A little cluster of cases has recently been decided which bear on the nature and extent to which environmental information is accessible to the public. They involve Somerset oilseed rape, pesticide residues in Dutch lettuces, and Scottish mobile phone masts. And we visit some German apiarists to consider the implications of such information being or not being provided. So hold on to your hat.
In G.M. Freeze v. DEFRA (8 March 2011), the aptly-named appellant wanted to obtain the six-digit National Grid reference for a field in Somerset. The farmer had sown some supposedly conventional oilseed rape seed in which there was, unbeknownst to him and the seed manufacturer, some genetically-modified seed at a concentration of 5 plants per 10,000. The crop thus grown then cross-pollinated with the neighbouring field of oilseed rape, contaminating the latter to 1 part per 10,000. Continue reading →
Updated | The Coalition Government’s Programme for Government, launched on 20th May 2010, made a number of commitments relating to information law, including issues about privacy and data protection. It also stated that the Government would introduce a Freedom Bill.
On Friday last week (11th February) the Protection of Freedoms Bill was duly published, with lengthy explanatory notes stating that it implemented 12 specific commitments in the Programme for Government.
Over the past month, the Court of Human Rights has handed down judgment in six Article 10 cases. We have already posted about the most recent, MGN v United Kingdom. Of the other five, two involved civil defamation claims in domestic cases. In both civil defamation cases it was held that the State had infringed the right to freedom of expression but there was no finding of violation in any of the other cases. The reasoning is not straightforward in any of these cases and there are continuing doubts about the quality of the Court’s Article 10 case law.
The only “media case” amongh the five was Novaya Gazeta V Voronezhe v. Russia( ECHR 2104) in which a unanimous First Section found a violation of Article 10 as a result of a domestic defamation award of RUB 25,000 (£525) and an order for the publication of an apology. The applicant newspaper had published an article which concerned abuses and irregularities allegedly committed by the mayor of Novovoronezh and other municipal officials. It also made references to services supplied by a local businessman. The article relied on and quoted from a town administration audit report. The domestic court allowed the plaintiffs’ action, holding in particular that the article implied the embezzlement of funds by the mayor and the businessman, of which the newspaper had failed to adduce any proof. It pointed out that no criminal proceedings against the plaintiffs in connection with the audit of some of the financial matters in question had been opened and that the article thus lacked a factual basis.
R (on the application of Guardian News and Media Limited) v City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court  EWHC 3376 – Read judgment
The Guardian newspaper has failed to convince the High Court that it should be able to see key documents in the trial of three men threatened with extradition to the United States on charges of corruption and bribery. The case highlights the finely balanced right to freedom of information.
Since the European Convention of Human Rights came into force in 1953, the scope of the rights contained within it has grown along with the jurisprudence it has given rise to. As times have changed, the Article 8 right to respect for private life has, for example, grown to encompass increased rights for both pre- and post-operative transsexuals. More recently, the Article 10 right to freedom of expression has also been said by the European Court of Human Rights to include a right to access certain kinds of information. The scope of human rights, like many legal definitions, appear to have a metastatic tendency. However, in a recent case involving Art 10 the High Court drew a line in the sand, at least as regards the limited sphere of access to court documents in extradition cases.
EU law is replete with the soaring rhetoric of rights and transparency. Indeed the very first Article of the Treaty on European Union states that ‘decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen’ . But not, it appears, when the decision concerns the balance between short-term economic interests and those of the environment – or, in the Commission’s own words, the “Community’s natural heritage”.
Key facts and figures relating to central policy remain firmly under lock and key in the EU, as NGOs find when they try to get the Commission to enforce the various Directives against national governments and the EU institutions themselves.
Terry Jones, an American pastor who threatened to burn Korans on the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, may be banned from visiting the UK by the home secretary.
Jones, an otherwise unknown local pastor in Gainsville, Florida, cause worldwide controversy earlier this year when he proposed an “International Burn a Koran Day”. He has not as yet carried out his threat.
It is well known that free speech protections mean that we have to protect the rights of those we disagree with. A recent High Court case involving an Indian preacher shows that the protection probably does not extend to non-UK residents such as Jones, but it may to his supporters.
Updated | JXF (a child) v York Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust  EWHC 2800 (QB) – Read judgment
Mr Justice Tugendhat has held that the High Court should withhold the identity of a child claimant when approving the settlement of a clinical negligence case. The decision represents a restatement of the orthodox principle that cases should be heard in public and reported without restrictions, and that anonymity orders should only be granted after careful scrutiny.
His reason for coming to this particular decision was that revealing the name of the claimant would “make him vulnerable to losing the [settlement] money to fortune hunters or thieves.”
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 →
Dr Zakir Naik and The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Entry Clearance Officer, Mumbai India  EWHC 2825 (Admin) – read judgment
As we reported last week, the High Court has approved the exclusion of Dr Zakir Naik, a popular Indian television Islamic preacher, from the UK on the grounds that his presence would not be conducive to the public good.
Despite the High Court finding that the initial decision to exclude Dr Naik was procedurally unfair and that Article 10 ECHR (the right to freedom of expression) was engaged in relation to his supporters, his challenge to the exclusion was rejected. This case focuses the spotlight once more on the somewhat limited territorial reach of the rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Convention, as well as the wide discretion of the Home Office to exclude radicals which it considers have displayed ‘unacceptable behaviours’.
An injunction sought against the publication of certain information has been granted by the High Court in Northern Ireland under Article 2 (the right to life). The claimant also invoked the Prevention of Harassment (NI) Order and sought damages for misuse of private information. The Article 8 claim was only partially successful and the harassment claim was dismissed.
The claimant, who had been accused and subsequently cleared of murdering a journalist working for the defendant newspaper sought to prevent the publication of details relating to his address, his partner, his wedding plans and other personal information and photographs. The judge held that the publication of this information, in the light of threats from loyalist paramilitaries and dissident republican paramilitaries, would result in a “real and immediate risk” to the claimant’s life.
Ex-Guantanamo Bay prisoner Binyam Mohamed failed this weekend to prevent the Daily Mail reporting that he had been granted permanent residency in Britain. The case highlights a growing trend for the courts to enforce open justice in two significant ways, both which rely heavily on protections guaranteed under human rights law.
Interestingly, two crucial aspects of open justice have been reinforced as a result of a case involving Mohamed himself. In fact, the open justice aspects of Mohamed’s case against the security services will probably emerge as amongst the most important legal rulings arising from the ‘war on terror’ era. Unfortunately for him, this may have had the unintended consequence of destroying any chances of maintaining his privacy.
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.
Gradwick v IC and the Cabinet Office (EA/2010/0030) – Read decision
The Panopticon Blog has highlighted an interesting recent case in the General Regulatory Tribunal which may prove to be useful in the many different situations where documents are disclosed in redacted form.
The General Regulatory Tribunal (‘the Tribunal’) regulates information rights, amongst other things. Simply, the Tribunal held that if parts of documents disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 are to be redacted (blacked out), it is not good enough to transcribe a new document with the offending parts removed. This is because, as the Tribunal said:
Article 6 of the Convention did not require an “irreducible minimum of information” that had to be provided to appellants in proceedings before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission about the risk they posed to national security.
In their appeal against decisions of the respondent secretary of state to deport them on grounds of national security (upheld by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC)) the appellants all claimed that they would be at risk of ill-treatment if they were deported. They had obtained relevant information which had been provided on the understanding that it could only be made available if there were clear guarantees that it would not become known to their national government.
A (A Child) v The Chief Constable of Dorset Police  EWHC 1748 (Admin) (16 July 2010) – Read judgment
The High Court has ruled that the gist of sensitive evidence in a case involving a child being picked up for being spotted with an “inappropriate adult” must be disclosed in order that the child can bring a claim against the police.
The case is probably the first to follow the significant restriction of the use of secret evidence resulting from the Al Rawi decision (see our previous post), in which the Court of Appeal rejected a request by the Government that evidence in a torture compensation claim be kept secret from the public, and emphasised that the interests of open justice would be seriously compromised if this kind of request were ever granted in a civil case, even in very limited circumstances.
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.