact that the judge found he was mendacious.
A number of newspapers noted the fact that the forthcoming defamation case of Gordon Wood v Nationwide News would, in effect, involve the defamation jury deciding whether or not the plaintiff had murdered his girlfriend. He was acquitted of this charge at a criminal trial where there is a higher standard of proof. There were reports of a hearing in the case in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Mail.
The West Australian has a report of the trial of a libel action brought by former Queensland Housing Minister Bruce Flegg against his former media advisor Graeme Hallett.
It is reported that the defendant in the case of Crosby v Kelly is seeking leave to amend his defence. We had a report about the action in May 2013 under the headline Conservative Strategist Lynton Crosby and an Australian twitter libel action
In the case of Hynes v. Western Regional Integrated Health Authority, (2014 NLTD(G) 137) the Supreme Court of Newfoundland held that the pleadings in a case concerning unauthorised access to health records disclosed causes of action in privacy under statute and at common law. There was a post about the case on the Canadian Privacy Law blog.
In the case of Singer v Yormulmaz (2014 QCCS 5536) an action for defamation was dismissed after the plaintiff made an application to enter default judgment.
Two Muslim students are suing the Toronto French School for defamation over an incident which led to them being removed from the school. The trial began on 17 November 2014 and is estimated to last three weeks.
The Times of Malta reports that former leader of the General and Retail Trade Union, Vince Farrugia, was ordered to pay General Workers Union general secretary Tony Zarb, €2,000 after he called him a fascist on live television.
The International Business Times reports that libel reform may be back on track. It is now said that the Northern Ireland Law Commission will, after all, go ahead with the publication of its consultation paper on the Defamation Act 2013.
It is reported that a statement in open court was read in a defamation claim brought by the former PA to Maureen O’Hara against the actress’ nephew. The defendant accepted that statements questioning the integrity of the plaintiff were without foundation.
Research and Resources
- Constitutional Rights, Truth and Fair Comment Defences in Chinese Right to Reputation Lawsuits, Dr Yik Chan Chin, SSRN
- Privilege and Public Opinion Supervision Defences in China’s Right to Reputation Litigation, Dr Yik Chan Chin, Media & Arts Law Review, September 2014 Issue. SSRN
- “Should celebrities have privacy? A response to Jennifer Lawrence”, Daniel Solove, 17 November 2014
- MsLods News Round Up: Law + Technology, 22 November 2014
Next week in the courts
The trial of Mitchell v NGN, Rowland v Mitchell will continue this week before Mitting J.
The “data protection” case of Hegglin v Persons Unknown and Google will begin on Monday 24 November 2014 before Jay J. The trial is listed for 5 days. The background can be found in the judgment of Bean J, granting the claimant permission to serve the proceedings on Google out of the jurisdiction ( EWHC 2808 (QB)).
On 24 November 2014, a Seven Judge Bench of the Supreme Court will begin hearing the appeal in the case of R (Evans) v HM Attorney-General. The case concerns a freedom of information request by the Guardian for letters written by Prince Charles to Government Ministers. Our post on the decision of the Court of Appeal can be found here.
On 25 November 2014, there will be a hearing in the of Jackson v Universal Music Operations Ltd .
On 26 November 2014, Sir Michael Tugendhat will hand down judgment in the case of Al Saud & anr v Forbes LLC & ors, heard 4 November 2014.
The following reserved judgment in media law cases are outstanding:
Flood v Times Newspapers, heard 8 July 2014 (Sharp and Macur LJJ and Sir Timothy Lloyd).
Mionis v Democratic Press heard 12 November 2014 (Sir David Eady).