“What’s in a name”? Privacy and anonymous speech on the Internet

internet-anonymityKeynote speech by Lord Neuberger at 5 RB Conference on the Internet, 30 September 2014

The President of the Supreme Court has delivered a very interesting address on the protections that should be afforded to what might be termed the “new Fourth Estate” – journalism on the internet. The following summary does not do justice to his speech but is meant to act as a taster – download the full text of his talk here.

Lord Neuberger explores the interrelationship of privacy and freedom of expression, particularly in the light of developments in IT, and especially the internet. He recalls a colourful eighteenth century figure who contributed a series of letters to a widely disseminated journal under the pseudonym of “Junius”. He managed to make such effective attacks on public figures he brought about the resignation of the Prime Minister, the Duke of Grafton, in 1770. Because of his anonymity this character was able to make criticisms of the powerful for which others of his time faced prosecution.

Junius offered a voice of firm if sometimes scurrilous criticism, prompting both political and legal change. He is rightly remembered as one of the greatest political writers in an age dominated by great figures, yet his identity [still]  remains a mystery.

And it is this lack of traceability that links Junius with today’s bloggers. Print journalists are – with the exception of writers for The Economist – known figures. But forty percent of the world’s population use the internet, and despite initial expectations that bloggers and tweeters could hide behind pseudonyms, it has turned out to be extremely difficult for internet writers to maintain their anonymity. The public and the courts increasingly recognise the press’ interest in publishing the names of individuals in appropriate circumstances. Continue reading

Anonymity order compatible with Convention and common law – Supreme Court

anonymity21A (Respondent) v British Broadcasting Corporation (Appellant) (Scotland)  [2014] UKSC 25 – read judgment

This appeal related to whether the Scottish Courts took the correct approach to prohibit the publication of a name or other matter in connection with court proceedings under section 11 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, and whether the court’s discretion was properly exercised in this case.  The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal by the BBC.

The following report is based on the Supreme Court’s Press Summary.   References in square brackets are to paragraphs in the judgment.

Background 

A, a foreign national, arrived in the UK in 1991. He was later granted indefinite leave to remain, but in 1996 was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for sexual offences against a child. In 1998, he was served by the Home Secretary with a notice to make a deportation order [4]. He appealed against the decision and protracted proceedings followed in which A cited risks due to his status as a known sex offender of death or ill-treatment (contrary to Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights  should he be deported. A’s identity was withheld in the proceedings from 2001 onwards [5]-[9]. Continue reading

Anonymity Part 2: Child personal injury cases

Mr-Justice-Tugendhat-15_150JXMX (A Child) v Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust  [2013] EWHC 3956 (QB) – read judgment

Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC of 1 Crown Office Row represented the claimant in this case. She has nothing to do with the writing of this post.

In Part 1 on this subject, I discussed medical confidentiality and/or legal restrictions designed to protect the privacy of a mother and child. This case raises the question in a slightly different guise, namely whether the court should make an order that the claimant be identified by letters of the alphabet, and whether there should be other derogations from open justice in the guise of an anonymity order, in a claim for personal injuries by a child or protected party which comes before the court for the approval of a settlement. Continue reading

Court of Appeal refuses anonymity for offender

anonymity21Fagan, R (on the application of) v Times Newspapers Ltd and others [2013] EWCA Civ 1275 – read judgment

Only “clear and cogent evidence” that it was strictly necessary to keep an offender’s identity confidential would lead a court to derogate from the principle of open justice. The possibility of a media campaign that might affect the offender’s resettlement could not work as a justification for banning reporting about that offender, even though a prominent and inaccurate report about him had already led to harassment of his family.

This was an appeal by a serving prisoner, SF, against the dismissal of his application for anonymity and reporting restrictions in judicial review proceedings. Continue reading

Court awards anonymity for victim of libellous “paedophile” allegations

How-to-Remove-Online-Defamation-Review-Using-Legal-Action-2ZAM v CFW & Anor [2013] EWHC 662 (QB) – read judgment

The permanent damage that internet publications can inflict is very much the focus of Tugendhat J’s assessment of damages in this case, encapsulated in the memorable description he quoted in an earlier judgment:

 what is to be found on the internet may become like a tattoo.

Since the advent of internet search engines, information which in the past would have been forgotten (even if it had been received front page coverage) will today remain easily accessible indefinitely. So a libel claimant who has a judgment in his favour nevertheless risks having his name associated with the false allegations for an indefinite period.

This is just what had happened in the present case. The second defendant’s liability for libel had already been established. This hearing was to assess the appropriate level of damages for allegations he had published on the internet, in breach of restraining orders against him, suggesting the claimant was guilty of misappropriation of family funds and paedophilia.   Continue reading

Judge strikes down Facebook page “Keeping our Kids Safe From Predators”

Facebook-from-the-GuardianX v Facebook Ireland Ltd [2012]   NIQB 96 (30 November 2012)   – read judgment

This fascinating case comes to light in the midst of general astonishment at the minimal attention paid in the Leveson Report to the  “wild west” of the internet and the question of social media regulation.

This short  judgement demonstrates that a careful step by step judicial approach – with the cooperation of the defendant of course – may be the route to a range of common law tools that protect individuals from the internet’s incursions in a way which no rigidly formulated statute is capable of doing. As the judge observed mildly,

The law develops incrementally and, as it does so, parallels may foreseeably materialise in factually different contexts.

Background to the case

The plaintiff  (XY) sought an injunction requiring Facebook to remove from its site the page entitled “Keeping Our Kids Safe from Predators”, alternatively requiring Facebook to monitor the contents of the aforementioned page in order to prevent recurrence of publication of any further material relating to the Plaintiff and to remove such content from publication forthwith.  Continue reading

High Court calls for joined-up thinking on disclosure of sex offender information

X (South Yorkshire) v Secretary of State for the Home Department and Chief Constable of Yorkshire  [2012] EWHC 2954 (Admin)- read judgment

The High Court has made an important ruling about the disclosure of information under the Child Sex Offender  Disclosure Scheme (CSOD).

This non statutory arrangement has been in place since March 2010. It  allows members of the public to seek details from the police of a person who has some form of contact with children with a view to ascertaining whether that person has had convictions for sexual offences against children or whether there is other “relevant information” about them which ought to be made available. This request could come from any third party such as a grandparent, neighbour or friend. The  aim of the scheme is described thus:

This is to ensure any safeguarding concerns are thoroughly investigated. A third party making an application would not necessarily receive disclosure as a more appropriate person to receive disclosure may be a parent, guardian or carer.  In the event that the subject has convictions for sexual offences against children, poses a risk of causing harm to the child concerned and disclosure is necessary to protect the child, there is a presumption that this information will be disclosed.

Anya Proops’ post on the Panopticon blog sets out a clear summary and analysis of the ruling by the President of the Queen’s Bench Division and Hickinbottom J. Here are a few more details about the judgment. Continue reading