This is a rare example of an interview with a serving judge. It was conducted on 11 April 2011 – before heat was turned up in the “Superinjunction Spring”. Despite the worst efforts of the “Sunday Times” – of which more in a moment – the interview contains few surprises for those who have taken the trouble to read Mr Justice Eady’s judgments (and lectures) on the subject of privacy.
In 1991 US band Salt-n-Pepa reached number 2 in the UK charts with Let’s Talk About Sex. It is difficult to imagine now, 20 years on, why such an inoffensive and gently educational song generated huge controversy.
That difficulty highlights how much less prudish we are about sex now than we were then. Salt-n-Pepa talked about sex on the “radio and video shows“. Now the song would include Twitter, YouTube and Facebook too. In the post-internet age, sex is everywhere. So why are judges and politicians still making decisions about whose sex the public can or cannot talk about?
John Hemming MP has somewhat predictably “revealed” the name of a footballer who has been trying to keep his alleged affair with a reality TV contestant private, and breached the traditional “sub judice” rule in the process. Does this mean that the privacy injunction in question is now effectively defunct?
Hemming made his move just hours after Mr Justice Eady in the High Court maintained the injunction against an application by News Group International, despite the fact that many users of Twitter have apparently revealed his name. Eady took a principled stance:
Should the court buckle every time one of its orders meets widespread disobedience or defiance? In a democratic society, if a law is deemed to be unenforceable or unpopular, it is for the legislature to make such changes as it decides are appropriate.
Lord Neuberger has published his long-awaited report on super-injunctions. His committee was set up in April 2010 in order to “examine the issues around the use of injunctions which bind the press and so-called ‘super-injunctions“.
In summary, the report emphasises the principles of open justice and the right to freedom of speech, and that courts should “ensure that any derogation from open justice is the minimum necessary to secure the proper administration of justice”. It recommends that Civil Procedure Rule 39.2 (concerning public hearings) should be amended to make reference to the strict necessity test.
When does being not guilty make you innocent? This question arose coincidentally in two rulings, just over a month of each other, from the highest courts of the UK and South Africa respectively.
The Citizen and others v McBride concerned libel proceedings which had been brought against a former member of the armed wing of the ANC. McBride had been convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1986 after killing three women in a bomb attack. Nine years later he was granted an amnesty by the SA Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The question before the Constitutional Court was whether a person convicted of murder, but granted amnesty under the Reconciliation Act, can later be called a “criminal” and a “murderer” in comment opposing his appointment to a public position.
I promised an analysis piece in my post on the Mosley judgment but there has been such an outpouring of comment and opinion on the case that a more useful exercise is to provide some sort of guide through the maze of material already out there.
The Court makes its disapproval of the conduct of the News of the World crystal clear and emphasises the need for a “narrow interpretation” of freedom of expression where sensational and titillating press reports are involved .
The Strasbourg Court has ruled that the United Kingdom has not breached the right to privacy by failing to have in place a “pre-notification” requirement that would have alerted Max Mosley to the News of the World’s impending publication of covertly filmed footage – read judgment.
Adam Wagner’s prediction is bang to rights; although in this particular case the Court agreed that the newspaper had “flagrantly” violated Max Mosley’s right to privacy, it has refrained from ruling that UK law fell short of adequate protection of Article 8. “Particular care” had to be taken when examining constraints which might operate as a form of censorship prior to publication and generally have a chilling effect on journalism.
A new attitude of diffidence characterises this judgment in that the Court expressly refrains from considering the application of Convention rights to the facts of this case, since the UK Court had already decided on it. This suggests that Strasbourg is beginning to take on board criticisms that it is tending to arrogate to itself the role of supra-national court of appeal. There was no reconsideration therefore of the High Court’s assessment of the newspaper’s public interest defence nor of the balancing act that the judge had conducted between the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression. The focus of this ruling was on the question of whether a legally binding pre-notification rule was required. Continue reading →
This is Part 3 of a three-part series which originally appeared on Inforrm’s Blog. Part 1 can be read here and Part 2 here.
There are at least four possible “ways forward” for the new law of privacy which has been developed by the courts over the past decade and which has, at least from the point of view of sections of the media, been very controversial. These four possibilities are as follows:
(1) Active steps could be taken to abolish the law of privacy and return to the pre-Human Rights Act position.
(2) The current “judge made” law of privacy could be replaced by a new “statutory tort” of invasion of privacy.
(3) A special “privacy regime” for the media could be established under a statutory regulator.
(4) “Steady as she goes” – the law of privacy could be left to develop in the current way – by the judges on the basis of the Article 8 and Article 10 case law.
Each of these possibilities gives rise to different issues and potential difficulties.
This is Part 2 of a three part series which originally appeared on Inforrm’s Blog. Part 1 can be read here and Part 3 is coming tomorrow.
The “new law of privacy” has not been uncontroversial. Over the past week the press has complained bitterly about “gagging orders” and “judge made law”. These criticisms are not new. More than four years ago, with characteristic restraint, the commentator Melanie Phillips described the process of the development of privacy law in these terms:
“Driven by a deep loathing of the popular press, the judges have long been itching to bring in a privacy law by the back door. Thus free speech is to be made conditional on the prejudices of the judiciary …” (Melanie Phillips, “The law of human wrongs”, Daily Mail, 6 December 2006)
Her editor at the Mail, Paul Dacre, has been equally firm in his views:
The Prime Minister has said that he is “uneasy” about the development of a privacy law by judges based on the European Convention when this should be a matter for parliament. In our contribution to the continuing debate on this issue we are re-posting this [update – three part!] discussion on the history and future of privacy law from Inforrm’s Blog.
The “law of privacy” has been developed by the English Courts over the past decade. It is a common law development based on case law going back to the mid nineteenth century. But the pace of development has accelerated over recent years. The decisive factor has been the Human Rights Act 1998. In this area the Act has had “horizontal effect” – it operates in cases between two private parties. The action for breach of confidence has been transformed – almost beyond recognition.
Human rights and discrimination law are often criticised in the press. Sometimes the criticisms are justified, but the level of anger which a system of universal rights can generate is sometimes surprising. Unfortunately, some of that anger is caused by inaccurate reporting of judgments.
In yesterday’s Telegraph online, Cristina Odone blogged on a recent “scandal” relating to Mr Justice Mostyn’s request to carry out his responsibilities as a duty judge in Tenerife. I will leave comment on the main story to Charon QC, save to say that Odone uses the story as a means of judge-bashing, a sport which is currently popular in the press and even with politicians. “Who”, asks Odone channeling public anger, “do these judges think they are?” Moreover,
The case of OPQ v BJM addresses one of the most difficult practical issues in privacy law and adopts a novel solution. Eady J granted a “contra mundum” injunction – that is, one binding on the whole world – in an ordinary “blackmail” privacy case. This means that, although a “final judgment” will be entered, the injunction continues to bind the press and other third parties.
The case has attracted considerable media criticism, for example in the “Daily Mail” which, in a front page story tells its readers: “TV Star’s Shame Hushed up for Ever” (incidentally, the reference to a “TV Star” seems, at first sight, to breach terms of the instruction across the top and bottom of the judgment which is, presumably, part of the court’s order: “Publication of any report as to the subject-matter of these proceedings or the identity of the Claimant is limited to what is contained in this judgment“).
When the prime minister criticises judges, he tends to speak from his gut. The prospect of prisoners being given the vote by European judges makes him feel “physically sick”. And now, he is “a little uneasy” about the rise of “a sort of privacy law without Parliament saying so“.
David Cameron’s use of visceral language may reflect what many in the general public (as well as PR man Max Clifford) are feeling about the issue of wide-ranging injunctions granted by courts, seemingly all the time, to prevent salacious details of celebrities’ private lives being revealed. The latest involves a former big brother contestant’s alleged affair with a married Premier League footballer.
The government’s proposals for reform of the law on defamation have been published. The bill seeks to address concerns that libel law has a chilling effect on freedom of speech, failing to strike the right balance between free speech and protection of reputation.
The pressure of the widely-supported reform campaign, inspired by recent libel actions stifling comment on issues of scientific and academic debate, has no doubt contributed to the manifesto commitment on the part of all three parties which the coalition is now following through. The consultation paper and draft bill has been met with muted enthusiasm, with critics claiming that the proposed statute at best codifies the common law, with all its confusions and complexities, and that the whole is at worst “too little, too late” to meet their reform demands.
The Court of Appeal yesterday handed down judgment in the case of JIH v News Group Newspapers Ltd ( EWCA Civ 42). In allowing the appeal against the order of Tugendhat J ( EWHC 2818 (QB)) the Court ordered that the claimant’s anonymity should be restored.
Although the Court stressed that each decision is fact sensitive, this approach seems likely to be followed in most types of privacy injunction cases. This eagerly awaited decision adds to the growing body of case law concerning reporting restrictions where an injunction has been granted to restrain publication of information about a claimant’s private life.
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.