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

The difference between public and private law – on a beach near me

article-2228546-001DDD4300000258-451_634x411More naturism and the law, in the light of Mr Gough’s travails: see my post of yesterday.

For many years, the beautiful beach upon which Ms Paltrow was seen in Shakespeare in Love (my pic) has been a haven for naturists, even on the chilliest of days when the wind whips in from the north-east. However, things have changed this year. Initially, naturism was banned from the beach completely. The ban has now been lifted for the area of sand below the mean high water mark, but remains in place for the sand dunes.

How so?

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Freedom of expression – nakedness in a public place

Stephen_Gough_at_lands_endGough v. Director of Public Prosecution [2013] EWHC 3267 – read judgment

Mr Gough wishes to walk up and down the UK naked. Others do not approve of this, so his progress has been somewhat stop-start. This appeal concerns a brief and inglorious autumnal outing in Halifax. He was released from the local nick at 11.30 am on 25 October 2012,  wearing only walking boots, socks, a hat, a rucksack and a compass on a lanyard around his neck. “He was otherwise naked and his genitalia were on plain view.” He then walked through Halifax town centre for about 15 minutes.

In the words of the judgment, he received a “mixed reaction” from its inhabitants.  At least one female member of the public veered out of his way. Evidence from two women was to the effect that they were “alarmed and distressed” and “disgusted” at seeing him naked. One of the women was with a number of children at least one of whom, 12 years old, she reported as “shocked and disgusted”. The district judge found that it caused one of the women to feel at risk, and, further, based on the evidence, that it caused alarm or distress.

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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

Strasbourg ties itself in knots over advertising ban

primate adAnimal Defenders International v  United Kingdom, April 22 2013 – read judgment

In what was a profoundly sad day for democracy, on 22 April 2013 the European Court of Human Rights found in favour of the UK government in a landmark test case concerning a TV advertisement produced by ADI in 2005, and subsequently banned under the Communications Act 2003.

This announcement by Animal Defenders International (ADI) describes the fate of a film from which the picture above is taken. The verdict was carried through by a majority of one – eight out of seventeen judges dissented. And the reference to “democracy” in ADI’s response to the judgment is not overblown. The general trend of the majority appears to suggest that it is legitimate, in a democracy, for a government to impose a blanket restriction on the exercise of freedom in the name of broadcasting freedom. Such an aim is not one of those listed in Article 10(2). As some of the dissenting judges pointed out,

The ban itself creates the condition it is supposedly trying to avert – out of fear that small organisations could not win a broadcast competition of ideas, it prevents them from competing at all.

….A robust democracy is not helped by well-intentioned paternalism. Continue reading

Turkish block on Google site breached Article 10 rights, rules Strasbourg

google-sign-9YILDIRIM v. TURKEY – 3111/10 – HEJUD [2012] ECHR 2074 – Read judgment

In the case of Yildrim v Turkey the European Court of Human Rights decided that a Court order blocking access to “Google Sites” in Turkey was a violation of Article 10.  The measure was not “prescribed by law” because it was not reasonably foreseeable or in accordance with the rule of law.  The judgment is available only in French.

He owned and ran a website hosted by the Google Sites service, on which he published his academic work and his opinions on various matters.  On 23 June 2009 the Denizli Criminal Court of First Instance ordered the blocking of an Internet site whose owner had been accused of insulting the memory of Atatürk. The order was issued as a preventive measure in the context of criminal proceedings against the site’s owner.

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The only people really not allowed to mention the Holocaust

Peta Deutschland v Germany  (No. 43481/09) – read judgment

Referring to the concentration camps has become an offence on a par with holocaust denial, it seem, in certain contexts.

In 2004 the applicant animal welfare association planned to start an advertising campaign under the head “The Holocaust on your plate”. The intended campaign, which had been carried out in a similar way in the United States of America, consisted of a number of posters, each of which bore a photograph of concentration camp inmates along with a picture of animals kept in mass stocks, accompanied by a short text. One of the posters showed a photograph of emaciated, naked concentration camp inmates alongside a photograph of starving cattle under the heading “walking skeletons”. Other posters showed a photograph of piled up human dead bodies alongside a photograph of a pile of slaughtered pigs under the heading “final humiliation” and of rows of inmates lying on stock beds alongside rows of chicken in laying batteries under the heading “if animals are concerned, everybody becomes a Nazi”. Another poster depicting a starving, naked male inmate alongside a starving cattle bore the title “The Holocaust on your plate” and the text “Between 1938 and 1945, 12 million human beings were killed in the Holocaust. As many animals are killed every hour in Europe for the purpose of human consumption”.

Three individuals filed a request with the Berlin Regional Court to be granted an injunction ordering the applicant association to desist from publishing or from allowing the publication of seven specified posters via the internet, in a public exhibition or in any other form. They submitted that the intended campaign was offensive to them as survivors of the holocaust and violated their human dignity. Continue reading

South African Constitutional Court flexes its muscles on prior restraint

Print Media South Africa v Minister of Home Affairs  ([2012] ZACC 22) – read judgment.

In a “momentous”  ruling on freedom of speech, the Constitutional Court has struck down a legislative provision on prior restraint,  “based on vague and overly broad criteria”, as offensive to the right to freedom of expression.

As the attorney for the amicus curiae Dario Milo explains in the Weekly Mail and Guardian (reposted on Inforrm), the court went even further than the relief contended for by the applicants, by striking down the entire provision as unconstitutional, rather than allowing certain criteria to be clarified  in accordance with the Bill of Rights.

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Alien poster campaign’s anti-religious message

Updated | Mouvement Raëlien Suisse v Switzerland [2012] ECHR 1598 (13 July 2012) - read judgment

This case concerned the Swiss authorities’ refusal to allow an association to put up posters featuring extraterrestrials and a flying saucer on the ground that it engaged in activities that were considered immoral.

The association complained it had suffered a violation of its right to freedom of expression. The Grand Chamber did not agree, ruling that the refusal had met a “pressing social need” and that the authorities had not overstepped the broad margin of appreciation given to them in view of the non-political dimension of the poster campaign.

At first blush there is nothing remarkable about this ruling. But it was a narrow majority (nine votes to eight) and a brief reading of the dissenting opinions gives pause for thought: does the slightly loony nature of a message justify its suppression? Lurking behind the authorities’ refusal to allow the association’s advertising campaign is a sense of disapproval vis a vis their anti-Christian message;  one of the campaigns the association wished to conduct featured a poster stating “God does not exist”, and on another, below the association’s website, ran the message “Science at last replaces religion”. Continue reading

Police denied TV footage of Dale Farm evictions

BSkyB and another, R(on the application of) v Chelmsford Crown Court [2012] EWHC 1295 (Admin) – read judgment

The police failed to satisfy the court that their need for footage taken by TV organisations was likely to be of substantial value to criminal investigations and therefore would be a justified interference with the rights of a free press under Article 10 of the Human Rights Convention.

Sky, BBC, ITN etc. succeeded in quashing an order to produce of 100+ hours of video footage to Essex Police of  the Dale Farm protesters on the grounds that there were no “reasonable grounds” for believing that the footage of over 100 hours included material likely to be of substantial value to the investigation.

Background facts

After the Dale Farm evictions and the disorder that ensued, the police sought an order for the recordings taken by the claimant organisations to help identify those who had committed indictable offences when attempting to prevent the eviction.  They submitted that it was necessary, not least for the prevention of similar disorder on future occasions, to identify as many as possible of those who committed indictable offences in attempting to frustrate the lawful enforcement procedures. Production orders were duly made by Chelmsford Crown Court, defendant in this action. Continue reading

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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Is internet access a human right?

A recent United Nations Human Rights Council report examined the important question of whether internet access is a human right.  

Whilst the Special Rapporteur’s conclusions are nuanced in respect of blocking sites or providing limited access, he is clear that restricting access completely will always be a breach of article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right to freedom of expression.

But not everyone agrees with the United Nations’ conclusion. Vinton Cerf, a so-calledfather of the internet” and a Vice-President at Google, argued in a New York Times editorial that internet access is not a human right:

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Anonymity ain’t here anymore for Take That’s Howard Donald

Adakini Ntuli v Howard Donald [2010] EWCA Civ 1276 – Read judgment

Take That’s Howard Donald has failed to maintain an injunction against the press reporting details of his relationship with a former girlfriend. He had originally sought the injunction after receiving a text from the woman saying: “Why shud I continue 2 suffer financially 4 the sake of loyalty when selling my story will sort my life out?”

‘Superinjunctions’ have received a great deal of press coverage recently, not least because they are usually granted in cases involving celebrities’ private lives. They are injunctions, usually in privacy or breach of confidence cases, which prevent not only the publication of certain matters, but even the publication of the existence of legal proceedings. These cases are of particular interest because of the competing ECHR rights in play: Article 8, the right to respect for private and family life, and Article 10, the right to freedom of expression.

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Libel reform debate media round-up [updated x 3]

We posted on Friday that the libel reform debate is hotting up now that the Coalition Government has pledged to reform the law of libel. We are following the debate because of the wide-ranging implications any significant reform will have for the law of freedom of expression, as a number of articles published over the weekend demonstrate.

Lord Lester, who has recently produced a draft libel reform bill, writes in the Times:

The chilling effect of our current libel law needs urgently to be tackled by the government and parliament. I hope that my bill will be the catalyst for much-needed legislative reform.

John Kampfner, chief executive of Index on Censorship, an organisation which aims to promote freedom of expression, writes in the Guardian:

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Evolution of a right to freedom of information?

For much longer?

Whichever party wins today’s General Election, freedom of information in and outside the courts will be a key issue for the incoming government. In light of this, Hugh Tomlinson QC asks whether a “right to freedom of information” is evolving through human rights case law in an interesting piece on the International Form for Responsible Media Blog (Inforrm).

The Government is under increasing pressure to release information which was once uncontroversially secret. As we posted yesterday, freedom of information is a hot topic in the courts at the moment, specifically in the context of the security services and the information they are obliged to disclose to defendants in criminal trials and claimants in civil proceedings. In those scenarios, the right to a fair trial was conditional on a right to see information which goes to the heart of that trial (Article 6 ECHR). However, when divorced from the right to a fair trial, there is as yet no explicit right to information.

Article 10 of the Convention only extends to the right to “hold opinions and to receive and impart information“. This does not necessarily entail a right to access confidential Government information. Hugh Tomlinson says:

This has often been identified as an important weakness in the Convention. However, the position is changing: the Convention is a “living instrument” and recent case law suggests that, in accordance with international trends, the Convention may be evolving its own “right to freedom of information” as a fact of the right to freedom of expression in Article 10 of the Convention.

We posted recently on the the robust freedom of expression enjoyed by those living in the United States, as compared to the arguably less robust freedoms in the UK under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998. Freedom of expression has gone hand in hand in the United States with superior access to government information. The US Freedom of Information Act was passed by Lyndon Johnson in 1966. It is only with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, sister-legislation to the Human Rights Act, that the UK has begun to catch up. The development of a right to freedom of information would close that gap further. As Tomlinson argues:

… the Court of Human Rights has recognised that there can be a right to access to official information. In some cases this has been done by reference to Article 8 of the Convention… Most recently, in the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union case (Társaság a Szabadságjogokért v. HungaryJudgment of 14 April 2009) the applicant had been refused access to a constitutional complaint made by an MP. The Court said that “the law cannot allow arbitrary restrictions which may become a form of indirect censorship should the authorities create obstacles to the gathering of information” [27]

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