On 5 April 2023 the High Court handed down judgment in Adil v General Medical Council  EWHC 797 (Admin). The case examined the extent to which a professional regulator can interfere with the right to freedom of expression of an individual subject to its regulation, as well as the circumstances in which the Court should accept challenges to decisions made by regulators in the performance of their duties. It is the first case decided by the High Court concerning anti-vaccination statements made by a doctor in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the actions of the General Medical Council (“GMC”) in response.
Mr Adil is a consultant colorectal surgeon. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, he posted multiple videos on social media in which he, amongst other things, made statements to the effect that:
COVID-19 did not exist;
the pandemic was a conspiracy brought about by the United Kingdom, Israel and America;
the pandemic was a scam which was being manipulated for the benefit of Bill Gates and pharmaceutical companies;
Bill Gates infected the entire world with COVID-19 in order to sell vaccines; and
COVID-19 vaccines would be given to everyone, by force if necessary, and could potentially contain microchips that affect the human body.
Leigh & Ors v (1) The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and (2) Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Interested Party) EWHC 527
A year after the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by serving Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, the Divisional Court has given its judgment on the MPS response to the proposed vigil for Ms Everard organised by #ReclaimTheseStreets on Clapham Common, near where she was last seen alive.
The aim of the vigil was to highlight risks to women’s safety and to campaign for a change in attitudes and responses to violence against women. However, it was at a time when Regulations imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic prohibited a gathering of more than 30 persons in a public outdoor place in a Tier 4 area such as London.
MPS would not sanction the plan for the vigil and it was cancelled (as discussed here). The Claimants alleged that this was because the Met had unlawfully thwarted the plan. The Court agreed.
The judgment is a comprehensive victory for the Claimants, hailed by them as a “victory for women” and an “absolute vindication”. It is also a landmark decision in the context of debate as to the impact of the Covid regulations on the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in primary legislation pursuant to the HRA. It contains a granular analysis of the requirements of the proportionality assessment to be undertaken in such cases. It has particular resonance given controversial changes to the way police are able to control protests currently being debated in parliament as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
The UKHRB is grateful to Aileen McColgan QC for allowing us to republish her article, which originally appeared on Panoptican, a blog published by the barristers at 11KBW here.
The central question for the Supreme Court in Bloomberg v ZXC  UKSC 5 was, as Lords Hamblen and Stephens put it (with Lord Reeds, Lloyd-Jones and Sales agreeing): “whether, in general, a person under criminal investigation has, prior to being charged, a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of information relating to that investigation”. The short answer was “yes”.
The decision has been greeted with howls of indignation from Bloomberg but more muted responses from other sections of the press; whereas Bloomberg’s editor in chief released an editorial entitled “U.K. Judges Are Helping the Next Robert Maxwell” which stated that the judgment should “frighten every decent journalist in Britain”, the Financial Times and Guardian were more restrained, pointing out respectively that the decision would have “far-reaching implications for the British media” and would “make it harder for British media outlets to publish information about individuals subject to criminal investigations”. This is no doubt the case, but it is worth noting that the publication which gave rise to this decision was based on a highly confidential letter leaked to Bloomberg and occurred apparently without any consideration of ZXC’s privacy interests.
ZXC, regional CEO of a publicly listed company which operated overseas (“X Ltd”), sued for misuse of private information because of an article concerning X Ltd’s activities in a country for which ZXC’s division was responsible. The activities had been subject to a criminal investigation by a UK law enforcement body (“the UKLEB”) since 2013 and the article was based almost completely on a confidential Letter of Request sent by the UKLEB to the foreign state. ZXC claimed that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in information published in the Article, in particular in the details of the UKLEB investigation into himself, its assessment of the evidence, the fact that it believed that ZXC had committed specified criminal offences and its explanation of how the evidence it sought would assist its investigation into that suspected offending. ZXC’s application for damages and injunctive relief was upheld at first instance by Nicklin J and £25,000 awarded:  EWHC 970 (QB);  EMLR 20. Bloomberg’s appear was dismissed (see Panopticon post by Robin Hopkins and  EWCA Civ 611;  QB 28.
Pwr v Director of Public Prosecutions  UKSC 2 — judgment here
On 26 January 2022 the Supreme Court ruled that s.13(1) Terrorism Act 2000 (“TA 2000 “) is a strict liability offence and that, whilst it does interfere with Art.10 ECHR (freedom of expression), the interference is lawful, necessary and proportionate.
S.13 provides that it is a criminal offence for a person in a public place to carry or display an article “in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that he is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation”. The offence is summary-only and carries a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment.
The three appellants in this case, Mr Pwr, Mr Akdogan and Mr Demir were convicted in the Westminster Magistrates’ Court of an offence contrary to s.13 TA 2000. All three had attended a protest in central London on 27 January 2018. The protest concerned perceived actions of the Turkish state in Afrin, a town in north-eastern Syria. The convictions related to carrying a flag of the Kurdistan Workers Party (the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê (“the PKK”), an organisation proscribed under the TA 2000. Mr Pwr and Mr Akdogan were given three-month conditional discharges. Mr Demir received an absolute discharge.
In R (Harry Miller) v The College of Policing  EWCA Civ 1926, the Court of Appeal ruled that current police guidance on the recording of ‘hate incidents’ unlawfully interferes with the right to freedom of expression. The decision overturns a 2020 ruling by the High Court in which Mr Miller’s challenge to the lawfulness of the Hate Crime Operational Guidance was dismissed (discussed previously on this Blog here).
The central issue raised in the appeal is the lawfulness of certain parts of the Hate Crime Operational Guidance. The Guidance, issued in 2014 by the College of Policing, sets out the national policy in relation to the monitoring and recording of what are described as “non-crime hate incidents”. At the root of the challenge is the policy of “perception-based recording”, which states that non-crime hate incidents must be recorded by the police as such (against the named person allegedly responsible) if the incident is subjectively perceived by the “victim or any other person to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender” and irrespective of any evidence of the “hate” element.
Mr Miller, who is described as having “gender critical” beliefs, was reported to Humberside Police by Mrs B in January 2019 for posting comments on his Twitter account, which she asserted were “designed to cause deep offence and show his hatred for the transgender community.” Whilst there was no evidence of a criminal offence, the incident was recorded as a “hate incident” and Mr Miller was visited at work by a police officer who told him to “check his thinking.” Mr Miller subsequently brought a claim for judicial review.
This post is the second part of two posts on the draft Online Safety Bill. In my first post, here, I detailed the mechanics of the proposed bill in detail. This post will summarise some of the civil society responses since the publication of the draft bill, attempting an evaluation of how reasonable those responses are in light of the available information.
Does the bill go too far?
A recent report on freedom of expression online from the House of Lords, ‘Free for All? Freedom of Expression in the Digital Age’ (found here), recommends that the draft bill drops the duty to protect adults from contentious “legal but harmful” content. As detailed in the previous post, “category 1” services would have a duty under the draft bill to identify how their systems could cause adults to come into contact with user-generated content that is legal but nonetheless considered harmful. Further to that duty, they would be required to take steps to proportionately mitigate against the risk of exposure to that harmful content. Given the possibility to adverse impacts on freedom of expression, especially from the potential of overzealous policing of this provision by category 1 services to avoid liability, this has become one of the most controversial elements of the current draft bill.
The House of Lords report recommends that s. 11, implementing the adult safety duty, be dropped from the draft bill. As things stand, there are two ways in which content can be caught by the adult safety duty. Under s.46(2), the relevant secretary of state can designate by regulation certain types of content as “priority content”. Second, under s.46(3 – 5), content for which there is a “material risk” of having “significant adverse physical or psychological impact on an adult of ordinary sensibilities” is also considered “content that is harmful to adults”. Category 1 services must take steps to proportionately mitigate against the likelihood of adults using their service to come into contact with these types of content.
On 22 December 2020, the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) published a Grand Chamber decision against Turkey, requiring the immediate release of the pro-Kurdish opposition leader Selahattin Demirtaş from pre-trial detention (Selahattin Demirtaş v Turkey, Application no. 14305/17). The ECtHR said that Mr Demirtaş’ detention went against “the very core of the concept of a democratic society” and was in breach of Articles 5, 10, 18 and Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the “Convention”).
The decision is particularly significant given Mr Demirtaş’ high profile status and the numerous cases against Turkey that the ECtHR is now hearing, following the attempted coup in July 2016 and the government’s subsequent crackdown on civil society. Shortly after publication of the judgment, the ECtHR website was subject to a cyber-attack and rendered temporarily inaccessible. A group of pro-Turkish hackers claimed responsibility for the attack via a Twitter post.
On 3 October 2019 the European Court of Human Rights dismissed an application by former NDP leader Udo Pastörs that his criminal conviction in Germany for making a “qualified Auschwitz denial” in a parliamentary speech infringed his right to freedom of speech under Article 10 ECHR. The Court held that, although interferences over statements made in parliament must be closely scrutinised, they deserve little, if any, protection if their content is at odds with the democratic values of the ECHR system.
This is the most recent in the long series of legal steps touching on the violent career of Ben Butler, recently convicted of the murder of his daughter, Ellie.
Butler was convicted for Grievous Bodily Harm, and then cleared on appeal. Care proceedings were commenced at the end of which Ellie was ordered to be returned to her parents by Hogg J in October 2012. A year later, on 28 October 2013, Ellie was found dead.
C, the subject of this appeal, is Ellie’s younger sister. In June 2014, Eleanor King J, in the family courts, found that Butler had caused Ellie’s death, Ellie’s mother (Jennie Gray) had failed to protect her from Butler, and C had been the victim of physical and emotional abuse. This judgment had been the subject of reporting restrictions.
Immediately after Butler’s conviction in June 2016, media organisations applied for the release of Eleanor King J’s judgment to Pauffley J in the family court. Pauffley J dismissed this application. Her decision was roundly reversed in this decision of the Court of Appeal.
The human rights clash is the familiar one of freedom of expression under Article 10 versus the right to a fair trial under Article 6 ECHR.
The European Parliament has awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Saudi Arabian blogger, Raif Badawi. The Prize, named after Andrei Sakharov who spoke out publicly against the nuclear arms race during the Cold War and criticised Soviet society, is awarded to those who “have made an exceptional contribution to the fight for human rights across the globe, drawing attention to human rights violations as well as supporting the laureates and their cause.” Continue reading →
Guardian: James Rhodes and friends including Benedict Cumberbatch outside Court
James Rhodes v OPO (by his Litigation Friend BHM) and another,  UKSC 32
The Supreme Court has handed down its judgment in an appeal by the celebrated concert pianist, James Rhodes. You can read the judgment here and watch Lord Toulson’s summary here.
The case considered whether Mr Rhodes could be prevented from publishing his memoir on the basis that to do so would constitute the tort of intentionally causing harm. Those acting on behalf of Mr Rhodes’ son were particularly concerned about the effect upon him of learning of details of his father’s sexual abuse as a child.
Traveller Movement v Ofcom and Channel 4,  EWHC 406 (Admin), 20 February 2015 – read judgment
One of the nation’s great televisual fascinations last week became the unlikely subject of an Administrative Court judgment that demonstrates the limits of common law standards of fairness, as well as the lightness of touch applied by the courts when reviewing the decision-making of the media regulator.
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 →
Merlin Entertainments LPC, Chessington World of Adventures Operations and others v Peter Cave  EWHC 3036 (QB) 25 September 2014 – read judgment
This case explores the extent to which a campaign of criticism, conducted by internet and email, can merit restraint by the civil courts. As the judge says, whatever the aims of the campaign in question, its supporters may, in the course of their activities, annoy, irritate, and upset companies and individuals. But should the courts interfere, before the question whether the campaign is justified has been decided? And to what extent is such a campaign a criminal offence?
This particular dispute concerned a series of communications by the defendant to the general public about the inadequacy of safety measures and other shortcomings of the claimants’ amusement parks. The claimants contended that Dr Cave’s communications with the public and with their employees were defamatory, and in breach of confidence, and that they were thereby entitled to stop him, before any trial, by relying on the statutory tort of harassment. They therefore applied for an interim injunction restraining the defendant from setting up websites and sending mass emails regarding the issue of safety in theme parks. The question before the judge was whether they should wait until they had established defamation and/or breach of confidence, before the court granted a remedy. Continue reading →
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