The Front Page in the Digital Age: Institute of Advanced Legal Studies publishes report on protecting journalists’ sources

newspapers-444447_1920A study raising concerns about journalists’ ability to protect sources and whistleblowers was launched in the House of Lords last Wednesday.

The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS), in collaboration with the Guardian, has published the results of a research initiative into protecting journalists’ sources and whistleblowers in the current technological and legal environment. Investigative journalists, media lawyers, NGO representatives and researchers were invited to discuss issues faced in safeguarding anonymous sources. The report: ‘Protecting Sources and Whistleblowers in a Digital Age’ is available online here.

The participants discussed technological advances which facilitate the interception and monitoring of communications, along with legislative and policy changes which, IALS believes, have substantially weakened protections for sources. Continue reading

Bank Mellat’s $4bn claim: CA rules out one element, but the rest to play for

bank_MellatBank Mellat v HM Treasury [2016] EWCA Civ 452 1258, Court of Appeal, 10 May 2016: read judgment

Bank Mellat’s challenge to the Treasury’s direction under the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008  has been before the courts on a number of occasions. In 2009, the Treasury had concluded that the Bank had connections with Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme. In 2013, the Supreme Court quashed the direction, which had stopped any institution in London from dealing with the Bank.

The Bank claims for damages caused by the unlawful direction. The claim is under the Human Rights Act via A1P1 of the ECHR, (the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions).

Preliminary issues on damages came before Flaux J (judgment here, my post here). The Treasury appealed, with, as we shall see, some measure of success.

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Bank Mellat’s $4bn A1P1 claim gathers pace

bank_MellatBank Mellat v HM Treasury [2015] EWHC 1258 (Comm), Flaux J, 6 May 2015, read judgment

Two recent judgments underscoring the potential high cost of the UK getting it wrong in its dealing with businesses and hence being liable to pay damages under the Human Rights Act for breach of its A1P1 obligations. Regular readers will know that A1P1 is the ECHR right to peaceful enjoyment of property.

The first case was the photovoltaics case of Breyer, all about reducing renewables subsidies unfairly: see my post of last week here. The second, this case, involves a much more direct form of impact, namely the Treasury’s direction under the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 that no-one else should have any commercial dealings with Bank Mellat, because, the Treasury said, the Bank had connections with Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme. 

Bank Mellat’s challenge got to the Supreme Court: see judgment and my post. The Court (a damn’d close run thing – 5:4) concluded that the direction was arbitrary and irrational and procedurally unfair. The nub of the complaint is that there were other Iranian banks against whom this very draconian measure was not taken, and that there was nothing specific about the Bank which made it more implicated than the rest of the banking system.

The Supreme Court remitted the case for trial as to HRA damages.

The current judgment of Flaux J is the first stage in that trial process. As we will see, Bank Mellat are distinct winners at this stage.

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A1P1 claims by photovoltaics get to the Court of Appeal

Department of Energy and Climate Change v. Breyer Group plc and others  [2015] EWCA Civ 408, 28 April 2015 read judgment

In 2011, DECC decided to change the rules about subsidies for photovoltaic schemes, and caused substantial losses to those who had contracted or were about to contract on the basis of the more generous old subsidies. 

This is prime territory for a damages claim under A1P1 ECHR. The Court of Appeal has recently dismissed an appeal by DECC against a decision of Coulson J (see my post here) supportive of such claims.  The decision was on preliminary issues involving assumed facts, but important legal arguments advanced by DECC were rejected by the CA. 

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Successful A1P1 claims by photovoltaics

Breyer Group plc and others v Department of Energy and Climate Change [2014] EWHC 2257 (QB) – Coulson J read judgment 

This is an important judgment on governmental liability for a rather shabby retrospective change of the rules about subsidies for photovoltaic schemes. The Court of Appeal had decided in 2012 that the changes were unlawful: see judgment  and my post here.  The question in Breyer was whether businesses could obtain damages under A1P1 arising out of the Secretary of State’s decision. Though the judgment proceeds on a number of assumed facts, some critical findings of law were in favour of the businesses.

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Barristers tell Parliament that some GCHQ mass surveillance is illegal

Edward Snowden.Two barristers have advised a Parliamentary committee that some mass surveillance allegedly undertaken by the UK’s security services is probably illegal. Jemima Stratford QC and Tim Johnston’s advice (PDF) was commissioned by the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones

You may ask why an Parliamentary group on drones is getting involved in the GCHQ surveillance debate, itself kickstarted by the revelations by Edward Snowden (pictured). The slightly tangential answer is that the committee is concerned about the legality of data being passed to the United States for use in drone strikes.

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New Year, new tort of misuse of private information

google-sign-9Vidal Hall and Ors v Google Inc [2014] 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 1998The 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.

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