The four senior Sun journalists accused of paying public officials for information have been cleared on all charges following a trial at the Old Bailey. Chief reporter John Kay and royal editor Duncan Larcome were found not guilty of wrongdoing over their contact with two military sources.
The Sun’s executive editor Fergus Shanahan, 60, and deputy editor Geoff Webster, 55, were also cleared over allegations that they signed off payments. Kay, Shanahan and Webster were charged with conspiring with Ministry of Defence official Bettina Jordan-Barber to commit misconduct in a public office. The charges were complex, as the jurors were asked to assess whether leaks by public officials crossed the line from conduct that would warrant disciplinary action to “criminal conduct”.
The acquittal has been seen as a blow to the Crown Prosecution Service, which has been accused by defence counsel (and Tory MP) Geoffrey Cox QC of bringing “lunatic” charges against reporters. Roy Greenslade agreed that the journalists should not have been on trial, arguing that the practice was “considered to be entirely normal journalistic activity at papers across Fleet Street”.
John Kay accused the paper’s executives of “breaking the first rule of journalism” after he was found not guilty. He attacked the paper’s executives for revealing his confidential sources, giving the police information that led to the arrest of MOD civil servant Bettina Jordan-Barber.
Hacked Off released a statement on the verdict, arguing that while the “jury’s verdicts are clear and must be respected”, the trial revealed an “appalling catalogue of bad practice, weak management and legal failures at The Sun”, with journalists “dragged through the courts because they had not been properly trained, supervised or managed by their bosses at News UK”.
The verdict allowed reporting restrictions to be lifted in relation to two other matters:
- A former reporter at News of the World is facing jail for paying a former soldier in exchange for information. Ryan Sabey received a string of leaks from soldier Paul Brunt, including information about Prince Harry. His conviction in February can only now be revealed for legal reasons. He will be sentenced on 27 March.
- Bettina Jordan-Barber, the Ministry of Defence “mole” who made £100,000 leaking stories to the Sun, has been jailed. Jordan-Barber was sent to prison in January after pleading guilty to conspiring to commit misconduct in public office. The charges related to information she gave about army failures in Afghanistan and Iraq, disciplinary proceedings and sexual misconduct among officers. The sentencing can only be reported now after a jury returned verdicts on the “Sun Four” trial on Friday.
The Mirror Damages Trial closing submissions began 18 March and will conclude on Tuesday 24 March. Mr Justice Mann has heard that the High Court is facing an “unparalleled” task in deciding the damages to be awarded in eight phone-hacking claims. Counsel David Sherborne told the judge that the cases brought against Mirror Group Newspapers were “exceptional”, compared to other privacy actions. “This is not about freedom of the press. It is about the systematic gathering of private information for profit, using illegal means. It is this context in which damages fall to be assessed” he said. The speech was also covered by the BBC.
It appears that there may be many more phone hacking claims against Mirror Group on the way
The other Operation Elveden trial – R v Wells and others – has received very little publicity over the last three weeks. There were four reports on the Hacked Off Blog. The Court was told that former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan ordered journalists to look for dirt on Private Eye Editor Ian Hislop after being mocked on quiz show “Have I Got News for You”.
The court also heard that ex-Mirror reporter, Graham Brough donated money to a Christmas party for retired journalists instead of using it to pay a prison officer for information about Jack Tweed, the partner of Big Brother star Jade Goody. Brough also told the court that it was the paper’s news desk that had “done the deal” in relation to information about singer Boy George and that he had only been sent to have the source sign a contract.
The Sunday Times has been partially successful in an appeal against a ruling that it defamed former Conservative treasurer Peter Cruddas with its ‘cash-for-access’ allegations, after he was filmed apparently offering access to the Prime Minister and Chancellor in return for party donations. The Court of Appeal ruled that Cruddas must repay £130,000 of the £180,000 he was originally awarded, describing his behaviour as “inappropriate, unacceptable and wrong”.
On 22 March 2015, the Sunday Times had an article concerning the case [£]- noting, inter alia, the various judicial recusals and non-recusals.
Dr Brooke Magnanti, better known by the name Belle de Jour, is reported to be suing her ex-boyfriend for libel on the grounds that he had suggested she might never have been a prostitute. Dr Magnanti started an anonymous blog in 2003, based on funding her life as a PhD student by working as a high-class escort. The blog spawned two bestselling books and a successful TV series.
Sex crime suspects should have the right to remain anonymous, according to a committee of MPs. The Home Affairs Select Committee said there should be a statutory ban on the identification of people who are arrested for sexual offences in England and Wales, unless they were charged or police needed to name them.
The Government has been criticised for introducing new rules banning civil servants from speaking to the media without permission from a minister. A change was inserted into the Civil Service Management Code this week saying: “All contacts with the media should be authorised in advance by the relevant Minister unless a specific delegation or dispensation has been agreed which may be for blocks of posts or areas of activities.
Data Protection and Data Privacy
The Hawtalk blog looks at the Intelligence and Security Committee, arguing that they ignore Data Protection Principles in an attempt to restore public trust in bulk data collection.
Private investigators are using aerial vehicles to discreetly watch individuals and monitor public locations. US states are considering tightening regulations.
A woman who was caught on CCTV performing a sex act on a man in a lift has had her privacy complaint rejected by Ofcom after it was shown on television. Producers said she and the man’s faces were blurred and neither of them were named.
It is reported that 90% of voters in the United States support the right to delete links to personal information. Those voters say they would support a law permitting people to ask search companies, such as Google, to remove links to certain personal information.
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
There were no statements in open court this week.
Newspapers, Journalism and regulation
The government will consult on tax breaks for local newspapers, it was announced by George Osborne in his budget speech. Roy Greenslade described the news as a “step in the right direction”.
Last Week in the Courts
On Monday 16 March 2015 HHJ Parkes QC handed down judgment in the case of Otuo v Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of Britain ( EWHC 509 (QB)). The action was dismissed.
On the same day Warby J heard an application in the case of YXB v TNO. Judgment was reserved.
As already mentioned the Mirror Damages Trial continued on 18 March 2015 and will conclude on 24 March 2015.
On Tuesday 17 March 2015 judgment was entered for the Defendant in the case of McEvoy v Michael. The claimant had discontinued the claim and was ordered to pay £50,000 on account of costs. There was a report on Wales Online. Judgment was given on a preliminary issue on 18 March 2014 ( EWHC 701 (QB)) and we had a post at the time.
On 18 March 2015, Nicola Davies J heard an application in the case of Lachaux v AOL Ltd. Judgment was reserved.
On 19 March 2015, there was a trial of a preliminary issue as to meaning in the case of Rufus v Elliott. Warby J held that the press release was not defamatory of the claimant and will give full reasons on 24 March 2015.
On 20 March 2015, HHJ Parkes QC (sitting in Salisbury) refused the defendant permission to appeal in the case of Rai v Bholowasia.
29 April 2015 Advertising & Marketing Law Conference, IBC Legal Conferences, London
12 May 2015, IBC’s 22nd Annual Defamation and Privacy Conference, Grange City Hotel, London
Media Law in Other Jurisdictions
Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey is seeking damages of up to $1m for a Fairfax Media story he claims wrongly implied he was corrupt. His lawyers have told the federal court their client must be vindicated for damage done to his reputation by the story headlined “Treasurer for sale”. The court heard the final addresses this week, which Inforrm covered here.
In the case of Chel v Fairfax Media Publications Pty Limited ( NSWSC 171) McCallum J refused the plaintiff leave to “plead back” (amend the pleadings to rely on) the defendant’s “contextual imputations”. The Judge commented
“I am not persuaded that the plaintiff seeks to vindicate her reputation against the defamatory meanings captured in the defendants’ contextual imputations. Indeed, in a tribute to the metaphysical agility required of practitioners in the field of defamation [the plaintiff’s counsel] submitted, in the alternative to his application for leave to amend, that the contextual imputations should be struck out as being bad in form (contextual imputation A) or incapable of arising (contextual imputation B)” .
In the case of King v Power ( NLTD(G) 32) the Court refused to make an order against Facebook and Twitter to disclose IP addresses and other subscriber information associated with two social media accounts. The plaintiffs had not establish that the information was relevant to the damages claim against the defendant. It was not sufficient that they had a bare unsupported suspicion that the information sought might trace back to the defendant.
In the case of Ludlow v. Hansen (2015 ABCA 98) the Court of Appeal of Alberta dismissed an appeal against an order granting summary judgment for defamation in respect of defamatory videos alleging perjury, falsification of evidence and other wrongs by the plaintiff police officers.
Premier Kathleen Wynne’s $2 million libel action continues almost a year after it was filed, it was confirmed this week. Wynne took action against two Progressive Conservative MPPs after accusations were made about Wynne’s role in the alleged wiping of computer hard drives in the office of former premier Dalton McGuinty.
Health Canada violated privacy laws and disclosed the personal health information of over 40,000 Canadians, according to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. The department sent written notices to 40,000 individuals, drawing attention to their connection to the Marihuana Medical Access Program.
Timothy Buckle, a member of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, is taking a man to court over comments made on Facebook. Buckle claims the comments are not only defamatory, but falsely and maliciously allege a criminal act.
Politician Thamizharuvi Maniyan has filed a defamation case against a former Supreme Court Judge for remarks made describing Mahatma Gandhi as a “British agent”. Maniyan, who was a founder of Gandhian movement Gandhiya Makkal Iyakkam, said the remarks showed “utter disregard for social and constitutional values”.
Three sisters have been awarded €2,500 damages each after a row over a luxury buggy. The sisters were asked to leave the Mamas & Papas store after a commotion broke out involving a man who was not employed by the store. Judge Linnane said: “It is admitted the plaintiffs were asked to leave, which would imply wrongdoing, and they were very upset.”
In the case of Van de Klundert v Clapperton ( NZHC 425) the High Court dismissed the plaintiff’s application for summary judgement in a defamation claim based on an email where the defendant relied on qualified privilege.
A Lagos high court has granted an interim order restraining Africa Independent Television from broadcasting a documentary entitled ‘Lion of Bourdilion’. The documentary allegedly tarnishes the image of former Lagos State Governor, Chief Bola Tinubu. Tinubu is claiming N150billion in libel damages.
A jury has awarded $2.9 million in damages to attorney and former town selectman Philip Eliopoulos after he sued a business owner for defamatory comments. Roland Van Liew, the owner of an information technology firm, claimed that Eliopoulos used his public position to help his father’s company construct an office building.
A judge has ruled that pop star Kesha’s claims of sexual assault take precedence over her alleged assailant Dr Luke’s defamation suit against her. Kesha filed a suit claiming that Dr Luke ‘sexually, physically, verbally and emotionally abused’ her. Dr Luke’s own complaint against the singer has been put on hold until further notice.
Research and Resources
- Horse and Buggy on the Electronic Highway: Transnational Internet Defamation in the High Court of Australia, Rosemary Tobin, Paul Myburgh, 9 New Zealand Business Law Quarterly 151-161, (2003) SSRN.
- Access to Information in the UK and India, Ben Worthy, University of London, Birbeck College, (2014) SSRN
Next week in the courts
On Monday 23 March 2015, Dingemans J will hear an appeal in the case of Grose v Owens.
On 24 March 2015 Warby J will hand down judgment in the case of Rufus v Elliott
On the same day there will statements in open court in the case of Harrison Allen v Newsquest and Optical Express Ltd v Associated Newspapers.
An application in the case of Barron & Ors v Collins, due to be heard on 26 March 2015 has been adjourned.
On 26 March 2015 the Supreme Court will give judgment in the “Prince of Wales” letters FOI case of R (Evans) v HM Attorney-General, heard 24 and 25 November 2014.
The following reserved judgment in media law cases are outstanding:
OPO v MLA, heard 19 and 20 January 2015 (UK Supreme Court)
Murray v Associated Newspapers, heard 21 January 2015 (Longmore, Ryder and Sharp LJJ)
Vidal-Hall v Google Inc heard 8 December 2014 and 2-3 March 2015 (Master of the Rolls, Macfarlane and Sharp LJJ)
Coulson v Wilby heard 6 March 2015 (Warby J).
YXB v TNO, heard 16 March 2015, (Warby J).
Lachaux v AOL Ltd, head 18 March 2015 (Nicola Davies J).
This Round Up was compiled by Tessa Evans, a journalist and researcher. She tweets @tessadevans