As the legal term moves into full swing and many of our readers complain of “phone hacking exhaustion”, we begin with libel. It has been announced that the long awaited report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Defamation Bill will be published on Wednesday 19 October 2011 at 00:01am.
The Committee explored a large range of issues – both relating to the terms of the Draft Bill and to other consultation issues. Its report will revive the “libel reform” debate – something which, in the light of the developments of 2011 in the media law field had faded into the historical background.
Back to phone hacking and its fall out. This week saw the third of Lord Justice Leveson’s seminar series. We have already posted about this and about Paul Dacre’s remarkable conversion to “co-regulation” – somewhere between Martin Moore’s Options 2 and 3. Although the story was not picked up by most of the press (see Martin Moore’s post), a number of commentators have drawn attention to it, including Brian Cathcart and George Brock.
A quiet week in the phone hacking saga proper, with no arrests or court hearings. There was, however, an important development on Friday afternoon. It was reported that News Group Newspapers had parted company with their long standing solicitors, Farrer & Co who had been replaced by Olswang. However, Farrers will continue to feature in the story, with partner Julian Pike giving evidence to the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Committee at 10.30am on Wednesday 19 October 2011. And on 24 October 2011, Les Hinton will give evidence to the same committee. There is a report on this in the “Guardian”.
The Law Society has issued proceedings against the “Solicitors from Hell” website seeking an injunction to prevent its further publication. The claim is in libel, harassment and data protection.
It is reported that Sergei Polonsky is suing Lebedev, owner of the Independent and London Evening Standard for defamation following their altercation on a television programme in September 2011. Mr Lebedev told the BBC that Polonsky had insulted him for 90 minutes. It appears that criminal proceedings for assault have begun in Russia.
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
We are not aware of any statements in open court this week.
Journalism and the PCC
A lively debate is developing on issues of press regulation. Baroness Buscombe, the outgoing Chair of the PCC, gave the City University “Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism” Annual Lecture in the course of which she suggested a statutory back up to self-regulation
” … if a publisher is “in” the system but doesn’t like an adjudication, he is at liberty to opt out of the system altogether. This is not sustainable, either in principle or in practice.
The solution? There should be some form of back stop power, vested in another body and, given that body needs sufficient powers to demand compliance, it will, regrettably have to be one regulated by the state.
This need not nor should it in any way compromise freedom of expression or lead to some form of licensing; it is just to ensure that compliance with the system is universal and no-one can just choose to opt out”.
Meanwhile, Jon Slattery has a post describing the proposed new “co-regulation” system of media regulation as the “Toyota Prius solution” to press regulation.
Fresh from the appearance of its director Will Moy at the Leveson Inquiry, Full Fact.org has a post on “Shedding light on the PCC complaints process“. The presentation given by Mr Moy can be found here.
Another example of inaccurate press reporting is commented on by the “Angry Mob” blog this week under the headline “Dishonest Journalism has Serious Consequences“. This concerns a false story in the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph that Thomas the Tank Engine had abandoned Christmas in order to be ‘politically correct’. The “Angry Mob” goes on to point out that English Defence League had picked up the story and used it as evidence “that foreigners (read: Muslims) were forcing more British culture to be abandoned“. There is a disturbing thread of EDL comments in the post.
The consistently interesting Roy Greenslade has an article in the “London Evening Standard” this week entitled “Dangers mount for the future of investigative journalism”.
Finally, last week we mentioned Bob Satchwell’s speech “Hacked off with the media: an unholy alliance of Press, Police and Politicians?”. A full version can now be found on the Society of Editors website.
In the Courts
On 10 October 2011 in Sleeman v Panchaud Mr Justice Tugendhat discharged an injunction granted by the Vacation Judge to prevent the publication of a libel. This was a case in which the defendant had said he intended to plead justification and the rule in Bonnard v Perryman applied. Not for the first time, the judge drew attention to the need to require with the requirements of the CPR on a without notice application. There is a 5RB case report.
The same judge reserved two judgments this week. The first was in a slander claim brought by the proprietor of the “Solicitors from Hell” website, Rick Kordowski, against Law Society Chief Executive Des Hudson. The claimant sought summary judgment and the defendant made a cross-application to strike the case out as an abuse of the process. The second, was the trial of a preliminary issue on meaning in the case of Miller v Associated Newspapers.
On Tuesday 11 October 2011 a three judge Court of Appeal heard a permission application in The Queen on the application of Guardian News and Media Limited -v- City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court (on appeal from  EWHC 3376 (Admin)). The case concerns access by the media to court documents in criminal cases. We had a Case Comment on the decision under appeal. Judgment was reserved
The UEA London Lecture will be given by Dr Daithí Mac Síthigh on Thursday 20 October 2011 under the title “Tweeteasy? What does social media mean for the rule of law“.
Media Law in Other Jurisdictions
The Strasbourg Observes blog has a post about the admissibility decision in Karttunen v. Finland which considered, for the first time, the compatibility of the criminalisation of child pornography and Article 10. The case was brought by an artist convicted after an exhibition which included photographs of minors engaged in sexual acts. Not surprisingly the Court decided that Finnish laws against child pornography were plainly justified under Article 10(2) but the post raises some interesting issues about the analysis.
In South Africa it is reported that a R15m defamation lawsuit against Department of Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, filed by a lawyer accused of “hijacking” a company, will be reheard in February 2012. In August 2011, the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria set the judgment aside (Minister of Trade and Industry v Mphahlele and Another  ZAGPPHC 152)
Next Week in the Courts
The most important media law case of the week is Flood v Times Newspapers, due to be heard in the Supreme Court on Monday and Tuesday 17 and 18 October 2011. We have posted a case preview.
On Monday 17 October 2011 Mr Justice Tugendhat will hear an application in the long running libel case of Morrissey v McNicholas & anr – Morrissey having issued the claims in 2007, contending that the NME had accused him of racism.
On Wednesday 19 October 2011 there is an application in the case of Tesla Motors v BBC. We have previously drawn attention to the Claim Form and Particulars of Claim.
The following reserved judgments after public hearings remain outstanding:
WXY v Gewanter, heard 11-15, 18-19 July 2011 (Slade J)
Commissioner of Police v Times Newspapers, heard 18-20 & 22 July 2011 (Tugendhat J)
Morrison v Buckinghamshire CC, heard 20 to 21 July (HHJ Parkes QC)
The Queen on the application of Guardian News and Media Limited -v- City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard 11 October 2011 (Master of the Rolls, Jackson and Aikens LJJ)
Kordowski v Hudson, heard 12 October 2011 (Tugendhat J)
Miller v Associated Newspapers, heard 13 October 2011 (Tugendhat J)