Last week saw the start of the much anticipated “WAGatha Christie” libel trial between Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney before Steyn J in Court 13 at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Mrs Vardy is suing Mrs Rooney for defamation over what she claims are false allegations made by Mrs Rooney on social media that she was involved in leaking information from Mrs Rooney’s private Instagram account to the Sun newspaper.
The case has had very wide coverage in the tabloid, broadsheet and broadcast media including
- ‘Wagatha Christie’ trial: Rebekah Vardy denies being willing to lie under oath, Guardian, 11 May 2022
- ‘Wagatha Christie’ case: Vardy says she tried to leak Drinkwater story to the Sun, Guardian 11 May 2022
- Vardy admits knowing agent sent private details about Rooney to the Sun, Guardian 12 May 2022
- Rebekah Vardy says News of the World made up quotes about Peter Andre, Guardian, 13 May 2022.
- Vardy v Rooney: As Rebekah and Coleen go to court, we break down the ‘Wagatha Christie’ case, Sky News
- WAGATHA CHRISTIE TRIAL RECAP: Latest Coleen Rooney, Wayne Rooney and Rebekah Vardy court drawings are revealed as libel trial hears what was said about Peter Andre’s ‘chipolata’ in 2004 interview, Daily Mail, 13 May 2022.
The Guardian also tried to add some humour
- A pigeon and a chipolata? FFS! First week highlights of Rooney v Vardy,
Like a phone dropped in the North Sea, Vardy v Rooney is full of absolute gold
Meanwhile, the most read celebrity story in the Sun concerns the “exclusive £3,500 a night hotel” where Mr and Mrs Rooney are said to be staying during the trial.
On 10 May 2022, the annual Queen’s Speech to the House of Commons revealed a number of legislative changes that will affect UK media, data protection and internet law. The Press Gazette identified five bills that could have a major impact, namely:
- The draft Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill, a wide-reaching act that could ultimately require Google and Meta to pay for news;
- The Online Safety Bill, which aims to make the UK the “safest place in the world to be online” while “safeguarding freedom of expression” and protecting journalistic content;
- The Media Bill, which will enable the government to sell Channel 4, repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, and give Ofcom powers to regulate streaming companies like Netflix. Read Hacked Off’s response here;
- The Data Reform Bill, which will aim to reduce “burdens” faced by data-handling companies under laws like GDPR. Read DLA Piper, HawkTalk, Hunton Andrews Kurth and Euractiv’s coverage;
- The National Security Bill, which will reform the Official Secrets Act. According to the National Union of Journalists, it could threaten reporters with prosecution.
Prince Harry is bringing another claim against the Mail on Sunday over an article dated 20 February 2022 which related to issues of his family’s security. This claim joins the Duke’s ongoing privacy claims against News Group Newspapers and Mirror Group Newspapers, now Reach, over alleged phone hacking and unlawful information gathering.
Internet and Social Media
Twitter has launched a browser game designed to teach users about its privacy settings. “Twitter Data Dash” allows the user to choose one of four characters who follow Data the dog through the game’s side-scrolling levels. Users attempt to guide Data to a park by dodging “cat ads, swim through a sea of (direct messages) (and) battle trolls,” all while learning how to control one’s Twitter experience, The Verge reports.
Data Privacy and Data Protection
Google announced new privacy measures during its I/O 2022 developer conference designed to give users more control over how their data is used. Such changes include the introduction of a “My Ad Centre” function, which will enable users to customise the types of advertisements they see according to their interests, or opt to see fewer ads on a certain topic. Users will also be able to request that certain personal information be removed from search results through a tool accessible on their Google profile page, The Verge reports.
A report published in the Journal of Internet Medical Research found that the most popular women’s mobile health applications may not be following privacy laws, including GDPR. Researchers looked at the 23 most popular women’s health apps and found that many “have poor data privacy, sharing, and security standards.” All apps allowed behavioural tracking and 61% allowed location tracking.
The UK Constitutional Law Blog has an article that considers how the Government’s proposed Modern Bill of Rights, which seeks to replace the Human Rights Act 1998, will make it very hard for individuals to challenge decisions produced by the operation of artificial intelligence decision-making processes in court.
The UK’s Health Security Agency has been using video surveillance technology from the controversial Chinese firm Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. at laboratories that conduct research into vaccines and deadly diseases, Bloomberg reports.
Newspapers Journalism and Regulation
On 11 May 2022, The Ministry of Justice published the “Reporters’ Charter”, a document listing the “rights” journalists should be afforded during court reporting, the Press Gazette reports.
Hacked Off, the campaign for a free and accountable press, published an opinion last week that argues all journalistic content should not be exempt from the Online Safety Bill.
– 11214-21 Zaman v The Mail on Sunday, 2 Privacy (2021), No breach – after investigation
– 10225-21 A man and a woman v Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald, 2 Privacy (2019), 4 Intrusion into grief or shock (2019), No breach – after investigation
– 11065-21 Keenan v The Times, 1 Accuracy (2021), Breach – sanction: action as offered by publication
– 01200-22 Various v Mail Online, 1 Accuracy (2021), Breach – sanction: action as offered by publication
– 15321-20 Foster v Daily Mail, 1 Accuracy (2019), No breach – after investigation
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
On 9 May 2022, there was a statement in open court the cases of Davidoff v Doshi and Davidoff v Govan before Collins Rice J. The case related to a number of Google reviews that were defamatory of the Claimants. The Defendants’ application for summary judgment was dismissed in December 2021 (QB-2021-001113: QB-2021-001115).
New Issued Cases
There was one Defamation (libel and slander) claim, one Data Protection claim, one Breach of Privacy claim, one Injunction application and one Miscellaneous claim filed on the media and communications list last week.
Last Week in the Courts
On 9 May 2022 there was a trial of a preliminary issue in the case of Anexo Group Plc and others v Newsquest Specialist Media Ltd before Tipples J and a directions hearing in the case of Amazon -v- Tejan-Kella before Saini J.
As mentioned above, the Vardy v Rooney trial began last week before Steyn J. The trial continues this week.
On 11 May 2022, judgment was handed down in the case of (1) Kumlin (2) EEW Eco Energy World plc v (1) Jonsson (2) Agerman (3) Östlund (4) Realtid Media AB  EWHC 1095 (QB). The dispute related to eight articles published online in Swedish by the Defendants that were alleged to be defamatory of C1, a Swedish citizen and director of C2, an English apex holding company. Held, only three of the eight articles were defamatory at common law. C2 did not have a good arguable case on serious financial loss and C1 did not have a good arguable case that England and Wales was his centre of interest. Read the 5RB summary here. Read the Guardian’s coverage here.
On 12 May 2022, there were hearings in the cases of Lee -v- Brown before Collins Rice J and MPL -v- WSZ before Saini J.
On 20 May 2022, Professor Lillian Edwards, legal expert advisor to the Ada Lovelace Institute, will be holding an online seminar on How to Regulate High Risk AI: the EU AI Act. Details on registration can be found here.
Media Law in Other Jurisdictions
On 12 May 2022, a ruling on serious harm and defamatory meaning was handed down in Wilks v Qu  VCC 620. This was the first case to consider the s.10A(5) Defamation Act 2005 “serious harm” threshold, introduced by the Justice Legislation Amendment (Supporting Victims and Other Matters) Act 2020.
The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) and Guardian cover the ongoing trial between actor Craig McLachlan and SMH over stories published in 2018 which alleged McLachlan sexually harassed three actresses during the 2014 stage production of The Rocky Horror Show.
The Guardian covers the ongoing defamation trial between ex-soldier Ben Roberts Smith and the Age, Canberra Times and SMH over allegations made by the publications that he is guilty of committing war crimes in Afghanistan. Read this week’s coverage here, here, here and here.
A psychiatric nurse is being sued by the western Manitoba regional health authority, her former employer, over posts on TikTok, Facebook and Instagram in which she called her fellow employees “idiots” and accused the health authority of killing its patients. The case is one of a number of lawsuits filed over social media posts that legal experts say are becoming increasingly common. CBC has more information here.
The Michael Geist blog covers the latest parliamentary debate over the Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11).
On 12 May 2022, the European Council launched The EU-Japan Digital Partnership with Japanese leaders at the EU-Japan Summit 2022. The partnership seeks to advance cooperation on numerous digital issues to spur economic growth, by continuing “Data Free Flow with Trust” to facilitate safe and secure cross-border data flows by enhancing privacy and security.
Dr Eva Połońska-Kimunguyi, a Research Fellow in the Department of Media and Communications, has published an article on the LSE Media Blog based on her research into the political and media constructions of the war in Ukraine, and highlighted their contradictions, racism, and open hypocrisy.
After almost a month of proceedings, the defamation trial between actor Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard over allegations of domestic abuse is took a break last week. The Independent and Guardian provide summaries of the trial so far, which is set to resume on 16 May 2022.
In a public statement by Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, the three tech giants have lent their support to ban the controversial use of geofence warrants and reverse warrants by law enforcement agencies. The Reform Government Surveillance campaign group are advancing a bill before the New York State legislature named The Reverse Location Search Prohibition Act 84/ S. 296, which would prohibit government use of geofence warrants and reverse warrants. Geofence and reverse keyword warrants circumvent the limits set by the Fourth Amendment by allowing the police to submit requests that do not identify a single suspect or particular user account. Instead, with geofence warrants, they draw a box on a map, and compel the company to identify every digital device within that drawn boundary during a given time period. Similarly, with a “keyword” warrant, police compel the company to hand over the identities of anyone who may have searched for a specific term, such as a victim’s name or a particular address where a crime has occurred. TechCrunch, GovTech and the Pogo Was Right blog report.
The US justice department secretly issued a subpoena to gain access to details of the phone account of a Guardian reporter, as part of an aggressive leak investigation into media stories about an official inquiry into the Trump administration’s child separation policy at the southern border, the Guardian reports.
On 11 May 2022, judgment was handed down in Banaian v. Bascom A.3d 2022 WL 1482521, a case in which the New Hampshire Supreme Court considered liability for retweeting a defamatory tweet. Held, Section 230 abrogated the common law of defamation as applied to individual users. “That individual users are immunized from claims of defamation for retweeting content they did not create is evident from the statutory language,” the Evan Law Blog reports.
Research and Resources
- Bayer, Judit and Bard, Petra and Vosyliūtė, Lina and Luk, Ngo Chun, Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) in the European Union. A Comparative Study (2021), Budapest Business School, Central European University (CEU), Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS)
- Del Tosto Brogan, Doris, Lies, Damn Lies and Kamikaze Lies: Protecting Falsehoods in the Name of Truth (2022), Loyola Chicago Law Journal
- Bard, Petra, The Tóta W. / HVG Controversy: The Hungarian Supreme Court’s Judgment Limiting Freedom of Expression (2021), Central European University (CEU)
- Balsam, Jodi S., Timeout for Sports Trademark Overprotection: Comparing the United States, European Union, and United Kingdom (2022). California Western International Law Journal, Vol. 52, 351
- Agbada, Agbada, Where Lies the Power to Legislate on Data Privacy under the Nigerian Constitution? (2022), independent
- Van Bekkum, Marvin and Zuiderveen Borgesius, Frederik, Using Sensitive Data to Prevent Discrimination by AI: Does the GDPR Need a New Exception? (2022) iHub, Radboud University, Nijmegen
- Moy, Laura, Facing Injustice: How Face Recognition Technology May Increase the Incidence of Misidentifications and Wrongful Convictions (2021). William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol. 30, No. 2
- Bailey, Rishab and Bhandari, Vrinda and Rahman, Faiza, Examining the Online Anonymity Debate: How Far Should the Law Go in Mandating User Identification? (2021), Data Governance Network, Working Paper 18
- Altman, Micah and Cohen, Aloni and Falzon, Francesca and Markatou, Evangelia Anna (Lilika) and Nissim, Kobbi and Reymond, Michel Jose and Saraogi, Sidhant and Wood, Alexandra, A Principled Approach to Defining Anonymization As Applied to EU Data Protection Law (2022), Center for Research in Equitable and Open Scholarship, MIT, University of Chicago – Department of Computer Science, Brown University, University of Geneva, Georgetown University, Harvard University – Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society
- Shim, Hongjin and Yeon, Jiyoung, Two-Facedness of Netflix Users?: Privacy Paradox with Privacy Insensitivity in Using Video Streaming Service (2022), Kyung Hee University
- Thukral, Pankhuri and Kainya, Vanshika, How Social Media Influence Crimes (2022), Indian Journal of Law and Legal Research, 4(2)
Next Week in the Courts
On 16 to 18 May 2022 Steyn J will continue to hear the libel trial in the case of Vardy v Rooney.
On 16 May 2022, judgment will be handed down in MBR Acres v Free the MBR Beagles by Nicklin J.
On the same day judgment will be handed down in BW Legal Services Limited v Trustpilot by Tipples J.
On 17 May 2022, there will be a hearing in the case of PHD Modular Access v Beach before Tipples J.
On 18 May 2022, judgment will be handed down in Blake and others v Fox by Nicklin J.
On the same day, there will be a hearing in COS v PER and another before Collins Rice J.
On 19 -20 May 2022, there will be a hearing in Graeme Smith & 375 Others v Talk Talk Telecom Group PLC before Saini J.
LCG v. OVD, heard on 4 May 2022 (Murray J).
Dudley v Phillips , heard on 12 April 2022 (Saini J)
XXX v Persons Unknown , heard on 12 April 2022 (Chamberlain J).
Various Claimants v MGN, heard on 11 to 13 April 2022 (Fancourt J).
Wright v Granath, heard on 24 February 2022 (HHJ Lewis).
Banks v Cadwalladr 14, 17 to 19 and 21 January 2022 (Steyn J).
Goldsmith v Bissett-Powell, heard on 13 January 2022 (Julian Knowles J).
Driver v Crown Prosecution Service, heard on 8 December 2021 (Julian Knowles J).
Haviland v The Andrew Lownie Literary Agency Ltd., heard on 27 July 2021 (Murray J).
Masarir v Kingdom of Saudi Arabia., heard 15 and 16 June 2021 (Julian Knowles J).
This Round Up was compiled by Colette Allen who is the host of Newscast on Dr Thomas Bennett and Professor Paul Wragg’s The Media Law Podcast (@MediaLawPodcast).