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