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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Bank Mellat’s $4bn A1P1 claim gathers pace

bank_MellatBank Mellat v HM Treasury [2015] EWHC 1258 (Comm), Flaux J, 6 May 2015, read judgment

Two recent judgments underscoring the potential high cost of the UK getting it wrong in its dealing with businesses and hence being liable to pay damages under the Human Rights Act for breach of its A1P1 obligations. Regular readers will know that A1P1 is the ECHR right to peaceful enjoyment of property.

The first case was the photovoltaics case of Breyer, all about reducing renewables subsidies unfairly: see my post of last week here. The second, this case, involves a much more direct form of impact, namely the Treasury’s direction under the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 that no-one else should have any commercial dealings with Bank Mellat, because, the Treasury said, the Bank had connections with Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme. 

Bank Mellat’s challenge got to the Supreme Court: see judgment and my post. The Court (a damn’d close run thing – 5:4) concluded that the direction was arbitrary and irrational and procedurally unfair. The nub of the complaint is that there were other Iranian banks against whom this very draconian measure was not taken, and that there was nothing specific about the Bank which made it more implicated than the rest of the banking system.

The Supreme Court remitted the case for trial as to HRA damages.

The current judgment of Flaux J is the first stage in that trial process. As we will see, Bank Mellat are distinct winners at this stage.

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Local authorities and judicial review: they should not put their heads completely in the sands

728631_de6cf1deMidcounties Co-Operative Ltd v. Forest of Dean [2015] EWHC 1251 (Admin) 6 May 2015, Singh J, read judgment here

Out of what some may think to be an everyday spat between the Co-Op (existing  supermarket) and an out-of-town supermarket proposer, comes a salutary reminder from Singh J that local authorities cannot behave like private litigants when they are judicially reviewed. Different rules apply.

A little bit of context. Cinderford, like many small towns, has been subject to supermarket wars for some years. Unfortunately, the local planning authority got its reasons for supporting an out-of-town project wrong. And they were successfully challenged on judicial review – once, and then twice, and then, as we shall see, for a third time. And the response on this last occasion to the challenge – we disagree with the challenge, but we won’t appear to dispute it, and will leave it all to the supermarket to whom we gave planning permission to say why we were not unlawful in granting them permission.

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A1P1 claims by photovoltaics get to the Court of Appeal

Department of Energy and Climate Change v. Breyer Group plc and others  [2015] EWCA Civ 408, 28 April 2015 read judgment

In 2011, DECC decided to change the rules about subsidies for photovoltaic schemes, and caused substantial losses to those who had contracted or were about to contract on the basis of the more generous old subsidies. 

This is prime territory for a damages claim under A1P1 ECHR. The Court of Appeal has recently dismissed an appeal by DECC against a decision of Coulson J (see my post here) supportive of such claims.  The decision was on preliminary issues involving assumed facts, but important legal arguments advanced by DECC were rejected by the CA. 

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Supreme Court: no excuses, UK must comply with EU air pollution law


NO2_PicR (ClientEarth) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food &  Rural Affairs, Supreme Court, 29 April 2015, judgment here

Bit of a history to this one, with 5 hearings so far. The short version is that in May 2013, the UK Supreme Court (here), faced with the UK’s non-compliance with EU Directive 2008/50 (nitrogen dioxide etc in air), decide  to refer various issues to the CJEU in Luxembourg.  In 2014, the CJEU said its piece, (C404-13 and my post here), and its views are now considered by the Supreme Court, hence this second SC judgment.

The UK has been in breach of Article 13 of the Air Quality Directive since 1 January 2010, by not complying with pollution limits in specified areas. ClientEarth, an environmental NGO, sought to enforce the Directive in the national courts.  Defra admitted breach of Article 13 and the lower courts said that, given that admission, it was for the EU Commission, if it wished, to take infraction proceedings.  The Supreme Court’s 2013 judgement disagreed; it granted a declaration that the UK was in breach of Article 13, and posed various questions about the meaning and enforcement of the Directive to the CJEU.

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Supreme Court: the common law working out illegality defence

_41773060_mtic_carousel416x302Jetivia v. Bilta [2015] UKSC 23, 22 April 2015 – read judgment

Nigel Farage is quoted yesterday as preferring immigrants to be Australians and Indians rather than EU citizens, because they probably speak English and “understand common law.” 

Nice coincidence, then, that on the same day the Supreme Court came out with a perfect illustration of the potential difficulties of the common law process. This is the latest (but unlikely to be the last) instalment from the Court going to the question as to whether some crime by a claimant ought to stop his claim in its tracks.

The issue is well demonstrated by this claim, in effect a carousel fraud (see pic and see my post here), in which a company the victim of a fraud seeks to recoup losses from the fraudsters and is met with the argument – but your directors were in on the fraud too. How does the law deal with this?

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Why we should see Andrew Lansley’s diary in the run up to 2011 NHS reforms

article-2122241-1243AB4D000005DC-216_468x286Department of Health v. Information Commissioner et al [2015] UKUT 159, 30 March 2015, Charles J read judgment Simon Lewis requested that the Department of Health supply him with copies of the ministerial diary of Andrew Lansley from May 2010 until April 2011, via a Freedom of Information request. Mr Lewis’s interest in all this is not revealed in the judgment, but I dare say included seeing whether the Minister was being lobbied by private companies eager to muscle in on the NHS in this critical period. But such is the nature of FOIA litigation that it does not really  look at the motive of the requester – and this case does not tell us what the diary showed. Indeed by the time of this appeal, Lewis was untraceable, and the burden of the argument in favour of disclosure was taken up by the Information Commissioner.   The real interest in this decision is in Charles J’s robust agreement with the First Tier Tribunal that the information should be disclosed. In so doing, he fully endorsed the criticisms made by the FTT of the eminent civil servants who gave evidence before the FTT – in trenchant terms, as we shall see. He also gave an interesting account of how the public interest qualification should be applied in response to FOIA requests. Continue reading