Let the judges blog

The legal blogosphere has been aflame this week with the news, first published on a magistrate’s blog, that the Senior Presiding Judge has sent new guidance to judges banning them from blogging in their judicial capacity. The SPJ has also threatened disciplinary action unless they remove existing content with breaches the new rules.

The key section of the purported guidance is this:

Blogging by members of the judiciary is not prohibited. However, officer holders who blog (or who post comments on other people’s blogs) must not identify themselves as members of the judiciary. They must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general.

The guidance applies to those who blog anonymously because “it is impossible for somebody who blogs anonymously to guarantee that his or her identity cannot be discovered“.

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Levi Bellfield newspaper articles were in contempt of court

Millie Dowler

HM Attorney General v Associated Newspapers Ltd & Anor [2012] EWHC 2029 (Admin) (18 July 2012) Read judgment.

The Divisional Court ruled that reports of Levi Bellfield in the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror, published while a jury was considering his charge of attempted kidnapping, were in contempt of court.

On 6 May 2011, Levi Bellfield’s trial for the murder of Milly Dowler and attempted kidnap of Rachel Cowles began. He had already been convicted in 2008 of the murders of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange, and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy. On 23 June 2011, the jury convicted Mr Bellfield of the murder of Milly Dowler, but had yet to return a verdict on the charge of attempted kidnapping. The Daily Mail and Daily Mirror printed stories on 24 June 2011 including information that wasn’t before the jury in the trial. The question in the resultant contempt proceedings was whether these articles violated the Contempt of Court Act 1981 (CCA).

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Don’t believe everything you read: there is a case for socio-economic rights – Professor Aoife Nolan

Last week, a number of media commentators, politicians and others sought to subvert the second consultation of the Bill of Rights Commission.  This consultation invites views on a number of key issues that form part of the Commission’s mandate. In the Daily Mail’s correspondent’s view, the Commission has committed an appalling transgression by asking potential respondents whether the UK Bill of Rights should include additional rights, referring amongst other things to socio-economic rights. This is echoed by the Sun which argues that the Commission has ‘suggested’ (which it clearly has not) that ‘all Brits be given handouts as a birth right’, and the Daily Express which suggests “Spongers can Sue to Claim Benefits”.

Socio-economic rights are rights that relate to human survival and development.  Like the majority of European and other countries, the UK has volunteered to be bound by a range of such rights as a result of ratifying a number of international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ratified by the UK in 1976); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified in 1992) and the European Social Charter (ratified by the UK in 1962). While these treaties haven’t been made part of our domestic law in the way the European Convention on Human Rights has been as a result of the Human Rights Act, they impose a range of human rights obligations on the UK. The government reports back periodically to the UN expert committees that monitor the implementation of these treaties.

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New Publication: ‘Justice Wide Open’ Working Papers – Judith Townend

The real “democratic deficit” in the courts is about limited public access not “unelected judges“, Adam Wagner argued on the UK Human Rights Blog at the weekend, challenging a recent political and media narrative.

In his view, the internet age necessitates “a completely new understanding of the old adage ‘Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done‘”.

Wagner is one of 14 authors who contributed to a new working publication entitled ‘Justice Wide Open’, produced by the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism (CLJJ), City University London, following an event on February 29 2012. The individual chapters can be accessed electronically.

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There is a democratic deficit in the courts… here’s how to fill it

The current Government often complains about a “democratic deficit” in the courts. It seems that  “unelected judges” are making important decisions on social policy without any kind of democratic mandate, particularly in controversial human rights cases.

I agree that there is a democratic deficit in the courts. But it isn’t about elections. It is about access.

The Government seeks to solve the problem by involving Parliament more in the judicial process, the latest and most striking example being the Home Office’s attempt to codify Article 8 ECHR, the right to private and family life, in immigration cases. The Home Office wants fundamentally to alter the role of the courts, hoping that it will “shift from reviewing the proportionality of individual administrative decisions to reviewing the proportionality of the rules” (see para 39). The argument is that since judges are unaccountable, those who are accountable must be more central in the decisions they make, particularly in sensitive areas such as immigration.

This is attempt to take power away from judges. But why? Continue reading

Justice and Security Bill: The Government is not for turning – Angela Patrick

Publishing the Justice and Security Bill this morning, the Secretary of State for Justice said “I have used the last few months to listen to the concerns of … civil liberties campaigners with whom I usually agree.”

There are many people who today would sorely like to agree that Ken has listened and has taken their concerns on board.  Unfortunately, the Government’s analysis remains fundamentally flawed.  The Green Paper was clearly a “big ask”.  There have undoubtedly been significant changes made from the proposals in the Green Paper.  However, the secret justice proposals in the Justice and Security Bill remain fundamentally unfair, unnecessary and unjustified.

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Common-law open justice lets in the light; Strasbourg not the key

R (o.t.a Guardian Newspapers) v. City of Westminster Magistrates Court, USA as Interested Party, 3 April 2012, Court of Appeal: read judgment

No, not a case about secret trials, but about the way in which newspapers can get hold of court papers in open oral hearings. And, as we shall see, it led to a ringing endorsement of the principle of open justice from the Court of Appeal, leading to production of the documents to the Guardian.

Bribery allegations against a London solicitor and a former executive of a Halliburton company, and extradition sought by the USA and keenly challenged by the defendants. Some lack of clarity as to why the Serious Fraud Office was not prosecuting the defendants. All in all, a tasty morsel for the Guardian to get its teeth into. It was allowed into the hearing,  but then not allowed critical documents provided to the courts, including the written arguments submitted by the USA and the defendants, affidavits supporting the extradition, and various other letters and documents put before the court.

Why not?

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My witness statement to the Leveson Inquiry – Part 2/2

Not me giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry

Last month I was asked to provide a witness statement to the Leveson Inquiry into Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press. You can download the entire statement here, The questions in bold are those asked by the Inquiry in their request – read part 1 here.

On similar topics, I also recommend the statements of Francis FitzGibbon QC and David Allen Green.

(10) Does/Can blogging act as a check on bad journalism?

Yes. The primary reason UKHRB was set up was to act as a corrective to bad journalism about human rights, and in under two years it has become a trusted source of information for journalists, politicians, those in government and members of the public.

UKHRB operates alongside a number of other excellent legal blogs, run by lawyers, students and enthusiasts for free, which provide a similar service in respect of other areas of law. I would highlight, for example[2]:

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My witness statement to the Leveson Inquiry – Part 1/2

Not me giving evidence

Last month I was asked to provide a witness statement to the Leveson Inquiry into Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press. Yesterday it was “read into evidence”, which means I can now publish it. You can download the entire statement here, and I have reproduced (what I think are) the interesting bits below and in a follow-up post. The questions in bold are those asked by the Inquiry in their request. I have not been asked to give oral evidence.

The extent to which you consider what ethics can and should play a role in the blogosphere, and what you consider ‘ethics’ to mean in this context.

The definition of “blogging” is now extremely wide, so much so that the term “blog” has become in essence meaningless.

A blog can be a “web log” within the original meaning of the word, that is a “personal journey published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete entries (“posts”)” (Wikipedia), but it can also be a news and comment website such as UKHRB, a photo-sharing website, a website promoting a business – practically any website can call itself a blog. Mainstream newspapers now produce “blogs” online and as such the boundary between traditional journalism and blogging has also become unclear.

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Supreme Court rules BBC need not reveal internal Israel-Palestine coverage report

Sugar (Deceased) (Represented by Fiona Paveley) (Appellant) v British Broadcasting Corporation (Respondent) [2012] UKSC 4 – Read judgment / press summary

The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that an internal BBC report into its coverage of the Israeli Palestinian conflict was “information held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature” and therefore need not be released to the public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Four of the justices were of the view that even if information is held only partly for the purposes of journalism, art or literature, it is outside the scope of the FOIA. Lord Wilson however, was of the opinion that if information is held predominantly for the purposes of journalism, art or literature, it is outside the scope of FOIA and that the Balen Report was held predominantly for those purposes. The BBC will be relieved that the “partly” view prevailed, as the “predominately” test might in practice have brought a lot of internal documents within the scope of the FOIA.

The “Balen Report” was commissioned by the BBC in 2004 by a senior broadcast journalist, Michael Balen. It was commissioned following allegations of bias in the coverage. Mr Sugar, a solicitor, applied to see the report under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The BBC argued that the report was “information held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature” and therefore fell outside of the Act under the terms of section 7 of Schedule 1 to the Act.

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Times contempt challenge thrown out in Strasbourg

Michael Alexander SECKERSON and TIMES NEWSPAPERS LIMITED against the UK Applications nos. 32844/10 and 33510/10 – Read decision / press release

The European Court of Human Rights has rejected as “inadmissible” Times Newspaper’s challenge to its 2009 conviction for contempt of court. The decision, which was made by seven judges, is a good example of an early stage “strike-out” by the Court which is nonetheless a substantial, reasoned decision (see our posts on the “UK loses 3 out of 4 cases at the court” controversy).

It has been a bad 24 hours for The Times, with its editor being recalled to the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics yesterday to answer questions about the hacking of a police blogger’s email account to reveal his secret identity, and subsequent disclosure (and lack thereof) to the High Court. Ultimately, James Harding appeared to blame the Times’ now-departed in-house lawyer as well as “legal privilege” – see Professor Richard Moorhead’s excellent post on the ethical issues surrounding this.

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Axel Springer and Von Hannover: Grand Chamber victory for media – Inforrm

The media were successful in both the judgments handed down this morning by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.  The judgments made it clear that the right to privacy has to be carefully balanced against contribution which a publication makes to a debate of general interest.  In both cases, taking account of the nature of the individuals involved and the publications the right to freedom of expression prevailed over the right to privacy. 

The judgments demonstrate the need for a careful balancing exercise in privacy cases.   Both cases involved “popular journalism” and show that,  even in this area, privacy is not a “trump card”.  The judgments will be welcomed by the media as showing that the Court of Human Rights remains sensitive to the need to protect its freedom of expression.

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Julian Assange: from the UK Supreme Court to The Simpsons

The Julian Assange circus rolls back into London today for the UK Supreme Court’s 2-day hearing of his appeal against extradition. It will be broadcast on Supreme Court live from 10:30am.

The Wikileaks founder was granted permission in November 2011 to appeal to the Supreme Court under Section 32 of the Extradition Act 2003. If he loses, unless he brings a claim at the European Court of Human Rights, he will have to face charges of sexual assault and rape in Sweden.

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The princess and the actor: two important right to privacy rulings – Inforrm

The European Court of Human Rights has announced today that it will deliver two Grand Chamber judgments, in the cases of Axel Springer AG v Germanyand von Hannover v Germany (No.2) on 7 February 2012.  The cases were both heard more than 15 months ago, on 13 October 2010.

We had a post about the hearing at the time (and an earlier preview).Both cases concern the publication in the media of material which is alleged to be private.  The Axel Springercase concerned the publication in “Bild” of an article about a well-known television actor, being arrested for possession of cocaine. The article was illustrated by three pictures of the actor. The German court granted him an injunction to prohibit the publication of the article and the photos. The applicant company did not challenge the judgment concerning the photos.  The newspaper published a second article in July 2005, which reported on the actor being convicted and fined for illegal possession of drugs after he had made a full confession.

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R (Associated Newspapers) v Lord Justice Leveson: Challenge to Anonymity Ruling Dismissed

Associated Newspapers Ltd, R (on the application of) v Rt Hon Lord Justice Leveson [2012] EWHC 57 – Read judgment

On Friday 20 January 2012 the Administrative Court dismissed the second application for judicial review of the Leveson Inquiry.   The Court dismissed an application by Associated Newspapers (supported by the Daily Telegraph) to quash the decision of the Chairman, Lord Justice Leveson. decision to admit evidence from journalists who wish to remain anonymous on the ground that they fear career blight if they identify themselves.  

Lord Justice Toulson commented “that the issues being investigated by the Inquiry affect the population as a whole. I would be very reluctant to place any fetter on the Chairman pursuing his terms of reference as widely and deeply as he considers necessary”.