The Court of Appeal has ruled that in principle, an internet service provider that allowed defamatory material to remain on a blog hosted on its platform after it had been notified of a complaint might be a “publisher” of this material, although in this case the probable damage to the complainant’s reputation over a short period was so trivial that libel proceedings could not be justified.
This interesting case suggests there may be an opening for liability of Google for defamation, if certain steps have been taken to fix them with knowledge of the offending statement. Mr Tamiz, who claimed to have been defamed by comments posted on the “London Muslim Blog” between 28 and 30 April 2011, appealed a decision in the court below to decline jurisdiction in his claim against the respondent corporation and to set aside an order for service of proceedings on Google out of the jurisdiction. Continue reading →
The UK Supreme Court has today launched a YouTube channel showing short summaries of judgments. The summaries are read out by justices when a judgment is released. There are already ten online and more will be uploaded each time a judgment is released.
In the case of Yildrim v Turkey the European Court of Human Rights decided that a Court order blocking access to “Google Sites” in Turkey was a violation of Article 10. The measure was not “prescribed by law” because it was not reasonably foreseeable or in accordance with the rule of law. The judgment is available only in French.
He owned and ran a website hosted by the Google Sites service, on which he published his academic work and his opinions on various matters. On 23 June 2009 the Denizli Criminal Court of First Instance ordered the blocking of an Internet site whose owner had been accused of insulting the memory of Atatürk. The order was issued as a preventive measure in the context of criminal proceedings against the site’s owner.
That campaign, supported by major organisations and many MPs, prompted a successful House of Lords vote to amend the wording in December. That vote was supported by the Crown Prosecution Service, with Director Keir Starmer writing that his organisation was “unable to identify a case in which the alleged behaviour leading to conviction could not properly be characterised as ‘abusive’ as well as ‘insulting“. The Home Secretary has now, rather grudgingly, said she will not oppose amendment.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has published interim guidance on when to prosecute people for grossly offensive and obscene messages they send on social media. The guidelines are now subject to a full public consultation. Earlier this year, I took part in a series of round table discussions with the DPP over how the guidelines would look.
The guidelines are sensible, to a point. They will make it less likely in future that people are prosecuted for saying stupid things online. Prosecutors are reminded that many offences will already be covered under other criminal laws such as those dealing with harassment, stalking or other violent threats. Cases which are not covered by those laws, that is the grossly offensive etc messages, are “subject to a high threshold and in many cases a prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest“. The CPS then seeks to define “grossly” offensive, at least in the negative, as cases which are more than:
Offensive, shocking or disturbing; or
Satirical, iconoclastic or rude comment; or
The expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, or banter or humour, even if distasteful to some or painful to those subjected to it.
For justice to be seen to be done, judgments given in open court must be accessible in two senses. They must be clearly written so that a reasonably well informed member of the public can understand what is being decided. But they must also be available to the public, and in this sense their accessibility depends on their being reported.
Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, so stated in the first BAILII annual lecture, hosted by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP at their premises in Fleet Street last night. The full speech can be read here.
A short post to say that I was interviewed by Joshua Rozenberg for today’s Law in Action programme on BBC Radio 4. I was debating, with Nadine Dorries MP, a recent series of criminal prosecution (see my post from last week) brought against social media users. The debate centred on the implications for freedom of speech as protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The full programme can be listened to here (UK only, I think) – the social media section is from around 20 minutes in. You may have guessed from my post as well as this interview that I think the current state of the law under the Communications Act 2003 is causing very significant problems for freedom of expression.
Relatedly, I am chairing an interesting panel debate tomorrow (Wednesday) evening on this very topic. I understand the event is full but you can submit questions ahead of the event to or follow for live tweets @HumanRightsLawA ; #lawandtwittering
Updated x 2 | A 20-year-old has been sent to prison for twelve weeks for posting offensive and derogatory comments about missing five-year-old April Jones on his Facebook page. His attempts at humour were undoubtedly stupid, offensive and exhibited incredibly poor taste and timing. But is a long spell in prison really the way we should be dealing with offensive idiots? Is a law which was passed before social media existed now placing a significant chill on our freedom of expression rights?
Matthew Woods pleaded guilty to an offence under s.127 of the Communications Act 2003, which prohibits a person sending “by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character“. He was sentenced at Chorley Magistrates’ Court.
Tomorrow, Liberal Democrats will debate the Justice and Security Bill and will vote on saying no to the Government’s controversial secret courts proposals. Played in the press as a good opportunity to put clear blue water between the coalition partners, the motion will give a party members a chance to speak out on a Bill which many see as an anathema to the traditional liberal commitment to open, fair and equal access to justice.
The Bill would – for the first time – introduce the controversial “closed material procedure” (CMP) into our ordinary civil justice system. In CMP, one party to proceedings and their legal representatives are excluded from a hearing and from seeing any evidence, argument or judgment associated with closed material, leaving Special Advocates (security vetted lawyers) who they cannot discuss the case with to represent their interests as best as possible. These exceptional procedures have been criticised by both commentators and courts since their inception as a flawed and unfair mechanism which endangers the rule of law and open justice (JUSTICE and others have dissected the Bill on this blog and elsewhere, highlighting its serious long-term political and legal implications).
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has decided not to charge Daniel Thomas for posting a homophobic message on Twitter, the social networking site, about the swimmer Tom Daley. The press release, which takes the form of an extended quote from the Director of Public Prosecutions, is fascinating. I have reproduced it in full below.
In short, the CPS has decided not to charge Thomas as he “intended the message to be humorous”, removed it quickly, didn’t intend it to go beyond his followers (“however naive” that was), has expressed remorse and Daley did not find out about the message until after it had been reported in the media.
The DPP has also used the opportunity to announce that he is drafting new guidance for social media prosecutions and also to say that whilst “serious wrongdoing” could be the subject of prosecutions,
The fact that offensive remarks may not warrant a full criminal prosecution does not necessarily mean that no action should be taken. In my view, the time has come for an informed debate about the boundaries of free speech in an age of social media.
One of the possibilities being considered by Lord Justice Leveson as he writes the Report for Part 1 of his Inquiry is whether there should be compulsory regulation of the print media. One, widely discussed possibility is a statutory framework which would require any publisher with turnover or readership above a set threshold to join a “regulatory body”: compulsory regulation for large publishers.
The purpose of such a provision would be to deal with the so-called “Desmond problem” – the anomaly of a system of regulation which does not cover all the large newspaper publishers. But an important freedom of expression question arises: is the compulsory regulation of the print media compatible with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights? This is not a question which has ever been considered by the Court of Human Rights and the answer may not be an entirely straightforward.
The legal blogosphere has been aflame this week with the news, first published on a magistrate’s blog, that the Senior Presiding Judge has sent new guidance to judges banning them from blogging in their judicial capacity. The SPJ has also threatened disciplinary action unless they remove existing content with breaches the new rules.
The key section of the purported guidance is this:
Blogging by members of the judiciary is not prohibited. However, officer holders who blog (or who post comments on other people’s blogs) must not identify themselves as members of the judiciary. They must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general.
The guidance applies to those who blog anonymously because “it is impossible for somebody who blogs anonymously to guarantee that his or her identity cannot be discovered“.
The late US law Professor Paul Miller reflected recently that Beethoven, Stephen Hawking and Elton John were examples of individuals whom, if they had been tested for serious genetic conditions at the start of their careers, may have been denied employment in the fields in which they later came to excel.
Earlier this month the Association of British Insurers announced the latest extension on the moratorium on the use of genetic test results for insurance purposes. But is this “Concordat” sufficient protection? Genetic technologies are becoming increasingly available and profound questions are arising in relation to life and health insurance and employability as genetic screening becomes cheaper and widespread.
These latter “snooping” proposals echo the ill-fated Communications Data Bill 2008, proposed by the Labour Government. After cross-party condemnation and criticism from the Information Commissioner’s Office and others, that Bill was withdrawn, with Home Office officials sent back to the drawing board.
After meeting similar condemnation in the press and online this week, and reservations expressed by the Deputy Prime Minister; it appears we can expect a draft Communications Data Bill to be resurrected in the Queen’s Speech.
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