Category Archives: Comment

Monroe v Hopkins libel case: a retrograde judgment

Is it possible that Britain’s populist polemicist Katie Hopkins may be right? Perhaps, just on this one thing: the outcome of the Jack Monroe libel trial. She says the High Court judge who found against her for her inaccurate and rude tweets against Monroe was wrong and she intends to appeal.

Monroe was awarded £24,000 in damages in the High Court in a row over a tweet implying the food writer and activist approved of defacing a war memorial during an anti-austerity demonstration in Whitehall. Hopkins had simply confused Monroe with left-wing polemicist Laurie Penny. She deleted the tweet but then sent one out  suggesting that, nonetheless, Monroe was a pretty awful person (“social anthrax” was the term used).

In the case Mr Justice Warby noted that:

“Libel consists of the publication by the defendant to one or more third parties of a statement about the claimant which has a tendency to defame the claimant, and causes or is likely to cause serious harm to the claimant’s reputation.”

Serious harm to reputation is crucial, particularly since the Defamation Act of 2013, which enshrined the concept in legislation – with the clear intention of curbing defamation actions seen as wasteful of court time and (one suspects) irritating to the Conservative Government’s friends among newspaper owners. It says at Section 1:

“(1) A statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.”

The intention was to focus on real harm and deter trivial cases. But reading the Monroe judgment, one can’t help thinking that Warby underplayed “serious harm” and somewhat overplayed Monroe’s hurt feelings once Hopkins’s loyal fans got to work on Twitter. This apparently skewed judgment might be the grounds for an appeal.

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Brexit case Miller/Santos: third day digest

Here are some of what seem to this writer crucial exchanges during the third day of the Brexit High Court case R (Miller and Santos) v Secretary of State. They concentrate on exchanges between the judges in the case and the lawyers. The original runs to 160 pages. The digested version of the first day is here. And the second day is here. The links to the transcripts appear at the bottom along with quoted cases and comment. (Note, some page numbers are included; they come at the bottom of the relevant pages ie refer to the text above). A report on the Supreme Court case is here: What if Eadie was right?

The third day of this case (Oct 18)

James Eadie QC on how the Article 50 notification process would work. He notes “there will on any view be considerable further Parliamentary involvement in the future” to which the Lord Chief Justice replied “Mm-hm”.

MR EADIE: [I]f there was an Article 50(2) withdrawal agreement, that would be a treaty between the United Kingdom and the EU.

THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: Yes.

MR EADIE: As such, it is likely that it will come within the procedures in CRAG [Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010]. … It will be a treaty, but I say likely to fall within the procedures within CRAG, because CRAG, like the Ponsonby memorandum which it sought to embody … CRAG only applies to treaties which are subject to a formal process of ratification. See, amongst other things, section 25(3) and (4), and indeed the process of ratification which is the cornerstone of the Act in section 20. Now, almost all treaties are, but not all treaties are, subject to ratification. In other words you can on the international plane enter into an agreement without ratification necessarily following … those agreements do happen but they are pretty rare, and it is considered very likely that this agreement, if entered into, in other words the 50(2) agreement, would be a treaty requiring ratification. Of course one can’t exclude the theoretical possibility that it wouldn’t be.

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The Brexit court case (Miller/Santos): Day one digested

Here are some of what seem to this writer crucial exchanges during the Brexit High Court case R (Miller and Santos) v Secretary of State. mainly to do with Lord Pannick’s first day arguments for the claimants. The links to the transcripts appear at the bottom along with quoted cases and comment. A report/analysis of the Supreme Court case is here: What if Eadie was right?

Firstly, two extracts from the first day of this case (Oct 13)

Exchange between Lord Justice Sales and Lord Pannick QC (for Miller) at page 54/55 of the draft transcript:

SALES LJ: Am I right in thinking that you  say that the effect of the argument for the government  would be that there wouldn’t need to be a repeal of the  1972 Act or section 2 of it, it is just that the content  of the obligation in section 2, EU rights, would fall  away, because they would cease to be EU rights?
16   LORD PANNICK: Precisely. Your Lordship is very aware and  I am not going to enter into any political debate, but  your Lordship knows that the government have announced  that there is going to be a great repeal bill which is  to be produced some time in the next session. I say  that the consequence of the defendant giving  notification will be that at a point in the future, it  is inevitably the case that the United Kingdom leaves  the EU and the consequence of that, as a matter of law,  is that all of the rights enjoyed under section 2(1) and

page 55
section 3(1), which is the process rights relating to the Court of Justice, fall away. There is simply nothing left. And therefore a great repeal bill, politically or otherwise, may be desirable. I say  nothing about that. It will not affect those questions.  Those rights will fall away as a consequence of the  United Kingdom leaving the EU. Because when we leave,  there are no treaty obligations. That is the whole  point of leaving. And indeed that is the government’s  intention. This is not a happenstance, this is the  whole point of notification. Notification is intended  to remove the current substance of section 2(1) and  3(1). Continue reading

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The celebrity threesome and a judicial foursome

Has the UK Supreme Court attempted to put the frighteners on the British press in the “celebrity threesome” sex case of PJS v News Group? The matter has not yet come to full trial, yet Lord Mance, who gave the lead judgment from the interim injunction hearing, has already accepted there is no public interest in the issue of who is PJS, the celebrity in the threesome.

Does this mean the Sun on Sunday, seeking to overturn an injunction against naming the alleged adulterer and his spouse, known as YMA, has been declared the loser before the case is heard?

Lord Mance has also suggested the Supreme Court might be amenable to establishing that damages for publishing such stories could be exemplary (a notion rejected in Mosley v News Group at a lower court level); or perhaps there could be innovative use of an “account of profits” – in effect handing over profit gained from use of private material. In Douglas v Hello regarding Hello’s unauthorised coverage of the Douglas/Zeta-Jones wedding, Lord Phillips said: “Such an approach may also serve to discourage any wrongful publication, at least where it is motivated by money.”

Arguably the court has also favoured the extension of the right to privacy beyond the limits set in the Human Rights Act and (at least until recent years) by Common Law – to the way a story is told rather than the mere confidential facts – thus embedding the so-called judge-made privacy law.

Lord Mance, in introducing his judgment to the press, said this (according to the Guardian):

“There is no public interest, however much it may be of interest to some members of the public, in publishing kiss-and-tell stories or criticisms of private sexual conduct, simply because the persons involved are well-known; and so there is no right to invade privacy by publishing them. It is different if the story has some bearing on the performance of a public office or the correction of a misleading public impression cultivated by the person involved. But … that does not apply here.” 

 This is subtly different from the rather more circumspect phraseology of Mance’s actual judgment, on behalf of himself and three other justices:

There is on present evidence no public interest in any legal sense in the story, however much the respondents may hope that one may emerge on further investigation and/or in evidence at trial, and it [lifting the injunction] would involve significant additional intrusion into the privacy of the appellant, his partner and their children.” (para 44; emphasis added)

The judgment is, quite correctly, hedged around with qualifications whereas the press statement is boldly assertive – and arguably misleading, suggesting that the highest court in the land has established a legal principle and found the Sun on Sunday outside it in seeking to run the PJS story. Why the difference? Continue reading

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Arnold v Britton: Lord Neuberger abolishes common sense

Lord Neuberger, President of the UK Supreme Court, has issued one of his presidential proclamations – which is what he does when he wishes to change the law from his lofty but unaccountable position. Nominally the case he was considering, Arnold v Britton & Others, was a simple enough matter regarding service charges for a set of chalets on the Gower peninsula: clause 3(2) of the lease said the price for work such as mowing grass, maintaining roads through the site and sewers &c was to be £90 in 1974 rising by 10% a year; how should this be interpreted nearly 40 years on when the annual figure was more than £3,000 per chalet and rising? (Inflation would produced a figure of less than £800 by 2012.)

If the charge were truly to rise by 10% a year the lessor would be making a very substantial surplus over the term of the lease thanks to compounding (Year 2: £90 + £9 = £99; year 3: £99 + £9.90 = £108.90 and so on annually.) As Davis LJ in the Court of Appeal noted:

 “The figures before us are illustrative of the consequences. For a lease on a one year compounded uplift, the annual service charge payable was, for the year end 2012, some £3,060. At the same compounded annual rate of increase, the projected annual sum payable for service charges in the last year of the term stands to be some £1,025,004: this for modest holiday chalets, the use of which is restricted to half of each year.”

That’s a million pounds per chalet. There were 25 involved in the litigation but 91 in total, some with a less onerous system of payment for services. The outcomes would vary depending on when the leases were issued. Nevertheless, if the clause in the lease were allowed to stand, the lessors would have pulled in hundreds of millions in pure profit over the 99 years of the lease. This on a term of the lease which, it is axiomatic, should not be profit-making since it is merely for the lessor to recover expenditure on ongoing maintenance of the common facilities (see Lease – though holiday chalet leases aren’t covered by legislation for homes).  Continue reading

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Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards descend into costly chaos

Is Britain’s Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards regime, intended to protect people receiving state care in care homes, hospitals and supported living schemes, turning into an expensive legalistic shambles as a result of a controversial human rights case in the UK Supreme Court? The case, Cheshire West ([2014] UKSC 19 ), was intended to deal with a very real problem: that local authority packages of care for people who lack mental capacity may constitute a breach of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to liberty) – even though they are put in place in the interests of the disabled person and even if they are living in a family home. But a couple of bizarre recent cases in the lower courts suggest there is a real problem.

Critics of the Supreme Court position on Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) talk of “gilded cages” and argue that human rights should not intervene too rigidly in the discretion of social workers acting in the best interests of clients lacking capacity. Nevertheless, to have no protections in place or to deny them to people without capacity would clearly be wrong and specifically a breach of Article 5 and Article 14 (“The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination”.) The Supreme Court came up with a new definition of deprivation of liberty:

“The person is under continuous supervision and control and is not free to leave, and the person lacks capacity to consent to these arrangements.”

Compliance or even agreement by the person involved did not prevent the arrangements being a deprivation of liberty. It followsed from this that social services staff had to put care plans under more intense review and particularly that social services departments could not authorise their own social workers’ schemes when they involve domestic supported living arrangments or complex cases – which require the sanction of the Court of Protection. (Note on the judgment here) Once a court has found deprivation of liberty, a regime of expensive legal safeguards must be put in place with oversight by the courts. This is the real issue of controversy as far as local authorities are concerned.
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Human Rights Act: Are these cases trivial?

It may be worth while looking at a few recent cases under the UK Human Rights Act 1998 – now under threat from the new Conservative Government. They aren’t leading cases but they raise the question of what counts as “trivial” in the mind of the Government (which wants to “Limit the use of Human Rights laws to the most serious cases. They will no longer apply in trivial cases”) and what principles the Government is seeking to abolish with the HRA. In particular why they wish to abolish the principle that:

“Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in [The European Convention on Human Rights] are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.” (ECHR Art 13)

For that is what abolition of the HRA means: that individuals will receive only those human rights Parliament (in effect the Government) says they should receive; and legal barriers will be put in their way of those seeking human rights justice against the State and its offshoots. Section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act makes it illegal for a public authority, which includes a court, to act in a way which is incompatible with Convention rights. That will no longer necessarily be the case.
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