A 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 v HM Treasury  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.
Bank Mellat v HM Treasury  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 weekhere. 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.
Department of Energy and Climate Change v. Breyer Group plc and others  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.
Breyer Group plc and others v Department of Energy and Climate Change  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.
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.
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.
The European Court of Human Rights has decided that it is a violation of the right to privacy if a country does not have a law prohibiting surreptitious photography of people. The ruling has serious implications for paparazzi, and would have been useful to Princess Diana. A ready-made bill exists in the form of a draft published by the Law Commission for England and Wales in 1981.
On 12 November the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Sweden’s lack of a legal ban on invading personal privacy by surreptitious photographs violated the right to privacy. The case involved a camera hidden in the bathroom by the stepfather of a fourteen-year old girl. (Söderman v. Sweden,application no. 5786/08).
R (on the application of London Christian Radio Ltd & Christian Communications Partnerships) v Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (Respondent) & Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Interested Party)  EWCA Civ 1495 – read judgment
The ban on Christian Radio’s proposed advert seeking data on the “marginalisation of Christians” in the workplace was lawful and did not constitute an interference with free speech, the Court of Appeal has ruled. When determining whether a radio or television advertisement was “political” fur the purposes of Section 321(2)(b) of the Communications Act 2003 the court should consider the text objectively; the motives of the advertiser were irrelevant.
This was an appeal against a ruling by Silber J ( EWHC 1043 (Admin)) that a proposed radio advertisement was directed towards a political end, and therefore fell foul of the prohibition on political advertising which meant that it could not be given clearance for broadcast (see my previous post on this decision). Continue reading →
TV cameras are recording Court of Appeal hearings from today. The BBC, ITN, Sky News and the Press Association are cooperating on the project, and have hired an in-court video-journalist who will recommend the most interesting cases.
This is great news. Let in the light. The more that the public can see what is going on in their courts, the better. The courts are a bewildering place for the uninitiated and especially for those who cannot afford to pay someone to explain what is going on. This is still a relatively small advance – only appealswill be broadcast, not trials, so the public is unlikely to see any cross examination of witnesses. But hopefully it will be enough to increase public understanding of and interest in the courts.
But a word of warning. This initiative will only succeed if it is implemented in the right way. And, there are important lessons here from the Supreme Court’s ongoing broadcasting experiment.
On October 2 at 10am, the United Kingdom Supreme Court held an hour long pre-term press-briefing to mark the opening of the Court’s fifth year. This blog looks not only at what was said by the Court, and asked by the journalists on the day, but also what was then reported.
The Supreme Court’s relationship with the media is marked by the same combination of common interests and tensions which mark the media’s relationship with any other public body. Yes the Court wants media coverage; and a function of the media is to cover the Court. The media though will always want more than its subjects are looking to give up, and not only that, will often frame how the subject is presented according to each outlet’s particular agendas. Further, the Court, and its justices, will also have their own goals about what messages should be highlighted.
12 June 2013 may go down in legal history. For it was the first time a national newspaper’s main headline was about the launch of a legal textbook. In a paradoxical explosion of free publicity for said book, the Daily Express reported that a new online guide to European asylum and immigration has caused “outrage” for helping “migrants claim British benefits”.
In a list of examples of past cases, it even cites Islamist cleric Abu Qatada’s successful challenge under human rights laws against Home Office attempts to send him back to Jordan to face terror charges
The Supreme Court has produced a rather excellent short YouTube video about what it does. Look out for interviews with Justices, a funky 3D representation of the UK court system, a bit of court action and of course, cheesy muzak.
Regular readers will know I am a big fan of the Supreme Court’s efforts to be accessible to the public, which stand in stark contrast to the almost non-existent efforts of the rest of the UK justice system. You can find an article about the video by the court’s Chief Executive here and one reviewing the court’s innovations here.
Max Hastings greeted the new Supreme Court with the prediction that it was a “constitutional disaster in the making.” For Hastings this was Blair’s Court, Blair’s legacy; its creation just one more example of Labour’s wrecking of ancient British institutions. Of course, there was also positive coverage in the early days in papers like the Guardian and Times, but ideally the Court needed to get its own message about itself. How has it gone about doing this? And what has it been saying? What challenges has it faced in its first three years?
This blog (a shortened version of an article out this month in Public Law) looks at the Court’s innovative approach to getting the message out not only about what it is doing in cases, but also about its role in general. It is a topic covered recently by Adam Wagner, here. At the heart of the Public Law article is the idea that the Court is quietly asserting its role as a new and powerful constitutional actor. Its communication’s operation has been at the heart of this.
Comparing different countries’ legal systems is a dangerous game, but three cases came to light this week which beg to be compared. The criminalisation of criticising political leaders has always been a hallmark of illiberal societies, and it seems that the tradition is still going strong today: in France, the West Bank and the UK too.
First, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a man should not have been convicted of a criminal offence for waving a placard at (as he was then) President Sarkozy reading “Casse toi pov’con” (“Get lost, you sad prick”). He was prosecuted for insulting the president, an offence under an 1881 Act, even though the phrase was one of Sarkozy’s own, uttered a few months previously. The Court rightly found a violation of the applicant’s rights to free expression protected under Article 10 ECHR, stating that satire, including satirical impertinence:
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