Weekly round-up: Dominic Raab resignation, Fox news settlement, love-bombing.
24 April 2023
Dominic Raab has resigned as deputy prime minister after a bullying inquiry vindicated a number of civil servants’ claims about his behaviour as a minister in the cabinets of Boris Johnson and Theresa May. The report of Andrew Tolley KC held that Raab’s behaviour constituted an “abuse or misuse of power,” citing instances of an intimidating and discouraging attitude towards the civil servants he worked with. Tolley referred to the ruling of the High Court in the 2021 case concerning the behaviour of Priti Patel towards civil servants, in which it was provided that harassment and bullying through intimidating and insulting behaviour were not consistent with the Ministerial Code. In his resignation letter, Raab said that Tolley’s findings were “flawed and set a dangerous precedent for the conduct of good government … it will encourage spurious complaints against ministers.”
The lawsuit between Dominion Voting Systems and Fox News was settled before trial with a $786.5m pay-out. The voting machines company alleged that Fox news presenters knowingly made false claims that it had rigged the 2020 presidential election result for Biden, while the news corporation framed their defence as a protection of free speech. To win at trial, Dominion’s claims faced a high bar: they would have had to prove that Fox’s statements were made in ‘actual malice,’ meaning either the corporation knowingly made the false statements or acted with reckless disregard for their falsity. Documents released to the public revealed the commercial pressures on executives and presenters to appeal to pro-Trump viewers. Commentators suggest Fox owner Rupert Murdoch wanted to avoid cross-examination of himself and his news stars at trial. The news company still faces a similar lawsuit from voting technology company, Smartmatic, which released a statement claiming that “Fox needed a villain. Without any true villain, defendants invented one.”
The CBI has suspended its work until June in the wake of a series of rape and sexual assault allegations from employees, which have prompted firms to relinquish membership of the business lobbying group. One female employee of the group claims she was raped by two colleagues, and criticises the CBI’s lack of sufficient human resources support for workers outside London. The City of London police have launched an investigation into the accusations, and reports suggest the CBI could be facing a deluge of civil law claims. The group’s director-general, Tony Danker, stepped aside in March 2023 after other accusations of inappropriate workplace conduct came to light. He has commented that he has been used as the “fall guy” for the CBI’s broader problems.
In other news
The CPS has published information about ‘love-bombing’ in guidance for the prosecution of abusive partners for controlling and coercive behaviour. Showering partners with demonstrations of love and affection is a tactic used to manipulate victims’ behaviour and mislead police investigations. The advice comes after the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, an anti-stalking charity, complained publicly that there were “deep-rooted systematic issues” in the investigation of stalking claims, with only 5 percent of reports resulting in a charge.
Rebecca Vardy has trademarked the phrase “Wagatha Christie” after her libel case defeat against Coleen Rooney. The move may give Vardy an opportunity to make back some of Rooney’s legal fees, which the High Court had ordered her to pay last year. A theatrical production of the legal drama about to be staged in the West End, entitled ‘Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial,’ may be threatened by the trademark.
In the courts
In Morgan and others (Respondents) v Ministry of Justice (Appellant) (Northern Ireland)  UKSC 14, the Supreme Court set aside the Court of Appeal’s declaration that an element of the Counter Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021 was incompatible with the ECHR. The relevant provision held that no prisoner convicted of certain terrorism offences could be released on licence before they had served two-thirds of their sentence. The Respondents successfully applied to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that this violated Article 7 (no punishment without law), before the Ministry of Justice’s appeal to the Supreme Court dismissed the declaration.
In N.M. v. Belgium (application no. 43966/19), the CHR held that the 31-month pre-extradition detention of an Algerian national in Belgian prison for security reasons had not breached the Convention. The Belgian administration was deemed not to have violated Articles 5.1 (right to liberty and security), 5.4 (right to a speedy review of the lawfulness of detention) and 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment). The Court recognised the governments justification on the grounds of the applicant’s dangerousness and the need to protect public order and national security, in relation to his terrorist group affiliation. The duration of the applicant’s detention had not exceeded the reasonable time required to achieve Belgium government’s aim, extradition.
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