In February 1993, two-year-old James Bulger was abducted, tortured and then murdered by two 10-year-olds, Jon Venables (JV) and Robert Thompson. As Sir Andrew McFarlane P says in the opening words ofVenables & Anor v News Group Papers Ltd & Ors  EWHC 494 (Fam) (4 March 2019): ‘The family of young James Bulger were and are deserving of the greatest sympathy as the indirect victims of this most horrific crime.’ It was James’s father and his uncle who brought the question of publicity – or not – for JV back to court.
Their application was to vary a ‘confidentiality’ injunction. The application was made on the basis – said the applicants – that JV’s name and image are now freely available should any member of the public undertake an Internet search. Details of his identity, and locations with which he has been connected in the past, have therefore become ‘common knowledge’.
Brett Wilson LLP v Person(s) Unknown, Responsible for the Operation of the Website solicitorsfromhell.co.uk, 7 September (Warby J)  EWHC 2628 (QB) – read judgment
This was a claim in libel by a firm of solicitors who acted for another firm which also claimed against the operators of SFHUK, causing the original site to be shut down (Law Society v Rick Kordowski ). In this case the words complained of appeared on a new site, but despite efforts by the present claimants, it was not possible to find out who was operating it. The site alleged various aspects of mismanagement, including incompetence and fraud. It also quoted a client of the claimant firm who alleged overcharging and who refused to pay their fees. (It is worth noting that the site appears to have been taken down since default judgement was given in this case)
DL v SL  EWHC 2621 (Fam) 27 July 2015 (Mostyn J) – read judgment
This was a simple, if contentious, divorce case in which the judge took the opportunity to make a point about balancing the principle of open judgment – allowing media coverage of cases – against the privacy of the parties involved. Whilst he was ready to acknowledge that publicity ensures not only the probity of the judge but the veracity of the witnesses, and that such publicity served promote understanding and debate about the legal process, in some cases privacy should trump the rights of the press.
There are many cases which are heard publicly, or privately with the media in attendance, but where, by a process of anonymisation, the privacy of the parties, and of their personal and other affairs, is sought to be preserved. This compromise, or balance, between open justice and the privacy of the individual has arisen for two reasons. First, the increased recognition that is given to the interests of children who are caught up in the dispute between the adult parties. And secondly, the rise of the idea that privacy is an independently enforceable right. Continue reading →
JX MX (by her mother and litigation friend AX MX) v. Dartford & Gravesham NHS Trust  EWCA Civ 96, 17 February 2015 – read judgment
Elizabeth Anne Gumbel QC and Henry Whitcomb of 1COR (instructed by Mark Bowman of Fieldfisher) all appeared pro bono for the successful appellant in this case. They have played no part in the writing of this post.
For some years there has been debate between the judges about whether anonymity orders should be made when very seriously injured people’s claims are settled and the court is asked to approve the settlement. This welcome decision of the Court of Appeal means that anonymity orders will normally be made in cases involving protected parties.
Keynote speech by Lord Neuberger at 5 RB Conference on the Internet, 30 September 2014
The President of the Supreme Court has delivered a very interesting address on the protections that should be afforded to what might be termed the “new Fourth Estate” – journalism on the internet. The following summary does not do justice to his speech but is meant to act as a taster – download the full text of his talk here.
Lord Neuberger explores the interrelationship of privacy and freedom of expression, particularly in the light of developments in IT, and especially the internet. He recalls a colourful eighteenth century figure who contributed a series of letters to a widely disseminated journal under the pseudonym of “Junius”. He managed to make such effective attacks on public figures he brought about the resignation of the Prime Minister, the Duke of Grafton, in 1770. Because of his anonymity this character was able to make criticisms of the powerful for which others of his time faced prosecution.
Junius offered a voice of firm if sometimes scurrilous criticism, prompting both political and legal change. He is rightly remembered as one of the greatest political writers in an age dominated by great figures, yet his identity [still] remains a mystery.
And it is this lack of traceability that links Junius with today’s bloggers. Print journalists are – with the exception of writers for The Economist – known figures. But forty percent of the world’s population use the internet, and despite initial expectations that bloggers and tweeters could hide behind pseudonyms, it has turned out to be extremely difficult for internet writers to maintain their anonymity. The public and the courts increasingly recognise the press’ interest in publishing the names of individuals in appropriate circumstances. Continue reading →
A (Respondent) v British Broadcasting Corporation (Appellant) (Scotland) UKSC 25 – read judgment
This appeal related to whether the Scottish Courts took the correct approach to prohibit the publication of a name or other matter in connection with court proceedings under section 11 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, and whether the court’s discretion was properly exercised in this case. The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal by the BBC.
The following report is based on the Supreme Court’s Press Summary. References in square brackets are to paragraphs in the judgment.
A, a foreign national, arrived in the UK in 1991. He was later granted indefinite leave to remain, but in 1996 was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for sexual offences against a child. In 1998, he was served by the Home Secretary with a notice to make a deportation order . He appealed against the decision and protracted proceedings followed in which A cited risks due to his status as a known sex offender of death or ill-treatment (contrary to Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights should he be deported. A’s identity was withheld in the proceedings from 2001 onwards -. Continue reading →
JXMX (A Child) v Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust  EWHC 3956 (QB) – read judgment
Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC of 1 Crown Office Row represented the claimant in this case. She has nothing to do with the writing of this post.
In Part 1 on this subject, I discussed medical confidentiality and/or legal restrictions designed to protect the privacy of a mother and child. This case raises the question in a slightly different guise, namely whether the court should make an order that the claimant be identified by letters of the alphabet, and whether there should be other derogations from open justice in the guise of an anonymity order, in a claim for personal injuries by a child or protected party which comes before the court for the approval of a settlement. Continue reading →
Fagan, R (on the application of) v Times Newspapers Ltd and others  EWCA Civ 1275 – read judgment
Only “clear and cogent evidence” that it was strictly necessary to keep an offender’s identity confidential would lead a court to derogate from the principle of open justice. The possibility of a media campaign that might affect the offender’s resettlement could not work as a justification for banning reporting about that offender, even though a prominent and inaccurate report about him had already led to harassment of his family.
This was an appeal by a serving prisoner, SF, against the dismissal of his application for anonymity and reporting restrictions in judicial review proceedings. Continue reading →
The permanent damage that internet publications can inflict is very much the focus of Tugendhat J’s assessment of damages in this case, encapsulated in the memorable description he quoted in an earlier judgment:
what is to be found on the internet may become like a tattoo.
Since the advent of internet search engines, information which in the past would have been forgotten (even if it had been received front page coverage) will today remain easily accessible indefinitely. So a libel claimant who has a judgment in his favour nevertheless risks having his name associated with the false allegations for an indefinite period.
This is just what had happened in the present case. The second defendant’s liability for libel had already been established. This hearing was to assess the appropriate level of damages for allegations he had published on the internet, in breach of restraining orders against him, suggesting the claimant was guilty of misappropriation of family funds and paedophilia. Continue reading →
X v Facebook Ireland Ltd  NIQB 96 (30 November 2012) – read judgment
This fascinating case comes to light in the midst of general astonishment at the minimal attention paid in the Leveson Report to the “wild west” of the internet and the question of social media regulation.
This short judgement demonstrates that a careful step by step judicial approach – with the cooperation of the defendant of course – may be the route to a range of common law tools that protect individuals from the internet’s incursions in a way which no rigidly formulated statute is capable of doing. As the judge observed mildly,
The law develops incrementally and, as it does so, parallels may foreseeably materialise in factually different contexts.
Background to the case
The plaintiff (XY) sought an injunction requiring Facebook to remove from its site the page entitled “Keeping Our Kids Safe from Predators”, alternatively requiring Facebook to monitor the contents of the aforementioned page in order to prevent recurrence of publication of any further material relating to the Plaintiff and to remove such content from publication forthwith. Continue reading →
This non statutory arrangement has been in place since March 2010. It allows members of the public to seek details from the police of a person who has some form of contact with children with a view to ascertaining whether that person has had convictions for sexual offences against children or whether there is other “relevant information” about them which ought to be made available. This request could come from any third party such as a grandparent, neighbour or friend. The aim of the scheme is described thus:
This is to ensure any safeguarding concerns are thoroughly investigated. A third party making an application would not necessarily receive disclosure as a more appropriate person to receive disclosure may be a parent, guardian or carer. In the event that the subject has convictions for sexual offences against children, poses a risk of causing harm to the child concerned and disclosure is necessary to protect the child, there is a presumption that this information will be disclosed.
Anya Proops’ post on the Panopticon blog sets out a clear summary and analysis of the ruling by the President of the Queen’s Bench Division and Hickinbottom J. Here are a few more details about the judgment. Continue reading →
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.
Coventry City Council v X, Y and Z (Care Proceedings: Costs: Identification of Local Authority)  EWHC B22 (Fam) – Read judgment
Coventry City Council has been ordered to pay £100,000 in costs and has been severely criticised by the High Court for child protection failures. What is particularly interesting about the case is the unusual decision of the High Court to disclose the name of the offending council at the request of the BBC.
Judge Bellamy decided the main case in February, ruling that the council, which had accused the children’s parents of faking their illnesses, had “fallen below acceptable standards”. The council had attempted to withdraw care orders for three children at the last moment after it admitted to not having enough evidence to back up its claims. The judge was so unimpressed with the council’s conduct of the case that he ordered them to pay the parents’ costs of £100,000.
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