The biggest media legal story of the week was the Mirror Phone Hacking judgment handed down by Mr Justice Mann on 21 May 2015. This is generally seen as marking a turning point in phone hacking litigation. Although there have been several hundred claims against News Group Newspapers and Mirror Group Newspapers this is the first time there has a been a public judgment on damages.
Much attention has been given to the amount awarded. The damages in all eight cases totalled in excess of £1.2m, which beat the previous record for a privacy claim. Trinity Mirror has said that the legal claims arising from phone-hacking will now cost more than twice as much as previously expected. Roy Greenslade described the amounts awarded as “astonishingly large”. The ruling will now provide a framework of reference for similar civil actions and, conceivably, others set to sue. The news was covered by the BBC , The Daily Mail, the Sun and many others.
In other news, acclaimed classical pianist James Rhodes has won the right to publish his autobiography, which details the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. In what has been hailed as a milestone in the defence of free speech, the supreme court decided to overturn the injunction that prevented the book from appearing. The attacks left Rhodes with spinal damage and led to years of addiction, self-harm and mental health problems. Rhodes’ ex-wife sought to prevent publication of key passages, arguing that they would have a distressing impact on their 12-year-old son.
Sun crime reporter Anthony France has been found guilty of paying a police officer more than £22,000 for stories. France, 41, cultivated a “corrupt relationship” with PC Timothy Edwards over four years while Edwards was working at Heathrow Airport in counter-terrorism command. The court heard that Edwards was “given” to France as a source in 2008 having been told by a colleague “I’ve spoken to a lawyer and it’s fine”.
Home Secretary Theresa May has proposed giving broadcast regulator Ofcom the power to censor transmissions involving “extremist content”. The suggestions were opposed by former culture secretary Sajid Javid, who argued the rule change would “involve a fundamental shift in the way UK broadcasting is regulated”.
The Guardian published the leaked letter from Javid to Prime Minister David Cameron, which took issue with paragraph 111 in “Extremist Strategy ‘A Stronger Britain’”. The outcome was unclear, although the Queen’s speech is expected include powers to “strengthen the role of Ofcom to take action against channels which broadcast extremist content” according to a statement released by Downing Street.
Clive Goodman, former News of the World journalist, has told the court that editor Andy Coulson suggested he would keep his job at the paper if he pleaded guilty to phone-hacking. Goodman told jurors that he was encouraged to admit to being a “lone wolf”. Coulson is on trial at the High Court in Edinburgh, accused of lying under oath in the 2010 trial of Tommy Sheridan.
Data Protection and Data Privacy
The Belgian Privacy Commission has published the first part of its recommendation following its investigation into Facebook’s data processing activities. Fieldfisher’s Privacy and Information Law Blog discusses the issues here.
The Hunton & Williams’ Privacy and Information Security Law blog discusses the enforcement of the self-regulatory principles for online behavioural advertising here.
Datonomy has its Cyber Update for the week commencing 11 May 2015.
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
The long awaited Statement in Open Court in the case of Murray v Associated Newspapers was finally made on 21 May 2015. JK Rowling said that she feels “fully vindicated” after the statement was read out. The Mail had challenged Rowling’s right to give a court statement about the case, but the Court of Appeal dismissed the newspaper’s objections. Rowling had challenged a 2013 article which suggested the author had told a “sob story” about being stigmatised by churchgoers in the ’90s.
The case of Phipps v Britton has been settled. Ian Phipps has won an apology and substantial damages from Paul Britton and his company Origin Design Ltd after they defamed him in a series of websites. The apology took the form of a statement in open court read before His Honour Judge Moloney QC on Wednesday 20 May 2015.
Newspapers, Journalism and regulation
David Wolfe, chair of the Press Recognition Panel, is to give an address entitled “What makes a good self regulator of the press?” at the LSE on 9 June 2015. This marks the launch of the PRP’s nationwide consultation on how it should decide whether press regulators meet the recognition criteria set out in the Royal Charter.
The Sunday Express has been censured by Ipso after publishing an inaccurate front page claiming prisoners were being allowed to have their own cell keys and roam at will inside jails. Ipso decided that the article, headlined “Monsters are given their own cell keys” was inaccurate and that the paper’s original correction was inadequate.
IMPRESS is to seek recognition under the Royal Charter on Self-Regulation of the Press. Walter Merricks, Chair of IMPRESS, discusses the decision here.
Last Week in the Courts
As already mentioned, on Wednesday 20 May 2015, the Supreme Court handed down judgment in the case of OPO v James Rhodes ( UKSC 32). We had case comments from Lucy Moorman and Dan Tench. There were also case comments on the UKSC Blog and the UK Human Rights Blog.
On the same day Munby P handed down judgment in the case of In the matter of M (Children) ( EWHC 1433 (Fam)) an important decision about the wardship jurisdiction and the ambit of “super-injunctions”.
On the same day Dingemans J handed down judgment in Linton v Tardios ( EWHC 1429 (QB)).
On 22 May 2015 Sir David Eady handed down judgment in the case of QRS v Beach.
Finally, an interesting judgment from the Chancery Division in Manchester, given on 4 March 2015 was published on Bailii. This was in the case of CHS v DNH ( EWHC 1214 (Ch)). HHJ Hodge QC granted an ex parte privacy injunction to a person he described as a woman with a “high public profile”. The injunction had a short return date before Norris J and it is not clear what happened then – no further judgment having been published.. Some time after we tweeted this judgment the story was picked up in the Daily Mail, where the claimant had metamorphosed into a “top female celebrity”. No mention was made of the fact that the injunction had been granted nearly 3 months previously. The story was subsequently picked up by the Independent and the Daily Mirror.
We are not aware of any forthcoming media and law events.
Please let us know if there are any events you would like to be included on this list by email – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Media Law in Other Jurisdictions
Libel charges brought by a group of generals against Angolan journalist Rafael Marques have been dropped. Marques reached an out-of-court settlement with the group, who he had accused of profiting from blood diamonds. While he accepted the group did not have direct knowledge, evidence of the atrocities themselves was not questioned.
In the case of Barrow v Bolt  VSCA 107 the Court of Appeal in Victoria refused leave to appeal against a decision dismissing a libel action arising out of a complaint to the Australian Press Council
A libel lawsuit brought by a former State Bureau of Investigation ballistics expert will move toward a trial, it has been decided by a three-member panel of judges. Beth Desmond claims she was defamed in two articles published in 2010 in The News & Observer. One of those articles, “SBI relies on bullet analysis that critics deride as unreliable,” was part of an investigative series that revealed SBI shortcomings and won a major award.
In the case of 122164 Canada Limited (New York Fries) v C.M. Takacs Holding Corporation, 2015 ONSC 3007 the Ontario Superior Court of Justice set aside a default judgment in the sum of Can$525,000 entered in 2012. The judge took the view that some of the “pathetic history” of the progress of the application could be explained by
“institutional delays and by the shared uncooperativeness of the participants, who have provoked one another to the point of a visceral hatred” .
Finance and Economic Planning Minister Amara Konneh has been found guilty of libel and ordered to pay US$1.65M in damages. Konneh was sued for libel in March 2013 by Finance Ministry employee Eric Nagbe, after Konneh accused him of receiving bribes.
Former GRTU director general, Vince Farrugia, has lost a criminal libel suit against the General Workers’ Union daily newspaper, after failing to appear for ten of the eleven court sittings. Mr Farrugia had filed the libel suit claiming slander over an article that appeared in February. Magistrate Francesco Depasquale noted that Mr Farrugia had shown utter lack of interest in the case he had filed.
A libel claim brought by a Philadelphia firefighter against the New York Daily News has been dismissed. Francis X. Cheney II sued the Daily News in February after a photograph of him was used in the publication’s article about an alleged sex scandal.
Model Janice Dickinson has sued Bill Cosby for defamation over denials made by the comedian’s representatives after she accused him of rape. Dickinson’s lawsuit seeks unspecified damages on defamation, false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims.
Research and Resources
- “A pair of lawsuits highlight libel law’s complexity”, Jonathan Peters, Columbia Journalism Review
- “Normative Foundations for Reasonable Expectations of Privacy”, Supreme Court Law Review, Vol. 54, p. 335, 2011, Hamish Stewart, University of Toronto – Faculty of Law. SSRN
- “Facebook and its EU Users – Applicability of the EU Data Protection Law to US Based SNS” Bezzi et al. (Eds.): Privacy and Identity, IFIP AICT 320, pp. 75–85 (Springer), 2011, Aleksandra Kuczerawy. KU Leuven – Interdisciplinary Centre for Law and ICT (ICRI)
Next week in the courts
This week is the legal vacation and there are no media law hearings listed. The Trinity Term will begin on 2 June 2015. The vacation judges in the Queen’s Bench Division are
The Honourable Mr Justice Jay … from 4:15 pm on Friday 22nd May 2015 to 10am on Thursday 28th May 2015 inclusive.
The Honourable Mr Justice Warby … from 10am on Thursday 28th May 2015 to 10am on Tuesday 2nd June 2015 inclusive.
The following reserved judgment in media law cases are outstanding:
Pinard-Byrne v Linton, heard 22 April 2015 (Judicial Committee of the Privy Council)
Masters v Palmer, heard 5 May 2015 (HHJ Moloney QC)
Stocker v Stocker, heard 7 May 2015 (Warby J)
Ma v St George’s NHS Trust, heard 8 May 2015 (HHJ Moloney QC)
Otuo v Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, heard 14 May 2015 (HHJ Moloney QC).
This Round Up was compiled by Tessa Evans, a journalist and researcher. She tweets @tessadevans