Law and Media Round Up – 16 February 2015

16 02 2015

New Round UpTrinity Mirror has published a public apology for phone hacking and revealed that the cost of resolving civil claims will be millions more than anticipated. The company has admitted that “such behaviour represented an unwarranted and unacceptable intrusion into people’s private lives”.

Roy Greenslade praised Trinity Mirror’s decision, arguing that the company was “right to come clean” and contrasting their behaviour with that of Rupert Murdoch’s organisations. Hacked Off released a statement on the decision, arguing that the apology came “four years late”.  We had a post about the apology.

The decision to swap judges in the Sun four retrial has been defended by Mr Justice Sweeney. Last week a legal row began at the Old Bailey after the decision was made to appoint Judge Charles Wide QC rather than continuing with Judge Marks QC, who had presided over the original trial. Judge Sweeney dismissed criticisms of the decision as “absurd”.  There were reports of this decision on the BBC, in the Guardian, the Daily Mail and in the Press Gazette.

The Sunday Times would not, however, let the issue go – in an editorial entitled “Justice must always be seen to done” [£] it appeared to demand that all administrative decisions about the allocation of judges to particular cases be explained publicly. The editorial claimed that, although the complaint concerned journalists employed by its fellow Murdoch newspaper, the Sun, “our concern would be the same whoever was affected”. Long term observers of the newspapers were unable to recall any previous editorial complaining about administrative judicial allocation decisions.

The re-trial of Ryan Sabey, former News of the World journalist, who has been charged in relation to unlawful payments for stories, has begun. He is accused of aiding and abetting his co-defendant, a former British army soldier, who is facing two counts of misconduct in public office.  There were reports of the selection of the jury on Monday and the opening of the prosecution case on Tuesday no further media reports about the trial.

Former Conservative Party Treasurer Lord Fink threatened to sue Labour Leader Ed Miliband if he repeated claims made in the House of Commons that he had avoided tax using a Swiss bank account. However, the following day Lord Fink told the Evening Standard he did not want to sue Mr Miliband and the definition of tax avoidance was so broad that “everyone does it”.  Mr Miliband duly accused Lord Fink of a U-turn and libel lawyers were not troubled.

A Moroccan prince has filed a lawsuit against an Arabic language website after he was accused of plotting to “sabotage the image” of his cousin, King Mohammed VI. He claims the article portrayed him as “dishonest, devious and seriously dishonourable” and left him in “fear of physical attack”.

A woman who was abused by Jimmy Savile has accused the BBC and ITV of “leaving her on her own” after they refused to cover the legal costs for a £300,000 defamation claim brought by Freddie Starr. Karin Ward, 56, is facing a High Court libel trial over accusations that comedian Starr groped her when she was fifteen.

The BBC reports that owners of Blackpool FC are suing a web forum for libel in the latest of a series of actions against fans.

Data Protection

The Information Commissioner has accused the government of “letting people down” on nuisance calls. He has called for the law on nuisance calls and texts to be changed, as current law makes it difficult to issue fines for those who break the rules. The ICO has been calling for a change since 2013.

The Datonomy weekly cyber update was published on 9 February 2015.

Statements in Open Court and Apologies

There were no statements in open court this week.

Newspapers, Journalism and regulation

The Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index has presented a decline on all fronts. The index ranks countries on a range of criteria that include media pluralism and independence, respect for the safety and freedom of journalists, and the legislative, institutional and infrastructural environment in which the media operate. Finland, Norway and Denmark top the list, with Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea in last place.

Last Week in the Courts

We mentioned, last week, the promised hand down on 11 February 2015 of judgment in the case of Cruddas v Calvert, heard on 9, 10 and 11 December 2014.  We understand that the hearing has not, in fact, concluded but is part heard, with another day’s hearing listed for 6 March 2015.  There is no apparent explanation as to why the judgment was, nevertheless, announced in the Court list between 6 and 10 February as being handed down on 11 February.

On 9, 10 and 12 February 2015, seven judge bench of the Supreme Court heard argument in the case of Coventry v Lawrence the issue was

Whether parts of the costs regime introduced by the Access to Justice Act 1999 (now repealed and replaced by the provisions of Part 2 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012), and in particular a claimant’s right to recover any success fee and ATE premium from an unsuccessful defendant, infringed art.6 ECHR and/or art.1 of the First Protocol to the Convention.

Several different interested parties intervened in the case given the potential significance of the decision including the Secretary of State for Justice, the Department of Justice for Northern Ireland, the Bar Council, the Law Society and the Media Lawyers Association.  The written submissions of the Media Lawyer Association can be found here [pdf].

Events

24 February 2015, “Does Privacy Matter?” Launch of IALS Centre for Law and Information Policy, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies

4 March 2015: “Oxford Media Convention, IPPR” Said Business School, University of Oxford

29 April 2015 Advertising & Marketing Law Conference, IBC Legal Conferences, London

12 May 2015, IBC’s 22nd Annual Defamation and Privacy Conference, Grange City Hotel, London

Media Law in Other Jurisdictions

Antigua

The Attorney General has said that he will not give ‘absolute privilege’ to parliamentarians in a new Defamation Act. He has argued that the defence should be excluded as it is “unfair”.

Australia

Billionaire Gina Rinehart has obtained an order for preliminary discovery against Channel Nine, requiring it to provide her with a copy of the second instalment of The House of Hancock, before its transmission.  Garling J in the Supreme Court of New South Wales said that it was likely that the show could contain defamatory imputations in relation to Mrs Rinehart.  It was subsequently reported that Mrs Rinehart and Channel Nine had reached a settlement, with parts of the programme being edited out and the word “fictionalised” being used ahead of the show.

A defamation case which could have cast doubt on a murder acquittal is expected to be settled out of court. Gordon Wood was acquitted of the murder of his girlfriend Caroline Byrne in 2012, and was suing newspaper Nationwide News for suggesting he killed her. Nationwide News was defending the defamation case on the basis that the allegation of murder was true, but it now appears the case will be settled.

Canada

In the case of Caron v. A., 2015 BCCA 47 the Court of Appeal for British Columbia held that statements made to the police prior to the commenced of judicial proceedings are protected by qualified, not absolute privilege.  As a result, a man accused of rape could sue his accuser for defamation after his acquittal.  The man claims his life was ruined by false gossip. He was cleared of the rape claim when he showed he was hundreds of kilometres away at the time. There was a report of the decision in the National Post.

France

Paris City Council are going ahead with plans to sue Fox News for defamation. The lawsuit follows comments claiming Paris has eight “no go zones” where non-Muslims cannot enter and Shariah law applies.

Ireland

A Dublin mother has lost a €50,000 damages claim for defamation after referring to a train ticket inspector as a “fat bastard” when he inquired about her allegedly defaced free travel pass.

Trinidad

The lawsuit brought against the Opposition leader by the former attorney general is set to go ahead. Opposition leader, Rowley, made alleged defamatory statements relating to the extradition of two business men.

USA

The chief executive of Mercy Health, Ohio’s largest health system, has filed a lawsuit against Service Employees International Union No. 1199, alleging invasion of privacy and defamation.

A nurse has won US$2 million in damages in a defamation suit against her former employer. It was found she was illegally fired and then defamed in retaliation for her patient advocacy and union support .

Research and Resources

Next week in the courts

On 16 February 2015, HHJ Parkes QC will hand down judgment in the libel case of Rai v Bholowasia (heard 19-23, and 26 to 27 January 2015)

On 17 February 2015, the Court of Appeal (Munby P, Lewison and King LJJ) will give judgment in the case of JX MX (A child proceeding by her Mother and Litigation Friend Mrs AXMX) v. Dartford & Gravesham NHS Trust (heard 4 December 2014).  We had a case preview on 2 December 2014.

On 18 February 2015, there will be a PTR in the case of Barry v Butler.

Judgments

The following reserved judgment in media law cases are outstanding:

R (Evans) v HM Attorney-General, heard 24 and 25 November 2014 (UK Supreme Court)

Rufus v Elliott, heard 10 December 2014 (McCombe and Sharp LJJ and Mitting J)

OPO v MLA, heard 9 and 20 January 2015 (UK Supreme Court)

Murray v Associated Newspapers, heard 21 January 2015 (Longmore, Ryder and Sharp LJJ)

Lachaux v Independent Print Ltd, heard 4 February 2015 (Sir David Eady).

This Round Up was compiled by Tessa Evans, a journalist and researcher.  She tweets @tessadevans

 


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