In this regular feature we draw attention to the last week’s law and media news and next week’s upcoming events. If readers have any news or events which they would like to draw attention to please add them by way of comments on this post.
In order to avoid leading again with phone hacking, we begin by reporting two cases of “libel tourism”. First the Kyiv post has been successful in a “libel tourism” case brought by businessman Dimitry Firtash in respect of a story downloaded by 21 people in England. Master Leslie dismissed the case saying that the link to the English jurisdiction was “tenuous in the extreme” but said “It’s been called a libel tourism case. I’m not sure I approve of that title, or that this is necessarily such a claim.” There are reports about the case in the Press Gazette, on Meeja Law on the Index on Censorship blog. The case has been taken up by some members of the Libel Reform campaign to illustrate the evils of “libel tourism” but there is another obvious interpretaton of this decision: that the system works well to dispose of cases which have no proper connection with the jurisdiction.
Secondly, there is the libel claim brought by His Holiness Sant Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj against journalist Hardeep Singh, stayed by Mr Justice Eady in May 2010 ( EWHC 1294 (QB)) and then the subject of an appeal. This is not strictly speaking a libel tourism case as all as it relates to a publication in the jurisdiction. We previously considered its likely abandonment here. Anyway, it looks finally to have come to an end. It is reported that the claimant has failed to pay the £250,000 security ordered by the Court of Appeal. The matter has been listed for a mention next week.
We have already posted a comment on the important phone hacking judgment in Gray and Coogan v News Group ( EWHC 349 (Ch)). This has been reported in the Guardian, the Independent, the Financial Times and, unusually, the Daily Telegraph. The “Daily Mail” confined itself to a report that Andy Gray has spent £250,000 on legal costs in his case. The Independent asks the question “Could Cameron’s friend Brooks be the ultimate victim of phone hacking?” – directed not to the question as to whether Ms Brooks’ phone was hacked but whether her job might be on the line.
Roy Greenslade draws attention to the fact that “Fleet Street veterans” are split over the ethics of phone hacking. Former editor of the Daily Express, Daily Star and News of the World Derek Jameson argues that Andy Coulson would not have asked about the provenance of stories and that newspapers have always used subterfuge to get their stories. In contrast, former Express man Tom Brown argues that
The real culprits are the rapacious results-or-else managements who know damned well how sales-making headlines are achieved and editorial bullies who abuse their hire-and-fire powers to intimidate staff in an ever-tightening jobs market.
Two other items of “libel news”. The “Daily Telegraph” sports pages report that Giles Clarke, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, is facing four weeks in the High Court this summer after trial dates were set for libel writs brought against him by IMG and Lalit Modi. Second, the Guardian reports that “Real Climate”, a prominent blog run by climate scientists, may be sued by the “Energy & Environment journal over allegations that the its peer review process is “shoddy.”
Journalism and the PCC
Last week saw the launch of the Media Standards Trust new website, Churnalism.com – which enables users to compare press releases with press articles to find out how much has been cut and pasted. The Press Gazette has a story about it concerning two apparently “churned” Mail Online stories (noting that its own story was based on a Media Standards Trust press release). Martin Moore has an interesting post on his blog about the launch of the site and one entitled “The Evolution of Churn“
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
We are not aware of any Statements in Open Court or published apologies in libel actions in England and Wales this past week.
In the Courts
On 23 February 2011, the Court of Appeal refused permission to appeal in the case of Mireskandari v Associated Newspapers.
On the same date Sharp J gave an extempore judgment in the adjourned case of Apsion v Butler, striking out the claimant’s libel action on the grounds of Jameel abuse and limitation problems. She ordered the claimant to pay £25,000 costs on account in 28 days
On 25 February 2011, Tugendhat J heard the defendant’s summary judgment application in the case of Cook v Telegraph Media Group. Judgment was reserved. In addition an issue arose as to whether a jury trial should be ordered despite the fact that the claimant had not complied with CPR 26.11 (which require an application for jury trial to be made within 28 days of the service of the defence).
Media and Freedom of Expression Law in Other Jurisdictions
In Austria, the Supreme Court has upheld the intellectual property rights of a 12 year old in a photograph of him with a politician which was used with a satirical slogan for advertising purposes. The claimant’s rights were not outweighed by the Article 10 rights of the publishers.
In Canada, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice awarded Can $50,000 general damages and Can$25,000 punitive damages in an internet defamation case. In Mina Mar Group Inc. v. Divine, (2011 ONSC 1172) the US based defendants had described the plaintiffs “as thieves, crooks, sham artists, liars, dishonest, corrupt, incompetent, and immoral”. Judgment was entered in default and the damages were then assessed by the court and a permanent injunction granted.
In the notorious Icelandic case of Lúkas the dog, a Reykjanes District Court held that a woman who had accused Helgi Rafn Brynjarsson of having brutally killed the dog (which was later found alive), should pay him ISK 700,000 (US$5,900) in damages and legal costs. A witness claimed to have seen Mr Brynjarsson and a group of boys stuffing the pure-bred Chinese Crested, which had been missing for weeks, into a sports bag and kicking it around until the dog died. The dog was subsequently discovered alive but, in the interim, Mr Brynjarsson had been the subject of a number of threatening comments on the internet, including by the defendant.
A post last week mentioned Ireland’s highest ever award of defamation damages – €10 million in Kinsella v Kenmare Resources. This week it was, perhaps unsurprisingly, reported that the defendant is appealing against this award.
Last week we mentioned an award of US$1.5 million in Liberia and an accusation by the newspaper defendant that the jurors had been bribed. It is now reported that one juror has claimed to have received a bribe of US$50. The defendant is seeking a new trial.
In Macedonia, the media have complained that two years after the government pledged to stop suing journalists, they face more defamation charges than ever.
US Law and Media News
Once again, this will be the subject of a separate post
No public events for next week have been reported to us.
Next Week in the Courts
On Monday 28 February 2011, the Court of Appeal (Master of the Rolls, Sedley and Hooper LJJ) will hear an appeal and cross appeal in the case of Baturina v Times Newspapers (order of 22 July 2010). Eady J struck out some, but not all, of this claim by the wife of the former mayor of Moscow ( EWHC 696 (QB)).
On Wednesday 2 March 2011, the Court of Appeal will hear the application for permission to appeal in the case of Kaschke v Gray (against the decision of Stadley J in  EWHC 690 (QB)).
On Thursday 3 March 2011, there is the hearing of an application by the Metropolitan Police to strike out the libel claim brought by solicitor Mark Lewis arising out of the claim by the Metropolitan Police that he had wrongly claimed that a police officer told him in 2008 that as many as 6,000 phones may have been hacked. There were originally three defendants to the claim: the Metropolitan Police, the PCC and Baroness Buscombe. The second and third defendants subsequently settled the claim. The full Particulars of Claim can be found on the Jack of Kent blog. There is a report of the application in the Guardian.
The following reserved judgments after public hearings remain outstanding:
Bowker v Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, heard 21 October 2010 (Sharp J).
Cook v Telegraph Media Group Ltd heard 25 February 2011 (Tugendhat J)