This is a Media Law Update covering the last week prepared by the Legal Information Team at Matrix Chambers, which they have kindly agreed to make available to readers of Inforrm.
Clift v Slough BC  EWCA Civ 1171 – 21 December 2010, CA (Ward, Thomas and Richards LJJ). The Court of Appeal dismissed the defendant’s appeal against a decision of Tudgendhat J that a public authority should only be entitled to rely on the defence of qualified privilege in respect of a defamatory publication if it the publication was consistent with its public law duties. The Court accepted that a public authority should only publish information for the purpose of and to the extent necessary for performance of its public duty and in accordance with its obligations under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. There is a 5RB case report.
R (Guardian News and Media) v City of Westminster Magistrates  EWHC 3376 (Admin) – 21 December 2010, Admin Court (Sullivan LJ and Silber J). Application by way for judicial review and appeal by case stated of a decision of District Judge to refuse disclosure of documents, which were put before the court and mentioned in oral argument, including skeleton arguments prepared by counsel, affidavits by a US official, and various correspondence. Guardian argued that the principle of open justice required first that in criminal cases, all evidence communicated to the court should be available for inspection by the press. The Court held that it was settled law that the principle of open justice in criminal proceedings does not extend to a right for the public, or the press, to inspect documents or other exhibits placed before the court and that no provision had been made for such inspection in the Criminal Procedure Rules. The Press Gazette reports that the Guardian is considering its appeal options.
France v Freemans Solicitors & Anor  EWHC 3291 (QB) – 15 Dec 2010 (Eady J). The defendants applied for summary judgment in a libel action brought by the claimant freelance solicitor. Held: summary judgment was granted. A note made by the employee on a spreadsheet that a certain fee charged to a client for an interview by her was not recoverable because of a conflict of interest was the subject of qualified privilege, and there was no prospect of the solicitor defeating that defence by establishing malice against the employee.
Smith v ADVFN plc & Ors  EWHC 3255 (QB) – 13 Dec 2010 (Tugendhat J). All of the claimant’s claims should be struck out as having no real prospect of success. The words complained of were in many instances not defamatory, but abuse, and there were defences of qualified privilege and fair comment. Further, there could be no realistic plea of malice against the defendants. Moreover, there was an unrealistic prospect of proving that a significant number of publishees had read the words complained of and understood them to refer to the claimant. As pleaded, the case on publication to readers who knew his identity was speculative. It was appropriate to make an extended civil restraint order against the claimant, his claims being wholly without merit. The master had made an order providing that, until further order, all claims issued in the future by the claimant were to be stayed after issue, with service not being effected. The master’s order had had an effect similar to a civil restraint order. It had been made pursuant to the court’s general case-management powers in the CPR Pt 3.
Latest Regulatory Decisions
Latest decisions of the First-tier Tribunal, General Regulatory Chamber [Information Rights]
- John Cross v IC EA/2010/0101. EIR 2004. Whether The Duchy of Lancaster is a “public authority” for the purposes of the 2004 regs:
- Staffordshire County Council v IC EA/2010/0015. FIO Act 2000, ss 41 (confidential information), 43 (commercial information). EIR 2004, reg 2 (environmental information).
Lord Chief Justice allows Twitter in court, BBC News – 20 Dec 2010. Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice has issued interim guidance that live text-based communication would be allowed as long as the judge believed it would not interfere with the administration of justice. The interim guidance has immediate effect but a review will be conducted. The story is also reported in the Press Gazette and discussed on the UK Human Rights Blog.
Andy Coulson’s legal fees will be paid by News International, says Cabinet Office, James Robinson, The Guardian – 17 Dec 2010. News International is paying the legal fees incurred by Andy Coulson during the perjury trial of Tommy Sheridan, the Cabinet Office has confirmed.
Lib Dem fury over Royal gag on freedom of information laws, Glen Owen, Daily Mail – 15 Dec 2010. Reports that there is a dispute within the coalition government over the extent to which the Royal Family are subject to the FOI Act 2000. This is discussed on the UK FOI Blog.
Extension of Coverage of Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, Scottish Government. Consultation Response – 15 Dec 2010. Responses received to consultation on the Extension of Coverage of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. The consultation, issued sought views on whether freedom of information legislation needed to be extended to cover private organisations that delivered a public service, such as the building and maintaining of schools and hospitals, the managing of privately-run prisons and trusts created by local authorities for the provision of leisure and culture. The consultation can be viewed here.
Articles and Discussion
Infringement by Use on Website, James Goudie QC, Panopticon Blog – 16 Dec 2010, Discusses MGN v Grisbrook  EWCA Civ 1399, which related to the commercial exploitation of the MGN database by means of the three websites.
Enemy of the People: what price water information – David Hart QC, UK Human Rights Blog – Discussed the decision of the Tribunal in Smartsource v Information Commissioner  UKUT 415 (AAC) 23 November 2010 as to whether information about water and wastewater billing etc was environmental information which involved determining whether water companies and sewage undertakers were “public authorities” for the purposes of the EIR.
Freedom of Information in the WikiLeaks Era, British Institute of International and Comparative Law. 31 Jan 2011 : 17.00 – 19.00 : British Institute of International and Comparative Law, Charles Clore House, 17 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5JP : Member of BIICL £60 : Non-Member £100. This seminar will discuss these legal questions, as well as the relevant legislation which needs to be considered in relation to this new online phenomenon. While freedom of the press is central to this debate, the balance between the public interest in freedom of information and the need for confidentiality, for reasons such as national security, needs to be considered when analysing the legal aspects. As a result, this seminar will cover the wider legal context in which websites such as WikiLeaks operate, without limiting itself to the recent publication of a series of diplomatic cables.
- Joshua Rozenberg (Legal Commentator).
- David Banisar (Article 19).
- Andrew Murray (LSE).
- Mark Stephens (FSI Law).
- James Leaton Gray (BBC Information Policy and Compliance).
To book a place at this event, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7862 5151.