Enables ministers to use regulation to add to the list of possible ‘victims’ of hate crime. There are already suggestions that misogyny will be added.
The definition of hate crime is extended to include ‘aggravation of offences by prejudice’.
Creates a new crime of ‘stirring up hatred’ against any of the groups which the Bill protects.
Updates and amalgamates existing hate crime law.
Abolishes the offence of blasphemy.
In addition, a new offence of misogynistic harassment is being considered.
The Bill was created following Lord Bracadale’s independent review of hate crime law. Official figures show that hate crime is on the rise in Scotland and the Bill seeks to address this.
However, the Bill has caused considerable concern. Many have suggested that the Bill unduly restricts freedom of speech. The President of the Law Society of Scotland, Amanda Millar, said she had “significant reservations” and indicated that “views expressed or even an actor’s performance” could result in a criminal conviction.
Groups ranging from the Catholic Church to the National Secular Society have also spoken against the plans. The Scottish Newspaper Society expressed reservations.
Some have claimed that JK Rowling, who recently tweeted her views about transgender rights/ feminism, could be imprisoned for 7 years under the Bill. Opponents also point to the experience of Threatening Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act 2012, which sought to target football hooliganism. The Act was later repealed due to concerns about freedom of speech and its ineffectiveness.
James Kelly, Labour’s justice spokesman, has pointed out that the Bill would not require ‘intention’ in order for criminality to be found. He suggested that religious views could be negatively affected by the proposals.
In response, the Scottish government points out that the Bill makes clear that criticising religious beliefs or practices does not, in itself, constitute a criminal offence. Ministers have also emphasised that the draft legislation seeks to protect minorities and oppressed groups.
There have been significant protests in the USA following the death of George Floyd. Mr Floyd, a black man, died after his neck was knelt on whilst he was being detained. Mr Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe, but despite this the position was maintained for several minutes.
Derek Chauvin, the white officer who detained him, has been arrested and charged with murder. Three other officers have been sacked. The County Prosecutor has suggested it is likely they will also be charged in due course.
The case has triggered widespread protests about the treatment of black people by the police. Previous incidents, such as the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, exacerbate concerns. Thousands also protested in London, where the march moved from Trafalgar Square to the US embassy (located in South London).
In the US the largely peaceful protests have been marred by looting and arson attacks. The police station in Minneapolis was set on fire. A number of US cities have imposed curfews which have been defied. Police have used tear gas and rubber bullets to try and control crowds.
A black CNN journalist and his camera crew were arrested by police whilst reporting in a protest in Minnesota. The group was later released and the governor apologised for the arrest.
Conor Monighan brings us the latest updates in human rights law
Credit: The Guardian
In the News:
The High Court has heard how MI5, which is responsible for domestic spying operations, may have unlawfully retained the data of innocent civilians for years.
Liberty’s challenge centres on the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which gives the security services the ability to access digital devices and electronic communications. It alleges that the system of information gathering used by the security services is illegal.
As part of a systemic judicial review, the High Court was told MI5 had realised that there were problems with their data handling in January 2016, but that the Prime Minister and Home Secretary were only informed in April. It was also alleged that MI5 has been holding sensitive data without proper safeguards. Liberty argued that the security services had submitted warrant applications which misled judges, because the agencies had incorrectly suggested sensitive data was being properly protected.
Much of the case will be heard in private over the next week.
Conor Monighan brings us the latest updates in human rights law
Credit: The Guardian
In the News:
This week saw a novel legal challenge which may have significant consequences for the Equality Act 2010. The case arose following the dismissal of Jordi Casamitjana by the League Against Cruel Sports on the grounds of gross misconduct. This was because he released information showing that the pension fund of employees was being invested in firms engaging in animal testing. However, Mr Casamitjana claims he was discriminated against by his former employer because he is vegan.
Mr Casamitjana alleges that he first raised his concerns about the pension investments internally. He says the charity responded by offering staff an alternative ‘ethical’ investment strategy with lower rates of return. Mr Casamitjana subsequently wrote to colleagues saying that their money was still being invested in non-ethical funds, and that there were other alternative investments available with good financial outcomes.
Mr Casamitjana argues that his sacking was due to the charity discriminating against his belief in ‘ethical veganism’. The League strongly deny the allegations and have stated Mr Casamitjana was dismissed purely because of gross misconduct.
The dispute means that an employment tribunal will have to decide whether veganism is a ‘belief’ which should be protected by the Equality Act 2010. It is thought to be the first time this issue has been raised. The ruling could have significant consequences for the provision of goods and services, as well as on employment rights more generally. However, others have warned that recognising too many views as protected characteristics would be excessively restrictive. Continue reading →
Vidal Hall and Ors v Google Inc  EWHC 13 (QB) – read judgment
A group of UK Google users called ‘Safari Users Against Google’s Secret Tracking’ have claimed that the tracking and collation of information about of their internet usage by Google amounts to misuse of personal information, and a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998. The Judge confirmed that misuse of personal information was a distinct tort. He also held that the English courts had jurisdiction to try the claims.
Mr Justice Tugendhat’s decision was on the basis that (1) there was a distinct tort of the misuse of private information (2) there was a serious issue to be tried on the merits in respect of the claims for misuse and for breach of the DPA; (3) the claims were made in tort and damage had been sustained in the jurisdiction and (4) England was clearly therefore the most appropriate forum for the trial.
Mitchell v. News Group Newspapers 27 November 2013, CA read judgment
We all know the story about how Andrew Mitchell MP may, or may not, have tried to barge past policeman in Downing Street with the memorable phrase “you’re f…ing plebs”. Like a lot of good stories, it may not be true, and like a lot of good stories it was picked up by The Sun. So Mr Mitchell sues The Sun in libel on the basis that it is untrue.
But this decision of the Court of Appeal is all about the reforms initiated by the man to my left, Sir Rupert Jackson, also a judge in the CA, who has shaken up the whole system of legal costs in civil litigation. And one of the major steps he has taken is to compel litigants to say what they intend to spend on a case early on – the costs budget – so that the judges can make some assessment of whether the thing is to be run sensibly or extravagantly.
Cue the present argument, where our MP’s lawyers do not file their costs budget on time, which is 7 days before the relevant hearing. So the parties go before the court, and The Sun says – we did our bit on time but we only got their budget yesterday, and we are not ready. To cut a long story short, The Sun now stand to recover a budgeted figure of £589,555 if they win, but our hapless MP (or his lawyers) will only recover his court fees if he wins.
Tesla Motors Ltd and another v British Broadcasting Corporation  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 →
Verlagsruppe News Gmbh and Bobi v Austria (Application no. 59631/09) HEJUD  ECHR 2012 (04 December 2012)
Hard on the heels of the Facebook case, here is another legal dust up over the media’s sharp interest in any story involving allegations of inappropriate sexual relations, particularly in the Catholic church.
Following a police investigation into internet downloads, the principal of a Roman Catholic seminary in Austria became the target of unwelcome interest from the tabloid press, including the second applicant, who published a series of articles and photographs alleging that Mr Küchl was engaging in homosexual relations with the seminarians. One article identified the seminarian principal, whose face was clearly identifiable from the accompanying photograph. The article was entitled “Go on!” (Trau dich doch). The sub-heading read “Porn scandal. Photographic evidence of sexual antics between priests and their students has thrown the diocese of St Pölten into disarray. First the principal and now the deputy principal have resigned. High-ranking dignitaries expect Kurt Krenn [the bishop of the diocese] to be removed from office.” Continue reading →
The famous ‘Twitter joke’ conviction of Paul Chambers has been overturned on appeal, bringing welcome clarity to what is and what is not an offence of this type. On discovering a week before he was due to take a flight that the airport was closed due to adverse weather conditions, he tweeted that “I am blowing the airport sky high!!” unless the situation was resolved by the time of his flight. He was convicted of sending a message of a “menacing character”, but has had the conviction quashed on appeal, on the basis that, as it was a joke, it was not of a menacing character.
“I had decided to resort to terrorism”
Mr Chambers was intending to fly out of Robin Hood Airport on 15 January 2010 to meet a romantic partner he met on Twitter. On 6 January, via Twitter, he became aware that severe weather was causing problems at the airport, and engaged in a conversation on Twitter where he made the following comments:
“…I was thinking that if it does [close due to adverse weather] then I had
decided to resort to terrorism”
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.
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 →
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.
Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis & Anor v Times Newspapers Ltd & Anor  EWHC 2705 (QB) (24 October 2011) – Read judgment.
Mr Justice Tugendhat has held that, with restrictions, The Times Newspapers Ltd (TNL) should be allowed to use information from leaked documents in its defence to a libel claim brought by the Metropolitan Police Service and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). However, proportionality limited the reach of this judgment to the next stage in the libel claim, after which reassessment may be necessary.
It was held that restrictions in the order made did not interfere with TNL’s right to a fair trial in the libel case nor offend its right to freedom of expression. Decisions on specific documents was dealt with in a closed judgment because of the sensitivity of the subject matter.
Ferdinand v Mgn Ltd (Rev 2)  EWHC 2454 (QB) – Read judgment
In the first “misuse of private information” trial against a newspaper since Max Mosley in 2008, Mr Justice Nicol dismissed a claim brough by England and Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand against the “Sunday Mirror”.
The Judge found that, although the claimant’s Article 8 rights to private and family life were engaged, there was a public interest in correcting a false image promoted by the claimant. It was also held that the article contributed to a debate as to the claimant’s fitness to be a role model in the light of his appointment as England football captain.
Her Majesty’s Attorney-General Claimant – and – (1) MGN Limited Defendants (2) News Group Newspapers Limited – Read judgment
The High Court has found that the Daily Mirror and The Sun were in breach of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 (1981 Act) in relation to their reporting of the Jo Yeates murder case. The court was strongly critical of the “vilification” of a man who was arrested but quickly released without charge.
The proceedings were in relation to Christopher Jefferies, a school teacher who was arrested early on in the investigation. The court fined the Daily Mirror £50,000 and The Sun £18,000.
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