Mcgrath v Dawkins, Amazon and others  EWHC B3 (QB) -read judgment
In an interesting ruling on a strike-out action against a libel claim, a High Court judge has delineated the scope for defamation in blog posts and discussion threads where the audience is small and the libel limited.
The claimant, C, is the author of a book entitled “The Attempted Murder of God: Hidden Science You Really Need To Know”. Published at the same time on the same general topic, but taking the opposite side, was “The Grand Design: New Answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life” by the very well-known scientist Professor Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. Both books were available for purchase through the Amazon UK website run by the third defendant.
Amazon includes an online public-access facility, through which any member of the public may publish their own review of a book for sale on the site, and others may post comments on that review, or on previous comments, so creating a “thread” which may be read by any internet user worldwide. Since Prof. Hawking’s book was likely to attract far more interest among readers than C’s, he decided to raise the profile of his own work. In September 2010 he posted a purported review of the Hawking book, signed by “Scrooby”, which began by giving the details of his own book, and then went on to claim that this book “answered all doubts raised in [Hawking’s] book” and was an “antidote to this misguided book”. As the judgment continues Continue reading →
This may sound like a rather dreary topic, but the problem is vitally important for the proper reach of environmental and personal injury law. Some may have seen from my post on the Erika disaster the difficult issues which can arise when a multi–national (in that case, Total) does business through a number of corporate entities, particularly where they are domiciled in different countries. But the present case is a good example where liabilities are not confined to the party directly responsible for the injury or disaster. Good thing, too, for this claimant, who stood to gain nothing from his former employer, a company now dissolved, or indeed its insurers.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s Mr Chandler worked for a Cape company, Cape Products, loading bricks. Asbestos was also produced at his workplace, and dust from that part of the works was allowed to blow around the works. Mr Chandler recently contracted asbestosis, and wanted to claim for the admitted negligence of Cape Products. But Cape Products was no more, and there had been excluded from its employers liability insurance any cover for pneumoconiosis. So that led nowhere. Hence this claim against Cape Plc, its parent company, on the basis that Cape Plc had “assumed” responsibility for the health of its subsidiary’s employees.
What – if anything – can a claimant do when she suspects that the domestic law is not only out of kilter with Strasbourg jurisprudence but is also denying her even an opportunity to bring a claim? Taking arms against a whole legal system may be an heroic ideal, but the mundane reality is a strike out under CPR rule 3.4 by a district judge in the County Court. It is a long way from there to the European Court of Human Rights.
This was the position in which Patricia Reynolds and her daughter Catherine King found themselves following the sad death of (respectively) their son and brother. David Reynolds suffered from schizophrenia. On 16 March 2005 he contacted his NHS Care Co-ordinator and told him that he was hearing voices telling him to kill himself. There were no beds available in the local psychiatric unit, so Mr Reynolds was placed in a Council run intensive support unit. His room was on the sixth floor and at about 10.30 that night Mr Reynolds broke his (non-reinforced) window and fell to his death. Continue reading →
The reverse suffered by the claimants in the noisy motor racing case case before the Court of Appeal last month was something of a body blow to common lawyers and environmentalists. So this latest development in nuisance litigation should be welcome news.
As David Hart’s report suggests, the Court of Appeal pulls no punches in its critique of the High Court judgment which dismissed the claims of 152 households on the basis that a landfill operator had abided by the terms of its permit. Reasserting the private law rights of individuals in nuisance actions, Carnwath LJ observes that this case has been
a sad illustration of what can happen when apparently unlimited resources, financial and intellectual, are thrown at an apparently simple dispute such as one about nuisance by escaping smells. The fundamental principles of law were settled by the end of the 19th century and have remained resilient and effective since then.
The common law, he notes, is best when it is simple. And in this judgement he returns nuisance to the simple statement of reciprocity and neighbourliness where it belongs.
There are a few propositions – not many – in Carnwath LJ’s judgment which will serve as a clear, short checklist for the viability of a nuisance action. Continue reading →
Merchant International v Naftogaz International  EWCA Civ 196 – read judgment
The Court of Appeal has ruled that domestic courts may refuse to recognise a judgment of another Convention country on the basis that it failed to respect the fair trial principles in Article 6.
In this case the Ukraine Supreme Court was said to have “flagrantly” disregarded the principle of legal certainty. Whilst the English court should apply a strong presumption that the procedures of other Convention States complied with Article 6, it was not wrong for an English court to consider whether a judgment of a court of a Convention State contravened the Convention. Continue reading →
Stott v Thomas Cook Operators and British Airways Plc  EWCA Civ 66 – read judgment
If you need reminding of what it feels like when the candy-floss of human rights is abruptly snatched away, take a flight. Full body scanners and other security checks are nothing to the array of potential outrages awaiting passengers boarding an aircraft. Air passengers in general surrender their rights at the point of ticket purchase.
The Warsaw Convention casts its long shadow. It was signed between two world wars, at the dawn of commercial aviation, when international agreement had to be secured at all costs. These strong interests survived the negotiation of the 1999 Montreal Convention, now part of EU law as the Montreal Regulation.
Yet so powerful is the desire to travel, and so beleaguered it is now with the threat of spiralling aviation fuel prices and environmental taxes, that we are happier to surrender our freedoms at airports than we are anywhere else – hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, schools, and even on the public highways.
Dobson and others v Thames Water Utilities Ltd  EWHC 3253 – read judgment
David Hart QC acted for the defendants in this case. He has played no part in the writing of this post.
An operator carrying out activities authorised by legislation is immune from common law nuisance liability unless the claimant can prove negligence. Any damages for such a nuisance will constitute “sufficient just satisfaction” for the purpose of the Human Rights Act; even if breach of a Convention right is proved, no further remedy will be available.
It has been a long established canon of common law that no action will lie in nuisance against a body whose operation interferes in one way or another with neighbouring land, where Parliament has authorised the construction and use of an undertaking or works, and there is a statutory scheme in existence which is inconsistent with such liability.
The proposals have been little reported, save for journalist Joshua Rozenberg, channeling Dinah Rose QC, warning that they will “undermine a fundamental constitutional right:”. Perhaps legal correspondents prefer to pick over testimony from the glamorous Leveson Inquiry as opposed to complicated government proposals involving clunky phrases – some would say fig leaves – like “Closed Material Procedure” and “Special Advocate”.
But these proposals are extremely important. If they become law, which is likely given the lack of opposition from any of the main parties, the justice system will look very different in the coming years. Many civil hearings could be held in secret, and although (as the Government argues anyway) more justice may be done, undoubtedly less will be seen to be done.
A Roman Catholic diocese can be held liable for the negligent acts of a priest it has appointed, the High Court has ruled. The ruling is a preliminary issue in the Claimant’s proceedings against alleged sexual abuse and rape at a children’s home. The trial of these allegations are to follow.
The Claimant, a 47-year-old woman, is suing the Portsmouth Roman Catholic diocese for the injury she alleges she suffered from abuse and rape while living at a children’s home run by the diocese in the early 1970s. The priest involved, Father Baldwin, is now dead. The High Court was asked to determine, before the trial of the allegation, whether the diocese – that is, the district under supervision of the Bishop – could be held liable for Father Baldwin’s acts; whether the principle of vicarious liability applies to a diocesan bishop for the acts of a priest he has appointed.
When you breathed in asbestos fibres from your dusty shipbuilding job on the River Clyde in the 1950s and 1960s, some of those fibres stuck around in the lungs. Some may cause the pleural plaques seen on my image, some may cause asbestosis, and some may lead to the highly malignant mesothelioma.
So your doctor (20+ years later when these diseases manifest themselves) would X-ray you and tell you what form of the disease you had. If he told you you had pleural plaques, you would, at first, breathe a huge sigh of relief that it was not mesothelioma. Because pleural plaques are almost invariably asymptomatic and harmless.
But on second thoughts, now you know you have indeed been exposed to asbestos such that you might develop mesothelioma – and you have seen colleagues die a miserable death from that disease. So, when you leave your chest physician’s room, you are worried, not about what you have, but about what you might get. Do you get damages for this? And anyway, where do the human rights in my title – those under Article 1 of Protocol 1 to ECHR, or the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions – come into this story? Continue reading →
On Thursday 28th July, the Supreme Court heard a “permission to appeal” argument in the British nuclear testing case. The judgment to be appealed is that of the Court of Appeal Civil Division in Ministry of Defence v AB and others EWCA Civ 1317 – (Smith and Leveson LJJ and Sir Mark Waller).
In terse legalese, the issue to be appealed is whether the Court of Appeal – (1) applied the wrong legal test for knowledge in section 14 of the Limitation Act 1980, and (2) adopted the wrong legal approach to the exercise of discretion under section 33 of the Act. The Supreme Court granted permission for the appeal – see BBC 28th July and The Independent 28th July.
1 Crown Office Row’s Peter Skelton appeared for The Security Services in this case. He is not the author of this post.
On Wednesday last week, the Supreme Court handed out two apparently contradictory judgments on what seemed to be the same issue – see our reports here and here. Had they taken leave of their senses? In one case, the court appeared to say, there was no illegality or human rights-incompatibility with a procedure that dispensed with the requirement that all the material must be shown to both parties in every case. In the other, it ruled that such a “closed procedure” was such an insult to “fundamental” common law principles of open justice and fairness that no court, however lofty, would have the jurisdiction to order it without statutory authority.
The key to this apparent inconsistency lies in the principles at the heart of these cases, which pull in opposite directions: the principle of fair and open justice, or, in Article 6 terms, “equality of arms,” versus the principle that gives weight to the interests of national security.
In Tariq v Home Office the Court considered the permissibility and compatibility with European Union law and the European Convention of a closed material procedure authorised by certain statutory provisions. The issues in that case centred on the lawfulness and effect of those provisions and their compatibility with, amongst others, Article 6 of the Convention, whereas in Al Rawi v Home Office the Court was concerned with the position at common law. This superficially small distinction made the world of difference to the outcome of both cases. Continue reading →
Atapattu, R. (On the Application of) v The Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 1388 (Admin) – read judgment
1 Crown Office Row’s John Joliffe appeared for the Secretary of State the Home Department in this case. He is not the writer of this post.
This case on the wrongful retention of the passport of a Sri Lankan national raises some interesting questions about the scope of the duty owed by the Home Office’s agents when exercising their powers of entry clearance under the Immigration Act 1971.
The question in this case was whether the claimant, who had applied for a United Kingdom student visa, could sue the Secretary of State for the Home Department for damages for conversion under the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977. There were other submissions, that the withholding of the passport breached his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 and that the Secretary of State was liable to him in negligence. Continue reading →
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