Food production is becoming a chosen territory for some of the fiercest current battles about freedom of information in this country. In 2009 the Channel 4 broadcast of a film about the pork factory business was effectively shut down by the threat of libel action; in the last week the Guardian reported that libel lawyers Carter and Ruck have written to the Soil Association threatening legal action if they failed to withdraw allegations underlying their objection to a planning application for one of the country’s largest pig units.
Update (15 January 2011): Nocton Dairies Ltd has withdrawn its planning application for a 3,700-cow mega-dairy in Lincolnshire.
Pig production company Midland Pig Producers (MPP) is seeking planning approval for 30 acres of land in Foston, Derbyshire, to develop a pig unit containing 2,500 sows and up to 25,000 pigs. The Soil Association formally objected to the plans because of the ‘increased disease risk and poor welfare conditions” of intensive units.
The application to South Derbyshire district council was in fact withdrawn after it was ruled that it needed to go to the county council instead. This is because the proposed inclusion of an anaerobic digestion unit on the site brings in waste matters which concerns the jurisdiction of the county council rather than the district planners. MPP expects to reapply in the next few weeks. Continue reading →
MGN Limited v The United Kingdom – (Application no. 39401/04) Read judgment
The details of the Court’s ruling are set out in our previous post on this case. The following analysis focusses on the success of the newspapers’ core complaint concerning the recoverability against it of 100% success fees.
This judgment has serious practical implications not just for publication cases but for any civil case not covered by legal aid, and although the ruling is only binding on the government, not on the courts, the potential for its immediate domestic impact cannot be ignored. Defendants challenging costs orders will have this judgment at the head of their arsenal from today; the practical resonances of the case are imminent.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the UK’s controversial no-win-no-fee costs system violated the Daily Mirror’s freedom of expression rights after it was forced to pay model Naomi Campbell’s legal fees after a 2004 House of Lords judgment.
The European Court attacked the present costs system, and in particular success fees, using the findings of the recent review by Lord Justice Jackson, which the government intends to mostly implement. It held that the costs system often amounted to the “blackmail” of defendants, and has had an unjustified chilling effect on the press.
While the point in issue was whether Slough could rely on a defence of qualified privilege against Mrs Clift’s claim, I think the decision has wider implications and is therefore relevant to housing practice. The court’s reasoning on Article 8 of the ECHR should be familiar to housing lawyers. In the court’s view, the publication of damaging allegations about Mrs Clift interfered with her rights under Article 8(1) and the council was therefore bound not to pass those allegations on unless in doing so Article 8(2) was satisfied – which it manifestly was not in Mrs Clift’s case. Via some relatively complex reasoning related to the ways in which qualified privilege has been analysed by the courts, this meant the council could not raise the defence and so their appeal was lost.
The Supreme Court yesterday handed down judgment in the case of Joseph v Spiller ( UKSC 53), the first time it has considered a libel case since its inception. The panel consisted of Lords Phillips, Rodger, Walker and Brown and Sir John Dyson. There is the usual useful press summary. The background to the case has already been covered in a previous case preview on this blog and the background facts and the case history are not repeated in this post.
Despite branding the underlying dispute between the Motown Tribute Band “the Gillettes” and their entertainment booking service a “considerable … storm in a tea-cup”, the Supreme Court have broadened the scope and application of the defence of fair comment. The Supreme Court did so by reducing the burden formerly placed on defendants to identify facts they are commenting on with ‘sufficient particularity’. Lord Phillips also re-named the defence as “honest comment” (as opposed to Court of Appeal in BCA v Singh  EWCA Civ 350, which favoured “honest opinion” ) and called on the Law Commission to consider and review the present state of the defence.
Adakini Ntuli v Howard Donald  EWCA Civ 1276 – Read judgment
Take That’s Howard Donald has failed to maintain an injunction against the press reporting details of his relationship with a former girlfriend. He had originally sought the injunction after receiving a text from the woman saying: “Why shud I continue 2 suffer financially 4 the sake of loyalty when selling my story will sort my life out?”
‘Superinjunctions’ have received a great deal of press coverage recently, not least because they are usually granted in cases involving celebrities’ private lives. They are injunctions, usually in privacy or breach of confidence cases, which prevent not only the publication of certain matters, but even the publication of the existence of legal proceedings. These cases are of particular interest because of the competing ECHR rights in play: Article 8, the right to respect for private and family life, and Article 10, the right to freedom of expression.
The Election Court has ruled that the Labour MP for Oldham knowingly and deliberately misled the constituency and as a result his election is void under Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act (1983). Permission for judicial review of the decision has been refused.
The provision of the 1983 Act makes it an offence for anyone to publish “any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct” to prevent them being elected “unless he can show that he had reasonable grounds for believing, and did believe, that statement to be true”. Continue reading →
McLaughlin & Ors v London Borough of Lambeth & Anor  EWHC 2726 (QB) – Read judgment
The High Court has been asked to consider whether the rule which prevents public authorities from suing in libel – to allow uninhibited criticism of government institutions – has the effect of preventing libel actions being taken by individual managers and employees of those institutions.
This was a claim by the defendants to strike out a libel action on grounds of abuse of process.The claimants are respectively head teacher, director of educational development and chairman of the governors of a primary school in Lambeth. The school was maintained by the first defendant pursuant to its statutory obligations. Now it is an Academy it is maintained by central government.
Updated | In a recent restraint of publication case, the High Court has assessed the conflicting requirements of open justice and freedom of speech versus the privacy interests of the applicant.
The High Court was asked to consider continuing restraint of publication of what was said to be private and confidential information. The applicant alleged that the respondent had been blackmailing or attempting to blackmail him, and had threatened to make public private and confidential information concerning a sexual relationship between them unless she was paid very substantial sums. The applicant not only sought continuation of the injunction restraining publication but a prohibition on publishing the fact of the order as well, to avoid “jigsaw” identification of the applicant by the media.
The court held that an order for the compulsory surrender of journalistic material which contained information capable of identifying journalistic sources requires legal procedural safeguards commensurate with the importance of the principle at stake. The Dutch prosecutors in the case, which had ordered the production of a CD-ROM containing potentially incriminating photographs of participants in an illegal race, had therefore breached Article 10 (freedom of expression).
The Lord Chief Justicehas announced the appointment of Mr Justice Tugendhat as Judge in charge of the Jury and Non-Jury Lists with effect from 1 October 2010. This makes him the senior ‘media judge’ in England and Wales, and he will play an important role in balancing rights to privacy against freedom of expression.
The Jury and Non-Jury lists contains general civil law, including defamation and privacy. The Judge in charge has responsibility for managing the work in the lists and assigning judges to cases.
What does Wayne Rooney’s alleged philandering have to do with human rights? In itself, not very much. But a recent spate of exposés in and of the press has exposed more than a footballer’s indiscretions.
The starting point from a human rights perspective is the fragile relationship between two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights; namely, the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression. Article 8 provides that everyone has the “right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” This right is qualified, in the sense that it is possible for a state authority to breach privacy rights if it is (amongst other things) necessary in a democratic society.
The fall-out from last week’s Court of Appeal judgment in Flood v Times Newspapers Ltd continues as the Times’ long-standing in-house lawyer parts company with the newspaper, and commentators remain unsure as to whether the case marks a significant blow for press freedom.
We posted last week on the Flood case, in which a police officer accused of taking bribes won his battle to prevent the Times relying on the Reynolds defence, which allows allegations to be reported even if they turn out to be wrong. The well-known and much used defence arises from the 1999 case of Reynolds v Times Newspapersin which the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) extended the defence of qualified privilege to cover the media. Lord Nichols also provided 10 criteria which should be taken into account when deciding whether the defence applies (see the end of his judgment). Since 1999, the defence has been an important weapon in the press’ armoury in libel cases, and has undoubtedly led to greater press freedom.
Flood v Times Newspapers Ltd  EWCA Civ 804 (13 July 2010) – Read judgment
A Detective Sergeant in the Metropolitan Police accused of taking bribes has won his battle against the Times to prevent the newspaper relying on the Reynolds defence, which allows allegations to be reported even the it they turn out to be wrong, in the interest of media freedom.
In June 2006 the newspaper had published an article entitled “Detective accused of taking bribes from Russian exiles”, leading the detective to sue in libel The Court of Appeal reversed the decision of Mr Justice Tugendhat in the High Court which had said the Times could rely on Reynolds privilege. The Inforrm Blog has provided an excellent analysis of the judgment. The post sums up the facts as follows:
HH Sant Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj v Eastern Media Group & Anor  EWHC 1294 (QB) (17 May 2010) – Read judgment
The High Court has effectively thrown out a libel action against a journalist who claimed in an article that a Sikh holy man was a “cult leader”. The judge’s reasoning was that the disputed points of religious principle were not questions which a secular court could properly decide. In refusing to rule on such cases, are the courts taking an increasingly anti-religious view, and are they now in breach of the human right to religious freedom?
The decision was reported in mid-May, but Mr Justice Eady’s judgment was made publically available yesterday. It highlights controversial issues of whether religious believes are getting a fair hearing in the English courts, and whether “secular” judges are qualified to decide points of religious principle.
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