Category Archives: Media

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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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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Kiarie and Byndloss: foreign criminals lose Section 94B Immigration Act appeal

UK Court of Appeal judges have rejected cases brought by two men against the use of a tough new law brought in to curb the rights of foreigners convicted of criminal offences to challenge deportation orders — the so called “deport first, appeal later” system.

The judgment is a strong endorsement of the new system in an early legal test of the new Section 94B of  the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act. However, the judges have criticised “misleading” guidance on using the new provision issued by the Home Secretary, Theresa May.

Kevin Kinyanjui Kiarie, born in Kenya, and Courtney Aloysius Byndloss, a Jamaican, have hit the headlines as they challenged the provision that requires some of those facing deportation to leave Britain and make their appeals against deportation from their country of origin.

According to Section 94B of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (inserted in 2014 by the new Immigration Act — see provision below) this procedure should occur if the continued presence of the individual in Britain is considered “not conducive to the public good”.

Under the new provision the Secretary of State would certify this to be the case, and that the individuals’ ECHR Article 6 rights (to a fair hearing at court) would not be harmed by pursuing an appeal against deportation “out of country”. Certification can only occur if the the individual would not “face a real risk of serious irreversible harm if removed to the country or territory to which [the person] is proposed to be removed”.

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Neuberger, Charles’s black spider memos – and the coming constitutional crisis

Judges in Britain are not supposed to strike down primary legislation that has passed through a sovereign Parliament. Yet that, on the face of it, is what seems to have happened in the UK Supreme Court’s judgment on Prince Charles’s “black spider memos”. And it is deeply paradoxical that it is Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, who has committed this apparently unconstitutional act, striking at a core “democratic” principle – that Members of Parliament (albeit a chunk of them unelected) pass laws, not judges.

For Neuberger has in the past expressed fears about the UK Supreme Court becoming a “constitutional court” with a dangerous potential for defying Parliament. In a 2009 BBC interview when he was Master of the Rolls (having refused to continue his role as a House of Lords judge into the new Supreme Court) he talked of the danger of “mucking around” with the British Constitution saying there was a risk  “of judges arrogating to themselves greater powers than they have at the moment”.   Continue reading

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What are the perceived problems with the European Arrest Warrant?

The EAW is one of those strange areas in which Conservatives and others on the Eurosceptic right are deeply concerned about human rights issues. Enfield North MP Nick de Bois, for example, has summed up the EAW issue by saying “cooperation and expediency must not take precedence at the expense of fundamental judicial fairness, fairness and human rights”. Nick de Bois MP pdf)

Gerard Batten, UKIP MEP calls the EAW “a tick-box defendant transfer form-filling exercise that neuters the discretion any national judge may have had over extradition to European Union countries”.

So what exactly are the perceived problems with the European Arrest Warrant? The issues that come up again and again are:  Continue reading

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Edmondson et al: News International hacking judgment and GCHQ scandal

Note: Since publication of this post Privacy International has announced a legal challenge against the GCHQ programme based on European Court of Human Rights proportionality principles.

The first legal skirmish in the Rebekah Brooks/Andrew Coulson phone hacking saga has produced a Court of Appeal judgment with wider ramifications – which could spread into the burgeoning bugging scandal surrounding Britain’s “spy-station” GCHQ.

The phone hacking case need not detain us too long. Edmondson et al v Regina was brought by various top former News International personnel facing conspiracy charges regarding alleged phone hacking, among them Brooks and Coulson. Their contention was that the offence they are accused of, conspiring to intercept other people’s mobile phone voicemail messages, should be dismissed because the alleged hacking was not actually unlawful under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

This is why the case is relevant to GCHQ and the revelations by Edward Snowden of alleged trawling and storing of private communications: Section 1(1) of RIPA says: “It shall be an offence for a person intentionally and without lawful authority to intercept, at any place in the United Kingdom, any communication in the course of its transmission by means of – 
(a) a public postal service; or
 (b) a public telecommunication system.” (Emphasis added.)

The Edmondson defendants claimed no one could be alleged to have “intercepted” messages that had already arrived at the voicemail inbox and been opened for reading by the recipients since they were no longer “in transmission”. They cited S.2(7) of RIPA which says:

For the purposes of this section the times while a communication is being transmitted by means of a telecommunication system shall be taken to include any time when the system by means of which the communication is being, or has been, transmitted is used for storing it in a manner that enables the intended recipient to collect it or otherwise to have access to it.”

The defendants argued that once it had been “accessed” (listened to in the case of a phone message or, presumably, opened if it is a text or email) it is no longer “in the course of its transmission”.

The judges, headed by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, rejected this argument. “Interception” included interception of messages saved on the voicemail facility. The judgment notes:

In this regard it is significant that the intended recipient cannot gain access to the voicemail message without resort to the telecommunication system, but is totally dependent on the system. In these circumstances, there is no good reason why the first receipt of the communication should be considered as bringing the transmission to an end nor is there any support for this within the statutory language. We consider that it is readily apparent from the plain words that it was the intention of Parliament that section 2(7) should extend the course of transmission to include this situation.”

So the appeal was dismissed and the substantive case against the defendants proceeded. Ultimately Coulson was found guilty of conspiring to hack phones while Brooks was acquited (Guardian report).

Issues for GCHQ
The wider implications, however, are that the court has clarified that, no matter where in the process a phone message is captured, it will have been intercepted somewhere in the transmission system and hence potentially unlawfully.

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R (KM) v Cambridgeshire: care and confusion

Some frenzied activity in the media over the last couple of weeks has pointed to how significant adult social care is becoming as an economic, political and legal issue.

Let’s start with the UK Supreme Court case of KM (R (KM) v Cambridgeshire County Council) where confusion has reigned to the extent that, in a remarkable step, the court had to intervene to put right misleading reporting of the case.

KM is “a profoundly disabled man” of 26 who lives with his mother and siblings. He challenged Cambridgeshire County Council’s determination that £85,000 a year from the council would cover his needs to the extent of discharging the council’s duties under section 2(1) of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.

As a result of the grounds on which the Supreme Court had granted leave to appeal, the belief had grown among disablement and care charities that the case would put right a bad judgment in R v Gloucestershire County Council ex parte Barry (1997).

Put simply Barry was a case about whether, and at what point, a local authority could take account of its resources when  considering the social care needs of a disabled individual. The judgment of the majority seemed to suggest resources could be taken into account when deciding which of someone’s “presenting needs” should be met – ie deciding “eligible needs”. The judgment is not a model of clarity, however, and has caused confusion ever since. Part of the problem is the post-code lottery of some authorities being willing to meet a broader range of needs than others.

What the charities want is the maximalist position – that needs must be assessed (at stage one of the process) without looking at resources and then that those needs must be met.

But Barry and KM were looking at two different issues since KM had in fact passed stage one and stage two: The council had assessed his needs and agreed on his eligible needs. The crucial question in KM was not connected with resources; it concerned identifying the reasonable cost of providing the services. Continue reading

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