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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Police retention of photographs unlawful, High Court rules

The Queen, on the application of (1) RMC and (2) FJ – and – Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. Read judgment.

Liberal societies tend to view the retention of citizens’ private information by an arm of the state, without individuals’ consent, with suspicion. Last week, the High Court ruled that the automatic retention of photographs taken on arrest – even where the there is no prosecution, or the person is acquitted – for at least six years was an unlawful interference with the right to respect for private life of Article 8 of the ECHR, as enshrined in the Human Rights Act.

The case was brought by two individuals. One, known as RMC, was arrested for assault occasioning actual bodily harm after she was stopped riding a cycle on a footpath. The second, known as FJ, was arrested on suspicion of rape of his second cousin at the age of 12. In both cases, the individuals voluntarily attended the police station, where they were interviewed, fingerprinted and photographed and DNA samples were taken form them, but the CPS decided not to prosecute.

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UK passes ‘human rights exam’, but with room to improve

Last week the UN Human Rights Commissioner published the draft report of the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UK’s human rights record (draft report here,  webcast of the UPR session here). The UPR involves delegations from UN member states asking questions and make recommendations to the UK government on the protection of human rights, which the government will consider before providing its response. The report is extremely wide-ranging, perhaps to its detriment, though many valuable and interesting insights are provided.

The UPR process was established in 2006. It involves a review of all 192 UN member states once every four years. As readers of this blog will know, the protection of human rights has a troubled recent history in the UK, with newspaper campaigns against “the hated Human Rights Act” providing the background to government pronouncements on human rights that veer from the sensible to the ridiculous. In this context, the UPR provides a valuable attempt at a serious assessment of human rights in this country.

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Comment: How will the Defamation Bill protect free speech?

As expected, last week’s Queen’s Speech included plans to reform libel law. This follows a concerted campaign to improve protection of the right to free expression and bring greater clarity to England’s libel law. But the question for those who wanted to see reform, now the Defamation Bill has been published, is whether the reforms proposed will be the right ones.

The media law blog, Inforrm, published this summary of the Bill, which takes a detailed look at the main clauses. Law blog Jack of Kent also has a libel reform resource page here. Among others, the Bill would make the following major changes:

  • Create a test of “serious harm” for statements to be considered defamatory.
  • Abolish the common law defences of fair comment, justification and Reynolds privilege, and place them on a statutory footing.
  • Create a new statutory privilege for peer-reviewed scientific and academic publications and provide greater protection to online entities.
  • Amend the existing law of qualified privilege to include reports of scientific conferences and press conferences.

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Censure of councillor for “sarcastic, lampooning and disrespectful” blog breached his free speech rights

Calver, R (on the application of) v The Adjudication Panel for Wales [2012] EWHC 1172 (Admin) – Read judgment

The decision to censure a Welsh councillor for comments on his blog was a disproportionate interference with his right to freedom of expression, the High Court has ruled. This right requires a broad interpretation of what counts as “political speech” – even when the speech is sarcastic and mocking.

Lewis Malcolm Calver is a councillor on the Manorbier Community Council and Pembrokeshire County Council and the owner/writer of the at www.manorbier.com blog. These proceedings arose when Mr Calver was censured by the Standards Committee for Pembrokeshire County Council for comments or articles on his blog, which criticised the running of Manorbier Council.

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Consultation on children’s heart surgery was lawful, rules Court of Appeal

Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, R (on the application of) v Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts & Anor [2012] EWCA Civ 472 – Read judgment.

Marina Wheeler of 1 Crown Office Row appeared for the successful Appellant in this case. She is not the author of this post

When is reorganisation of healthcare services unlawful? When can consultation, rather than a final decision, successfully be challenged? These were the questions dealt with by the Court of Appeal in relation to the reconfiguration of paediatric heart surgery services. The Bristol Royal Infirmary scandal had left these services in need of change; the Court of Appeal found that there was nothing unlawful in the consultation process resulting in the Royal Brompton failing to be chosen as one of the two specialist centres in London.

Following the failures in Bristol that were subject to a public inquiry in 1998, there have been a number of reports on paediatric heart surgical care. This is an extremely specialised area of medicine. The recent trend has been for such specialist areas (another example is major trauma care) to become concentrated in fewer hospitals: the principle being that when professionals come into contact with such work more regularly they become better at it; spreading such cases wide and thin results in poor outcomes.

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The rising cost of free speech: Reynolds, contempt and Twitter

Free speech is under attack. Or so it seems. The last few weeks have been abuzz with stories to do with free speech: a Supreme Court ruling on the Reynolds defence to libel; contempt of court proceedings against an MP for comments made in a book and the latest in a growing line of criminal trials for Twitter offences. The diversity of media at the heart of these stories – print news, traditional books and online ‘micro-blogging’ –  indicates the difficulty of the task for the legal system.

Flood v Times: how does this affect calls for libel reform?

On 21 March, the Supreme Court affirmed the Times newspaper’s reliance on the Reynolds defence to libel – often referred to as Reynolds privilege or the responsible journalism defence – to a claim by a detective sergeant in the Metropolitan Police.

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