The most important media law story of the week was the Mirror Damages Trial before Mr Justice Mann in the Chancery Division. The case got off to a slow start with whole first day being devoted to preliminary legal issues.
The Claimants’ opening submissions did not finish until Friday morning. The first witness, Alan Yentob, gave evidence on Friday afternoon.
We had daily reports on Inforrm of the opening submissions (see our reports for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday). The case was covered regularly in the Guardian, the Independent and the BBC but also intermittently most of the other mainstream media. Roy Greenslade complained on his blog that the case was “not getting the headlines it deserves”
PC Toby Rowland, the police officer at the centre of the “Plebgate” scandal, has won £80,000 in damages in settlement of his libel action against former chief whip Andrew Mitchell. Mitchell lost his action against News Group newspapers last November, when a judge concluded that he had used the “politically toxic” word when stopped from cycling through vehicle gates at Downing Street.
The far- right group Britain First have been reported for defamation after posting an image of a Navy veteran holding a photoshopped sign. The group posted a photo of Dawud Walid with a sign reading “Boycott bigotry and kill all non Muslims”. The original image, found online, shows a sign reading “Boycott bigotry”. Meanwhile the Jewish Chronicle’s libel lawyer, Simon Gallant, offered some “basic guidelines” on how to tweet without being sued for libel.
Data Protection and Data Privacy
European regulators need to further control civilian drone use, according to a paper released by a House of Lords committee. Tighter controls may include requiring hobbyists to register their equipment on a central database.
The Canadian Radio-television Commission (CRTC) announced that it would issue a Notice of Violation to Compu-Finder, a Quebec-based business, for alleged violations of Canadian anti-spam legislation. The CRTC found that Compu-Finder did not have consent to send commercial emails.
The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has issued a report on the tension between privacy and data protection and cyber security. It is entitled Privacy and Cyber Security, Emphasizing privacy protection in cyber security activities and identifies some key areas where an increased emphasis on privacy protection is required.
The Hawktalk blog looks at the development of a Scottish Population Register/ID card scheme.
Statements in Open Court and Apologies
On 4 March 2015 there was a unilateral statement in open court in the case of Rowland v Mitchell.
Newspapers, Journalism and regulation
Paul Vickers has stood down as the chairman of the publishers’ body that funds IPSO. His resignation came a day after the high court heard allegations of phone hacking “on an industrial scale” at Trinity Mirror’s three national titles while Vickers was legal director. Hacked Off and Roy Greenslade have been demanding his resignation for some time.
A man claiming to be a former Daily Mail news writer has published a scathing article on working for the paper. The article, published on Gawker, claims that the paper’s editorial model depends on “little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication” and that he saw “basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored”. The Daily Mail has released a statement that “utterly refutes” the claims.
The Derby Telegraph have breached three clauses of the Editor’s code, according to a new IPSO ruling. The paper published a story headlined “Girl involved in incident outside Derbyshire secondary school” accompanied by a picture of a girl believed to have been knocked down by a car. IPSO upheld a complaint which claimed the title breached Clause 3 (Privacy),Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 6 (Children).
IPSO has upheld a complaint against the Mail online, but rejected it against The Mail on Sunday over the same article. The complaints refer to a Liz Jones article headlined “The disabled make good staff – unlike baldies with beer bellies”, and argue that the claim made by Jones that she had four “hearing dogs” is misleading. The IPSO complaints committee found that the image used by Mail Online gave the “significantly misleading impression” that the dogs had been provided by the charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. The complaint against The Mail on Sunday, which did not use the same photo as Mail Online, was rejected.
A letter sent by George Galloway’s law firm to tweeters accused of defaming him has been released on twitter. The letter was published by @SuedByGalloway, the Twitter account set up to coordinate a campaign against the MP’s legal actions. The letter issues a demand for £5,000 plus VAT alongside an apology.
Last Week in the Courts
The Mirror Group phone hacking trial, Various Claimants v MGN, began before Mann J on 2 March 2015 and continued through to 6 March 2015.
On 2 and 3 March 2015, the Court of Appeal (Master of the Rolls, Mcfarlane and Sharp LJJ) heard the appeal in the case of Vidal-Hall v Google (ICO Intervening). Judgment was reserved
On 5 March 2015, Warby J gave judgment in the case of Sloutsker v Romanova  EWHC 545 (QB)
On 6 March 2015, Warby J heard an application in the case of Coulson v Wilby. Judgment was reserved.
On 6 March 2015, Sir David Eady gave judgment in the case of The Bussey Law Firm PC v Page  EWHC 563 (QB). The claimants were awarded damages of £50,000. There were articles about the decision in the Law Society Gazette, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Telegraph.
Contrary to the listing on the EWCA Case tracker, there was no hearing last week in the case of Cruddas v Calvert and no judgment was handed down.
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
In the case of De Poi v Advertiser-News  SADC 21 the District Court of South Australia dismissed a claim for libel based on allegation of dishonest electoral practices. The defence of justification was made out. There was a report of the case in the Advertiser.
In the case of Jneid v West Australian Newspapers  WASC 68, Kenneth Martin J dismissed an application by the defendant newspaper to strike out Chase Level 1 imputations based on separate readings of the front page and inside pages of he newspaper. In relation to the question of whether there was an imputation of guilt, the judge observed
Common law jurisprudence in defamation contains no reference to a man on the Clapham omnibus sitting next to a barrister from the Outer Temple who reminds the man to keep forever in mind a ‘Golden Rule’ and who provides a running commentary upon what is or is not proper admissible evidence towards the inferring guilt at a criminal trial. There is good reason – the ordinary reasonable reader does not construe published or spoken words in the same way as a lawyer. 
A teenager who was wrongly identified as a terrorist on the front page on three publications has reached a settlement agreement. Abu Baker Alam was incorrectly identified as Numan Haider – a terrorist who attacked police – on the front pages of The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times. As part of the settlement, Fairfax has agreed to donate $20,000 towards the construction of a proposed Afghan mosque and to pay Mr Alam a confidential amount in damages.
It is reported that billionaire Gina Rineheart is going ahead with plans to sue Channel Nine for defamation and malicious falsehood for the TV mini-series House of Hancock. The mining magnate has filed documents in the NSW Supreme Court claiming both episodes of the two-part series defamed her. The channel cut several scenes from the programme before it was aired, and added a disclaimer to the final episode.
It has been reported that, in what has been described as the “Bikini Girl versus Banana Girl” case, Adelaide personal trainer Kayla Itsines, 23, her partner Tobias Pearce and company Bikini Body Training Company Pty Ltd have lodged a claim for an injunction at the South Australian Supreme Court over alleged defamatory remarks posted online by social media personalities “Freelee the Banana Girl”.
In the case of Focus Graphite Inc. v. Douglas, 2015 ONSC 1104 the Ontario Superior Court of Justice awarded general damages of Can$30,000 to the individual plaintiff in respect of five postings on a bulletin board which were accessed 742 times. An award of aggravated damages of Can$10,000 was made. The corporate plaintiff was awarded Can$25,000.
A man has been charged with obstruction for refusing to give his smartphone password to a customs officer. The Quebec resident is charged under s. 153.1 of the Customs Act, which deals with “hindering” a customs officer.
Calgary’s mayor has been granted a jury trial in a $6m defamation lawsuit. A judge granted Naheed Nenshi’s request on Monday to allow a jury to hear the trial. Cal Wenzel, a home builder, is suing the mayor for comments made during the 2013 municipal election that he says insinuated he broke election laws and runs a mafia-like organisation.
A Cypriot sports journalist has had a defamation lawsuit against three ex-mistresses thrown out of court. The journalist filed the lawsuit after his wife receieved a letter detailing the affairs he had. He claimed the letter implied he was “a man of low moral standards”, thus hurting his dignity and social standing. The man’s wife testified in his defence.
A defamation action against singer Rihanna is no longer proceeding. The action was brought by her former head of security, who claimed he was defamed in an email sent to him and his wife by the singer in 2013. A notice of discontinuance has now been lodged in the case, bringing the proceedings to an end.
It is reported that Tulisa Contostavlos has commenced libel proceedings against the Sun over its reporting of the Mazher Mahmood “cocaine sting” in the High Court in Dublin.
A libel claim by the wife and children of murder victim Paul Degabriele has been dismissed by the court. Degabriele was murdered in one of a series of drive-by shootings in 2013, and was described in a Il-Mument article as a dangerous criminal who had been questioned by the police during murder investigations. The magistrate lauded the offending article as the result of “meticulous research, which had considerably shaken public opinion”.
The Taiwanese High Court has ruled against the former National Security Council secretary-general, who filed a libel suit against screenwriter and author Neil Peng. Peng had made Facebook comments about King’s “special relationship” with President Ma Ying-jeau, but the High Court ruled that these comments were not centered on their sexual orientation.
A lawyer representing the widow of “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle has argued that awarding a $1.8 million defamation verdict to Minnesota Governor Jessie Ventura was incorrect and should be reversed. Ventura, a former pro wrestler and former Minnesota governor, sued Chris Kyle for defamation in 2012 after the best-selling author claimed in his book that he had hit Ventura in a bar.
Research and Resources
- Let Down in Lange, Bill Atkin, New Zealand Law Journal, 442
- European Union Data Protection Law Developments, W Gregory Voss, Business Lawyer, Vol 70, No.1, 2015.
Next week in the courts
The Mirror Group phone hacking trial. Various Claimants v MGN Ltd, will continue before Mann J and is likely to occupy the whole of the week and perhaps go into the following week.
On 9 March 2015, Sharp LJ will hear a renewed application for permission to appeal in the case of Contostavlos v News Group Newspapers.
On 12 March 2015, the Court of Appeal (Longmore, Ryder and Briggs LJJ) will hand down judgment in the case of Levi v Bates.
On 12 March 2015, the two day trial in the case of Barry v Butler will begin.
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)
OPO v MLA, heard 19 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).
YXB v TNO, heard 26 February 2015, (Warby J).
Vidal-Hall v Google Inc heard 8 December 2014 and 2-3 March 2015 (Master of the Rolls, Macfarlane and Sharp LJJ)
Coulson v Wilby heard 6 March 2015 (Warby J).
This Round Up was compiled by Tessa Evans, a journalist and researcher. She tweets @tessadevans