The media law news this week was dominated by the ruling of Mr Justice Mitting in the “Plebgate” libel trial. After a hearing of 8 days (as opposed to the 12 days originally ordered) the judge reserved judgment overnight and delivered it at 2.00pm on Thursday 27 November 2014. A transcript of the ruling is available on Bailii, Mitchell v NGN  EWHC 4014 (QB). We had a post about the media coverage of the judgment.
It should be noted that apart from an order for interim payment of the costs of the preliminary issue (£300,000) the judge has not yet made any order determining either of the actions.
The Judge has only dealt with one of the three preliminary issues – what did Andrew Mitchell say to Toby Rowland? In theory there are other issues to be determined, in practice it seems likely that, after a period of reflection, judgment will be entered for the Sun in the first action and for PC Rowland in the second (for damages to be assessed). So, the highest profile libel action of the year seems likely to have ended with commendable speed and efficiency.
There were three “Operation Elveden” criminal trials in progress last week.
First, there was the HMRC Leak Trial at the Old Bailey involving Sun journalist Clodagh Hartley concluded on 26 November 2014 with the acquittal of Ms Hartley and her co-defendant. We had a post about this. Unsurprisingly, the acquittal was reported in the Sun [£] Peter Preston described it as a “Clive Ponting” moment. The Zelo Street blog points out that Ms Hartley was “shopped by her own bosses”.
Second there was the “Sun Six” trial at Kingston Crown Court – we have had regular posts on this Martin Hickman (courtesy of Hacked Off). The Press Gazette reports included the headlines “Former Sun deputy news editor Ben O’Driscoll accuses colleague Pyatt of lying in evidence” and “Former Sun deputy news editor: Inventing quotes to ’embellish’ stories is ‘standard journalistic practice’”
Finally, there was the Sun ‘Mobile Phone’ Trial at the Old Bailey of Sun journalist Nick Parker. We had a number of posts about this case as well. The Press Gazette had the headline “‘I do not accept I acted unlawfully at all’: Sun journalist defends looking at contents of MP’s Blackberry”
The Article 29 Working Party provided Guidelines [pdf] on the implementation of Google Spain. We had a post about these. As the Press Gazette put it: EU watchdog in new bid to stop publishers side-stepping ‘right to be forgotten’ orders
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
Newspapers, Journalism and regulation
It appears that despite having closed its doors on 8 September 2014, the PCC continues to publish “resolutions” – including 7 in the last week. These are on the PCC website but bear the curious statement
This complaint was originally made to the PCC. As the PCC closed on 8 September the complaint was resolved by the Independent Press Standards Organisation(IPSO) under PCC procedures. IPSO is the new independent regulator of the newspaper and magazine industry.
There is no mention of this curious arrangement on the strangely quiet IPSO website.
We had a post about the PCC and IPSO entitled “Sleepy IPSO, Zombie PCC and the Neglected Public” by Michelle Gribbon
Roy Greenslade reports that the Guardian has “beefed up” its system handling complaints by appointing a panel to work with the readers’ editor.
The Hacked Off Blog has an interesting post about a front page Daily Mirror story “Ebola Terror as passenger dies at Gatwick” – the woman in question had, in fact, not died of Ebola (and not at Gatwick). The paper published a miniscule apology more than 3 months after the original article.
Last Week in the Courts
The trial of Mitchell v NGN, Rowland v Mitchell continued on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Mitting J with judgment being given on Thursday (Mitchell v NGN  EWHC 4014 (QB)).
The “data protection” case of Hegglin v Persons Unknown and Google settled before the commencement of the trial on Monday 24 November 2014 and a short Statement in Open Court [pdf] was read. There was a report of the settlement by Reuters.
On 24 and 25 November 2014, a Seven Judge Bench of the Supreme Court heard the appeal in the case of R (Evans) v HM Attorney-General. Judgment was reserved.
On 25 November 2014 there was an application in the case of Jackson v UMO Ltd before Simler J, who gave an ex tempore judgment.
On 26 November 2014, Sir Michael Tugendhat handed down judgment in the case of Al Saud & anr v Forbes LLC & ors,  EWHC 3823 (QB). As Bloomberg reported, both the claimant and the defendant claimed victory. There was a case note on the One Brick Court website and one on the 5RB website.
On 28 November 2014 Jay J heard an application in the harassment case of ADA v XAA. Judgment was reserved.
Know of any media law events happening later this summer or in the autumn? Please let Inforrm know: email@example.com.
Media Law in Other Jurisdictions
In the case of Polias v Ryall ( NSWSC 1692), Rothman awarded the claimant a total of Aus$340,000 over allegations of theft made orally and on Facebook postings. The case arose out of a misunderstanding which arose between Australian poker players in Las Vegas. There is a report of the judgment in the Sydney Morning Herald.
The Superior Court of Justice of Ontario gave judgment in the case of Awan v. Levant [pdf]. Damages of Can$180,000 were awarded against the controversial right wing commentator Ezra Levant. We had a case comment about this case.
It is reported that Marie-Josee Roig, the Mayor of Avignon, has lost a libel claimed based on the contention that she was identifiable as character who performed a sex act on former President Nicolas Sarkozy in a novel.
Libel reform campaigner Simon Singh has warned that, without libel reform, Belfast could “become the libel capital of the word”.
It is reported that Tessa Romero, who was put in isolation for a month after contracting Ebola, is being sued for libel by a doctor who treated her over claims that she dismissed fears of the virus.
On Monday 1 December 2014, the US Supreme Court will hear argument in the case of Elonis v. United States which concerns the elements of an offence under federal of making threats via the Internet. There is a case preview on the Scotus blog.
Research and Resources
- “The Case for Defamatory Opinion”, Adam Lamparello, SSRN
- Words of Violence, “Fear Speech”, or how violent confliction escalation relates to freedom of expression, Antoine Buyse, Human Rights Quarterly Vol 38, No 4, November 2014
- The Misconceived Search for the Meaning of ‘Speech’ in Freedom of Speech Larry Alexander, San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 14-173, SSRN
- The Right to Be Forgotten: Its Weaknesses and Alternatives, Martha Garcia-Murillo and Ian MacInnes, SSRN
- Freedom of Expression and the Advocacy of Violence: Which Test Should the European Court of Human Rights Adopt?, Andrew Dyer, Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, 2015, Forthcoming, SSRN
- “Plebgate – how new libel laws have changed the defamation landscape”, Adam Tudor, The Times [£]
Next week in the courts
On Monday 1 December 2014, there will be a CMC in the case of OPO v MLA before Simon J. We had a post about the Court of Appeal decision by Dan Tench.
On 3 to 5 December 2014 there will an application to commit for contempt of court in the harassment case of Royal Brompton NHS Trust v Shaikh. The background is set out in this post from the Brett Wilson website about the original judgment. The original decision of HHJ Moloney QC was Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust  EWHC 2857 (QB)
The following reserved judgment in media law cases are outstanding:
Flood v Times Newspapers, heard 8 July 2014 (Sharp and Macur LJJ and Sir Timothy Lloyd).
Mionis v Democratic Press heard 12 November 2014 (Sir David Eady).
R (Evans) v HM Attorney-General, 24 and 25 November 2014 (UK Supreme Court)
ADA v XAA, heard 28 November 2014 (Jay J)