How to sue in respect of abusive comments on the Internet

Internet-TrollThe Bussey Law Firm PC & Anor v Page [2015] EWHC 563 (QB) – read judgment

The facts of this case are simple. A defamatory comment was posted on the claimant’s Google maps directional page, implying that he was a “loser” as a lawyer and that his firm lost “80%” of cases brought to them. The defendant claimed that someone must have hacked in to his own Google account to put up the post.

There were jurisdictional complications in that the firm is situated in Colarado but these need not concern us here as Sir David Eady, sitting as a High Court judge, allowed the trial to go ahead in England. The real question was  why any third party would have gone to the trouble of hacking into the defendant’s Google account in order to post the offending review; if the objective were merely to hide the hacker’s identity from the claimants, there would be the simpler option of setting up an anonymous Google account. This would in itself render the would-be publisher untraceable, and especially if it were done from a public computer. Continue reading

“Lamentable”, “egregious” and “wholly indefensible”: High Court lambasts local authority’s conduct of care proceedings

imgres-1Northamptonshire County Council v AS, KS and DS [2015] EWFC 7 – read judgment

A Family Division judge has awarded damages under the Human Rights Act against a local authority in what he described as an “unfortunate and woeful case” involving a baby taken into foster care. Mr Justice Keehan cited a “catalogue of errors, omissions, delays and serial breaches of court orders” by Northamptonshire County Council. Unusually, the judge decided to give the judgment in this sensitive case in public in order to set out “the lamentable conduct of this litigation by the local authority.

On 30 January 2013, the local authority placed the child (known as ‘DS’) with foster carers. He was just fifteen days old. In the weeks prior to DS’s birth, his mother’s GP had made a referral to the local authority due to her lack of antenatal care and because she claimed to be sleeping on the street. The mother then told a midwife that she had a new partner. He was a heroin addict.

After the birth DS’s mother avoided seeing her midwife. She frequently moved addresses and conditions at home were exceedingly poor. Three days before DS was taken into care, his mother told social workers that her new partner was being aggressive and threatening to her. She reported that he was leaving used needles around the house. Continue reading

Travails of the War Horse orchestra

War-HorseAshworth and others v the Royal National Theatre [2014] 1176 – read judgment

Anyone who saw one of the early performances of War Horse in its first season at the National Theatre will remember how profoundly moving was the live music, with the musicians visible along the sides of the theatre above the stage.  Since that highly successful (and profitable) first season the role of the orchestra had been radically reduced, and now looks as if it is about to vanish altogether.

Background

War Horse opened at the Olivier Theatre in 2007, but since 2009 it has played at the New London Theatre. The claimants were engaged in March 2009 to play their instruments in the new production,  as a small company of wind players accompanying recorded music.  Productions of War Horse in other parts of the world have relied wholly on recorded music. In light of that, and because both the co-director of War Horse and the composer concluded that it was better for accuracy and impact to deliver the score through recorded music. The National Theatre sent the claimants letters giving notice of termination of their contracts to expire on 15 March 2014. In the letters the National Theatre stated that the grounds were redundancy.

The dispute

The claimants sought an order from the court, prior to the trial of the main action, to require the National Theatre to continue to engage them in the production of War Horse until the trial of their claim. They also relied upon the right to artistic expression protected by Article 10 of the human rights Convention. Continue reading

“Imprecise” injunctions against Facebook unenforceable, says NI judge

Facebook-from-the-GuardianJ19 and Another v Facebook Ireland [2013] NIQB 113 – read judgment

The High Court in Northern Ireland has chosen to depart from the “robust” Strasbourg approach to service providers and their liability for comments hosted on their sites. Such liability, said the judge, was not consonant with the EC Directive on E-Commerce.

This was an application on behalf of the defendant to vary and discharge orders of injunction dated 27 September 2013 made in the case of both plaintiffs. One of the injunctions  restrained “the defendant from placing on its website photographs of the plaintiff, his name, address or any like personal details until further order.” These interim injunctions were awarded pursuant to writs issued by the plaintiffs for damages by reason of  the publication of photographs, information and comments on the Facebook webpages entitled “Irish Blessings”, “Ardoyne under Siege” and “Irish Banter” on 11 September 2013 and on subsequent dates. Continue reading

Guidance from the Supreme Court on human rights damages

prison2aFaulkner, R (on the application of ) v  Secretary of State for Justice and another [2013] UKSC 23 – read judgment

The Supreme Court has taken a fresh look at what is meant by the Human Rights Act exhortation to take Strasbourg jurisprudence “into account” when fashioning remedies for violations of Convention rights, in this case the right not to be arbitrarily detained under Article 5.

These appeals concerned the circumstances in which a prisoner serving a life sentence or an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment for public protection (“IPP”), who has served the minimum period specified for the purposes of retribution and deterrence (the “tariff”), and whose further detention is justified only if it is necessary for the protection of the public, should be awarded damages for delay in reviewing the need for further detention following the expiry of the tariff.

Appellate courts do not ordinarily interfere with an award of damages simply because they would have awarded a different figure if they had tried the case. However, as the Supreme Court was being asked in this case to give guidance on quantum, the Court determined the level of the award that would adequately compensate the appellants. Continue reading

Damages for death and human rights


1362401166_wreathSwift v. Secretary of State for Justice, Court of Appeal, 18 February 2013 – read judgment – on appeal from Eady J, read judgment and my previous post

Ms Swift lost her live-in partner in an accident at work caused by negligence. She was pregnant with her partner’s child, but had only been living with him for 6 months. Had she been with him for 2 years, she could have claimed damages for his death under section 1(3) of the Fatal Accidents Act – set out at [1] of the CA judgment. She would then have been a “dependant” as defined under the FAA. So she argued that her rights under Articles 8 (family) and 14 (discrimination) of the ECHR were not properly respected by the law governing damages for the death of a relative – there was no justification for this stark cut-off – 1 year 11 months no claim, 2 years a claim. The judge refused to grant a declaration of incompatibility between the ECHR and the Fatal Accidents Act, and the Court of Appeal has just upheld his decision.

A lot of money turned on the point:  Had she qualified as a dependant, she would have had a claim for about £400,000.

Continue reading

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