Phone hacking: massive privacy damages

_83144843_hackingcompGulati v. MGN Ltd [2015] EWHC 1482 (Ch), Mann J – judgment here

For some years in the early and mid 2000s, a routine form of news-gathering in the Mirror Group was phone hacking – listening to voicemails left for celebrities by their friends, and then dishing up revelations in their papers.  And this judgment amounts to a comprehensive pay-back time for the years of distress and upset sustained by those celebrities, as the ins and outs of their private lives were played out for the Mirror Group’s profit. The damages awarded well exceeded those previously payable, as justified in the tour de force of a judgment by Mann J. 

Warning – the judgment, compelling though it is, runs to 712 paragraphs. It concerns the assessment of damages in eight cases. The Mirror Group belatedly admitted liability and apologised, not before denying any wrongdoing to the Leveson inquiry. Other claims rest in the wings pending this trial. But with awards between £72,500 and £260,250, the bar has been set high by Mann J.

The claimants (with one exception) were the classic subjects of tabloid columns, namely EastEnders and Corrie stars (or those unfortunate to be married to them), the sometime air hostess girlfriend of Rio Ferdinand, Jude Law’s former wife, Sadie Frost, and, inevitably, Gazza. Seven sued because the hacking led to repeated articles about them. The eighth, Alan Yentob, Creative Director of the BBC, was hacked because of the information derived from the famous people who had left voicemails for him.

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Je suis James: Pianist finally allowed to tell his story of sexual abuse

Guardian: James Rhodes and friends including Benedict Cumberbatch outside Court

Guardian: James Rhodes and friends including Benedict Cumberbatch outside Court

James Rhodes v OPO (by his Litigation Friend BHM) and another, [2015] UKSC 32

The Supreme Court has handed down its judgment in an appeal by the celebrated concert pianist, James Rhodes. You can read the judgment here and watch Lord Toulson’s summary here.

The case considered whether Mr Rhodes could be prevented from publishing his memoir on the basis that to do so would constitute the tort of intentionally causing harm. Those acting on behalf of Mr Rhodes’ son were particularly concerned about the effect upon him of learning of details of his father’s sexual abuse as a child.

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Non-violent extremism: some questions about laws and limits – Robert Gleave and Lawrence McNamara

ExtremismII-2Sajid Javid’s reported objections to the Government’s pre-election proposals on countering extremist ideas uncover just how controversial the new laws will be. He had objected, it seems, to a mooted expansion of Ofcom’s powers to take pre-emptive action to prevent the broadcast of programmes with ‘extremist content’ before they are transmitted. 

That specific proposal may no longer be part of the proposed laws, but Ofcom is likely to be given powers to move against broadcasters after transmission.   And there will be plenty else to discuss when the legislation is likely announced in the Queen’s Speech next week.

The main points have already been revealed when last week the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary announced that new laws will be introduced ‘to make it much harder for people to promote dangerous extremist views in our communities.’ As always in counter-terrorism laws, the relationship between freedom and security will be brought into sharp focus when the proposals are debated. In this piece we set down some of the questions which we think warrant attention.  Continue reading

Plan B – the Hawaii of the North Atlantic? Dr Richard Cornes

fancy-dress-costumes-union-jack-flagConstitutional Futures 2015 – 2025 – a vignette, and comment

 January 1, 2025

As the first day of 2025 dawns the people of the Kingdom of England wake looking forward to the arrival of their new passports, issued by the United States of… America. Governor Farage’s message is unusually sober, encouraging, almost apologetic:

While we had hoped to make our future with the Commonwealth, despite our best efforts, and the tireless advocacy of the Royal Family, we must acknowledge that our former friends are content with their lives and more local partners. We thank Her Majesty, and her family, for their service. We wish them well with their continued public service in Scotland, Canada and elsewhere.

While the bargain our NAFTA partners have struck is a bracing one, it is one which I believe we can live with, and indeed thrive under. As the fifty-first state, the first to join since Hawaii in 1959, we rejoin friends older than the New Zealanders, Australians, Canadians; we go back to our shared Mayflower roots.

President Clinton assures me that she expects Baroness Hale to be confirmed to the Supreme Court. I’m sure she will do great work weaving British principles into our new shared constitution.

With representatives in the House, and Senators Cameron and Umuna in the Senate, we can look forward to a prosperous future as a new and vital part of a nation we can claim have been with, in some ways, since it began.

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The future of public interest litigation?

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 10.37.51These are difficult times for bringing public interest legal cases. The withdrawal of legal aid from many areas has meant that it has become a lot more difficult to fund cases. And the lawyers who are the experts in this kind of litigation are finding it harder and harder to keep practising in the area. 

So bravo to a new initiative, CrowdJustice, a crowdfunding  platform for public interest litigation. For those who don’t know about crowdfunding, it has been a huge success for other kinds of projects through sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. CrowdJustice is already fundraising for its first case, Torres v BP and Others, and there is a nice video on the site which has been cross posted by The Guardian.

Crowdfunding isn’t going to replace Legal Aid, nor is it going to become the main or perhaps even a major source of public interest litigation funding. But in cases that interest the public (is that the same as public interest?), it could become a really important resource. In the age of social media, a cleverly pitched campaign can raise a decent amount of money quickly. And wouldn’t it be interesting if someone could figure out a way of building a kind of crowd funded conditional fee agreement, whereby people get back their money or even a share of the damages if the case is successful?

Good for CrowdJustice – go to the site, share, and if you want to, contribute!

Conscience and cake

4495195_origGareth Lee v. Ashers Baking Co Ltd, Colin McArthur and Karen McArthur [2015] NICty 2 – read judgment here.

In a claim popularly dubbed the ‘gay cake’ case, which has attracted international attention, District Judge Brownlie of the Northern Ireland County Court held yesterday that it was unlawful direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation for a bakery owned by two Christians to refuse to bake a cake which had printed on it a picture of ‘Bert and Ernie’ and the caption ‘Support Gay Marriage’ .

The parties approached the claim from very different standpoints. The Plaintiff, Mr Lee, argued that Mr and Mrs McArthur refused to bake the cake because he was gay. The Defendants argued that they did not know what Mr Lee’s sexual orientation was and it would have made no difference if they had. They would have happily served him a cake of any kind. Rather, they objected to the message on the cake because they felt they would be promoting or supporting a cause which they disagreed with, going against their consciences. They would have refused to bake the same cake for a customer of any sexual orientation.

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No duty of care to disclose to pregnant daughter father’s genetic disease – High Court

12280487228o6zg0ABC v St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust and others [2015] EWHC 139, Nicol J – read judgment

Philip Havers QC  and Hannah Noyce, and Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel Q.C. and Henry Witcomb  of Crown Office Row represented the defendants and claimant respectively in this case. None of them have had anything to do with the writing of this post.

I have blogged before on the Pandora’s box of ethical problems and dilemmas emerging out of our increasing understanding of genetic disorders (see here, here and here), and here is a case that encompasses some of the most difficult of them. Continue reading