New Year, new tort of misuse of private information

google-sign-9Vidal Hall and Ors v Google Inc [2014] EWHC 13 (QB) – read judgment

A group of UK Google users called ‘Safari Users Against Google’s Secret Tracking’ have claimed that the tracking and collation of information about of their internet usage by Google amounts to misuse of personal information, and a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998The Judge confirmed that misuse of personal information was a distinct tort. He also held that the English courts had jurisdiction to try the claims. 

Mr Justice Tugendhat’s decision was on the basis that (1) there was a distinct tort of the misuse of private information (2) there was a serious issue to be tried on the merits in respect of the claims for misuse and for breach of the DPA; (3) the claims were made in tort and damage had been sustained in the jurisdiction and (4) England was clearly therefore the most appropriate forum for the trial.

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Plebgate and costs budgets – The Sun off the hook for big bucks

Jackson_0_0Mitchell v. News Group Newspapers 27 November 2013, CA  read judgment

We all know the story about how Andrew Mitchell MP may, or may not, have tried to barge past policeman in Downing Street with the memorable phrase “you’re f…ing plebs”. Like a lot of good stories, it may not be true, and like a lot of good stories it was picked up by The Sun. So Mr Mitchell sues The Sun in libel on the basis that it is untrue.

But this decision of the Court of Appeal is all about the reforms initiated by the man to my left, Sir Rupert Jackson, also a judge in the CA, who has shaken up the whole system of legal costs in civil litigation. And one of the major steps he has taken is to compel litigants to say what they intend to spend on a case early on – the costs budget – so that the judges can make some assessment of whether the thing is to be run sensibly or extravagantly.

Cue the present argument, where our MP’s lawyers do not file their costs budget on time, which is 7 days before the relevant hearing. So the parties go before the court, and The Sun says – we did our bit on time but we only got their budget yesterday, and we are not ready. To cut a long story short, The Sun now stand to recover a budgeted figure of £589,555 if they win, but our hapless MP (or his lawyers) will only recover his court fees if he wins.

How so?

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Top Gear up before Top Judges

car-of-the-future-tesla-roadster-tested-at-top-gear-2685_2Tesla Motors Ltd and another v British Broadcasting Corporation  [2013] EWCA Civ 152  – read judgment

The Court of Appeal has refused an appeal against the strike out of a libel claim against the BBC in relation to a review of an electric sports car by the “Top Gear” programme. The judge below had been correct in concluding that there was no sufficient prospect of the manufacturer recovering a substantial sum of damages such as to justify continuing the case to trial.

The manufactures of an electric sports car made two of their “Roadsters” available to BBC’s “Top Gear” programme for review.  The show’s tests were designed to push the cars to the limits of their performance in terms of acceleration, straight line speed, cornering and handling. One of the cars was driven by the presenter of the show, Jeremy Clarkson, who was filmed driving it round the test track and commenting on his experience.   Continue reading

Priests are not press meat, says Strasbourg

priestVerlagsruppe News Gmbh and Bobi v Austria (Application no. 59631/09) HEJUD [2012] ECHR 2012 (04 December 2012)

Hard on the heels of the Facebook case, here is another legal dust up over the media’s sharp interest in any story involving allegations of inappropriate sexual relations, particularly in the Catholic church.

Following a police investigation into internet downloads, the principal of a Roman Catholic seminary in Austria became the target of unwelcome interest from the tabloid press, including the second applicant, who published a series of articles and photographs alleging that  Mr Küchl was engaging in homosexual relations with the seminarians. One article identified the seminarian principal, whose face was clearly identifiable from the accompanying photograph. The article was entitled “Go on!” (Trau dich doch). The sub-heading read “Porn scandal. Photographic evidence of sexual antics between priests and their students has thrown the diocese of St Pölten into disarray. First the principal and now the deputy principal have resigned. High-ranking dignitaries expect Kurt Krenn [the bishop of the diocese] to be removed from office.” Continue reading

Twitter users “free to speak not what they ought to say, but what they feel”

Paul Chambers v DPP [2012] EWHC 2157 – Read judgment

The famous ‘Twitter joke’ conviction of Paul Chambers has been overturned on appeal, bringing welcome clarity to what is and what is not an offence of this type. On discovering a week before he was due to take a flight that the airport was closed due to adverse weather conditions, he tweeted that “I am blowing the airport sky high!!” unless the situation was resolved by the time of his flight. He was convicted of sending a message of a “menacing character”, but has had the conviction quashed on appeal, on the basis that, as it was a joke, it was not of a menacing character.

“I had decided to resort to terrorism”

Mr Chambers was intending to fly out of Robin Hood Airport on 15 January 2010 to meet a romantic partner he met on Twitter. On 6 January, via Twitter, he became aware that severe weather was causing problems at the airport, and engaged in a conversation on Twitter where he made the following comments:

“…I was thinking that if it does [close due to adverse weather] then I had
decided to resort to terrorism”

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Comment: How will the Defamation Bill protect free speech?

As expected, last week’s Queen’s Speech included plans to reform libel law. This follows a concerted campaign to improve protection of the right to free expression and bring greater clarity to England’s libel law. But the question for those who wanted to see reform, now the Defamation Bill has been published, is whether the reforms proposed will be the right ones.

The media law blog, Inforrm, published this summary of the Bill, which takes a detailed look at the main clauses. Law blog Jack of Kent also has a libel reform resource page here. Among others, the Bill would make the following major changes:

  • Create a test of “serious harm” for statements to be considered defamatory.
  • Abolish the common law defences of fair comment, justification and Reynolds privilege, and place them on a statutory footing.
  • Create a new statutory privilege for peer-reviewed scientific and academic publications and provide greater protection to online entities.
  • Amend the existing law of qualified privilege to include reports of scientific conferences and press conferences.

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Libel on the internet: Christian author takes on Dawkins and Amazon

Mcgrath v Dawkins, Amazon and others [2012] EWHC B3 (QB) -read judgment

In an interesting ruling on a strike-out action against a libel claim, a High Court judge has delineated the scope for defamation in blog posts and discussion threads where the audience is small and the libel limited.

Background

The claimant, C,  is the author of a book entitled “The Attempted Murder of God: Hidden Science You Really Need To Know”. Published at the same time on the same general topic, but taking the opposite side, was “The Grand Design: New Answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life” by the very well-known scientist Professor Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.  Both books were available for purchase through the Amazon UK website run by the third defendant.

Amazon includes an online public-access facility, through which any member of the public may publish their own review of a book for sale on the site, and others may post comments on that review, or on previous comments, so creating a “thread” which may be read by any internet user worldwide.  Since Prof. Hawking’s book was likely to attract far more interest among readers than C’s, he decided to raise the profile of his own work. In September 2010 he posted a purported review of the Hawking book, signed by “Scrooby”, which began by giving the details of his own book, and then went on to claim that this book “answered all doubts raised in [Hawking's] book” and was an “antidote to this misguided book”. As the judgment continues Continue reading

The rising cost of free speech: Reynolds, contempt and Twitter

Free speech is under attack. Or so it seems. The last few weeks have been abuzz with stories to do with free speech: a Supreme Court ruling on the Reynolds defence to libel; contempt of court proceedings against an MP for comments made in a book and the latest in a growing line of criminal trials for Twitter offences. The diversity of media at the heart of these stories – print news, traditional books and online ‘micro-blogging’ –  indicates the difficulty of the task for the legal system.

Flood v Times: how does this affect calls for libel reform?

On 21 March, the Supreme Court affirmed the Times newspaper’s reliance on the Reynolds defence to libel – often referred to as Reynolds privilege or the responsible journalism defence – to a claim by a detective sergeant in the Metropolitan Police.

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Times can use leaked Police documents in libel defence

Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis & Anor v Times Newspapers Ltd & Anor [2011] EWHC 2705 (QB) (24 October 2011) – Read judgment.

Mr Justice Tugendhat has held that, with restrictions, The Times Newspapers Ltd (TNL)  should be allowed to use information from leaked documents in its defence to a libel claim brought by the Metropolitan Police Service and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). However, proportionality limited the reach of this judgment to the next stage in the libel claim, after which reassessment may be necessary.

It was held that restrictions in the order made did not interfere with TNL’s right to a fair trial in the libel case nor offend its right to freedom of expression. Decisions on specific documents was dealt with in a closed judgment because of the sensitivity of the subject matter.

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Ferdinand v MGN – a “Kiss n’ Tell” public interest defence succeeds – Lorna Skinner

Ferdinand v Mgn Ltd (Rev 2) [2011] EWHC 2454 (QB) – Read judgment

In the first “misuse of private information” trial against a newspaper since Max Mosley in 2008, Mr Justice Nicol dismissed a claim brough by England and Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand against the “Sunday Mirror”.

The Judge found that, although the claimant’s Article 8 rights to private and family life were engaged, there was a public interest in correcting a false image promoted by the claimant.  It was also held that the article contributed to a debate as to the claimant’s fitness to be a role model in the light of his appointment as England football captain.

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Analysis – Daily Mirror and The Sun in contempt over Jo Yeates murder case

Her Majesty’s Attorney-General Claimant – and – (1) MGN Limited Defendants (2) News Group Newspapers Limited – Read judgment

The High Court has found that the Daily Mirror and The Sun were in breach of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 (1981 Act) in relation to their reporting of the Jo Yeates murder case. The court was strongly critical of the “vilification” of a man who was arrested but quickly released without charge.

The proceedings were in relation to Christopher Jefferies, a school teacher who was arrested early on in the investigation. The court fined the Daily Mirror £50,000 and The Sun £18,000.

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News: Joshua Rozenberg Interviews Mr Justice Eady

The latest issue of the Index on Censorship magazine is entitled “Privacy is Dead! Long live privacy” and includes an interview with Mr Justice Eady, conducted by the veteran legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg entitled “Balancing Acts“.  

This is a rare example of an interview with a serving judge.  It was conducted on 11 April 2011 – before heat was turned up in the “Superinjunction Spring”.   Despite the worst efforts of the “Sunday Times” – of which more in a moment – the interview contains few surprises for those who have taken the trouble to read Mr Justice Eady’s judgments (and lectures) on the subject of privacy.

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Let’s talk about sex

In 1991 US band Salt-n-Pepa reached number 2 in the UK charts with Let’s Talk About Sex. It is difficult to imagine now, 20 years on, why such an inoffensive and gently educational song generated huge controversy.

That difficulty highlights how much less prudish we are about sex now than we were then. Salt-n-Pepa talked about sex on the “radio and video shows“. Now the song would include Twitter, YouTube and Facebook too. In the post-internet age, sex is everywhere. So why are judges and politicians still making decisions about whose sex the public can or cannot talk about?

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MP has “revealed” footballer’s name, but is it safe to repeat it?

John Hemming MP has somewhat predictably “revealed” the name of a footballer who has been trying to keep his alleged affair with a reality TV contestant private, and breached the traditional “sub judice” rule in the process. Does this mean that the privacy injunction in question is now effectively defunct?

Hemming made his move just hours after Mr Justice Eady in the High Court maintained the injunction against an application by News Group International, despite the fact that many users of Twitter have apparently revealed his name. Eady took a principled stance:

Should the court buckle every time one of its orders meets widespread disobedience or defiance? In a democratic society, if a law is deemed to be unenforceable or unpopular, it is for the legislature to make such changes as it decides are appropriate.

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Turns out there weren’t that many super-injunctions after all

Lord Neuberger has published his long-awaited report on super-injunctions. His committee was set up in April 2010 in order to “examine the issues around the use of injunctions which bind the press and so-called ‘super-injunctions“.

In summary, the report emphasises the principles of open justice and the right to freedom of speech, and that courts should “ensure that any derogation from open justice is the minimum necessary to secure the proper administration of justice”. It recommends that Civil Procedure Rule 39.2 (concerning public hearings) should be amended to make reference to the strict necessity test.

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