3 March 2017
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.
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1 November 2016
This blog has covered a number of claims for damages arising out of the misuse of private information. The Mirror Group phone hacking case is one example (see my post here and the appeal decision here), and the fall-out from the hapless Home Office official who put private information about asylum-seekers on the Internet, being another – (Gideon Barth’s post on TLT here). See also below for related posts.
But this post is to give a bit of context, via the wider and scarier cyber crime which is going on all around us. It threatens the livelihoods of individuals and businesses the globe over – and has given and will undoubtedly give rise to complex spin-off litigation.
So let’s just start with the other week. On 21 October 2016, it seems nearly half the Internet was hit by a massive DDoS attack affecting a company, Dyn, which provides internet services infrastructure for a host of websites. Twitter, Reddit, Netflix, WIRED, Spotify and the New York Times were affected. DDoS, for cyber virgins, is Distributed Denial of Service, i.e. an overloading of servers via a flood of malicious requests, in this case from tens of millions of IP addresses. No firm culprits so far, but a botnet called Mirai seems to be in the frame. It is thought that non-secure items like cars, fridges and cameras connected to the Internet (the Internet of Things) may be the conscripted foot soldiers in such attacks.
And now to the sorts of cases which have hit the headlines in this country to date.
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9 August 2016
C (a child)  EWCA Civ 798 read judgment
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.
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27 April 2016
In the matter of proceedings brought by Kings College NHS Foundation Trust concerning C (who died on 28 November 2015) v The Applicant and Associated Newspapers Ltd and others  EWCOP21 – read judgment
The Court of Protection has just ruled that where a court has restricted the publication of information during proceedings that were in existence during a person’s lifetime, it has not only the right but the duty to consider, when requested to do so, whether that information should continue to be protected following the person’s death.
I posted last year on the case of a woman who had suffered kidney failure as a result of a suicide attempt has been allowed to refuse continuing dialysis. The Court of Protection rejected the hospital’s argument that such refusal disclosed a state of mind that rendered her incapable under the Mental Capacity Act. An adult patient who suffers from no mental incapacity has an absolute right to choose whether to consent to medical treatment (King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust v C and another  EWCOP 80).
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22 May 2015
Gulati v. MGN Ltd  EWHC 1482 (Ch), Mann J – judgment here
For some years in the early and mid 2000s, a routine form of news-gathering in the Mirror Group was phone hacking – listening to voicemails left for celebrities by their friends, and then dishing up revelations in their papers. And this judgment amounts to a comprehensive pay-back time for the years of distress and upset sustained by those celebrities, as the ins and outs of their private lives were played out for the Mirror Group’s profit. The damages awarded well exceeded those previously payable, as justified in the tour de force of a judgment by Mann J.
Warning – the judgment, compelling though it is, runs to 712 paragraphs. It concerns the assessment of damages in eight cases. The Mirror Group belatedly admitted liability and apologised, not before denying any wrongdoing to the Leveson inquiry. Other claims rest in the wings pending this trial. But with awards between £72,500 and £260,250, the bar has been set high by Mann J.
The claimants (with one exception) were the classic subjects of tabloid columns, namely EastEnders and Corrie stars (or those unfortunate to be married to them), the sometime air hostess girlfriend of Rio Ferdinand, Jude Law’s former wife, Sadie Frost, and, inevitably, Gazza. Seven sued because the hacking led to repeated articles about them. The eighth, Alan Yentob, Creative Director of the BBC, was hacked because of the information derived from the famous people who had left voicemails for him.
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19 March 2015
A healthcare NHS Trust v P & Q  EWCOP (13 March 2015) – read judgment
The Court of Protection has clarified the position on revealing the identity of an incapacitated adult where reporting restrictions apply.
This case concerned a man, P, who as a result of a major cardiac arrest in 2014, has been on life support for the past four months. Medical opinion suggests that he is unlikely ever to recover any level of consciousness, but his family disagrees strongly with this position. The Trust therefore applied to the Court for a declaration in P’s best interests firstly, not to escalate his care and secondly to discontinue some care, inevitably leading to his demise. The trust also applied for a reporting restrictions order. When it sought to serve that application on the Press Association through the Injunctions Alert Service, the family (represented by the second
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19 February 2015
On yesterday’s Newsnight (from 7 minutes 20 seconds in), Britain’s foremost legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg revealed that he resigned as the Telegraph’s legal editor in 2007 after the news desk sexed up a human rights story with false information.
The story is still on the Telegraph’s website here. It was a report of the 2007 House of Lords decision in Secretary of State for Defence v Al-Skeini & Ors  UKHL, a case about whether the Human Rights Act applied to actions of the British Army in Iraq. The House of Lords ruled that the Act did apply in British detention facilities, but that it did not apply in the streets of occupied Basra. There is an excellent summary of the case by Rozenberg here.
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19 February 2015
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.
This is why the CA reached its decision.
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27 August 2014
Updated x 2 | At the risk of sounding like a broken record, The Sun has got it badly wrong on human rights. Again. On 24 August 2014 Craig Woodhouse reported that “Euro judges go against UK in 3 out of 5 cases” (£). This is false and seriously misleading.
I explored this issue in detail back in 2012 when the Daily Mail as well as others claimed that the UK loses 3 out of 4 cases. Since that debacle, the European Court of Human Rights has produced some very clear documents on the statistics page of its website.
According to page 8 of this document, there have been 22,065 applications against UK 1959-2013. That means that 22,065 people or so have brought cases against the UK. Of those cases, there have been 297 resulting in a violation.
I am no statistician but 297 as a percentage of 22,065 is not “3 out of 5”. It is in fact 1.35%. Less than 2 in 100.
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12 June 2014
Guardian News and Media Ltd -v- AB CD – Read preliminary judgment
The Court of Appeal has published its decision in Guardian News Media v AB and CD. It is not a judgment, the Court says. Judgments – plural – will be given “in due course.” Still, the 24 paragraph decision contains the order and explanation of the order, and gives an indication of some of the reasons that will follow.
Is this a good decision? It is better than it might have been, but there are still deeply worrying problems.
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12 May 2014
G (Adult), Re  (Associated Newspapers Limited intervening) EWCOP 1361 (1 May 2014) – read judgment
Sir James Munby, President of the Court of Protection has ruled that the Daily Mail has no standing to be joined as a party in welfare proceedings in relation to a vulnerable adult who has been declared by the courts as lacking capacity under the Mental Capacity Act.
Background to the application
The court was concerned with a 94 year old woman, a British African Caribbean who lives in her own home in London. G is 94 years old. G has never married and has no children. She has no family living in the UK. She suffers from conditions that have limited her mobility; arthritis, rheumatism, a dislocation of her left knee and carpal tunnel syndrome. She also has high blood pressure and double incontinence. G rarely leaves home now, except for hospital appointments.
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9 May 2014
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 -.
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13 March 2014
R (on the application of British Sky Broadcasting Limited) (Respondent) v The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (Appellant)  UKSC 17 – read judgment
This was an appeal from a ruling by the Administrative Court that it was procedurally unfair, and therefore unlawful, for BSkyB to have had a disclosure order made against it without full access to the evidence on which the police’s case was based and the opportunity to comment on or challenge that evidence. The following report is based partly on the Supreme Court’s press summary (references in square brackets are to paragraphs in the judgment):
Sam Kiley is a journalist who has for many years specialised in covering international affairs and homeland security. In 2008 he was an “embedded” journalist for a period of months within an air assault brigade in Afghanistan, where he was introduced to AB. CD was also serving in Helmand at the same time.
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19 February 2014
David Miranda v Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and three interveners  EWHC 255 (Admin) – read judgment
The High Court has rejected all the arguments supporting David Miranda’s application for judicial review of his detention at Heathrow Airport in August last year. In a highly readable and pungent judgment, Laws LJ has some robust things to say about the vaunting of journalistic interests over public security in the guise of Article 10, and the ‘mission creep’ of requirements demanded by the courts for state action to be considered “proportionate”.
This is the long-awaited conclusion to the substantive hearing since judicial review proceedings were initiated seven months ago; see our posts on previous stages of this saga here, here and here. It will be remembered that Mr Miranda was detained and questioned by police officers under the Terrorism Act 2000, and various items in his possession, notably encrypted storage devices, were taken from him. Miranda claims that all this was done without any legal authority.
The claim, which was supported by numerous civil liberties interveners, raised three questions:
- Did paragraph 2(1) of Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 empower the police to stop and question the claimant for the purpose of determining whether he appeared to be “concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”?
- Even if it did, was the use of the power proportionate to the legitimate aim?
- Is the paragraph 2(1) power repugnant to the right of freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 10 of the ECHR?
Laws LJ, giving judgment for the three judge panel, answered the first two in the affirmative, and said a firm “no” to last.
The claimant is a Brazilian citizen and the spouse of Glenn Greenwald, a journalist who at the material time was working for the Guardian newspaper. Some months after an initial contact made in late 2012 Mr Greenwald met Edward Snowden, who provided him with encrypted data which had been stolen from the National Security Agency of the United States. The data included UK intelligence material. Some of it formed the basis of articles in the Guardian on 6 and 7 June 2013 and on later dates. On 12 August 2013 the claimant travelled from Rio de Janeiro to Berlin in order to meet the other journalist involved, Laura Poitras. He was carrying encrypted material derived from the data obtained by Mr Snowden and he was travelling to collect computer drives containing further such material to assist in the journalistic activity of Mr Greenwald. He was stopped at 0805 on Sunday 18 August 2013 at Heathrow on his way back to Rio de Janeiro.
A series of Port Circulation Sheets (PCS) were circulated to counter-terrorism police alerting them that the claimant was “likely to be involved in espionage activity which has the potential to act against the interests of UK national security”, and requesting them to establish the nature of his activity, assess the risk that he posed to UK national security and to mitigate as appropriate. A PCS essentially triggers the powers of the police under certain circumstances to carry out a ports stop against a named individual.
The claimant was detained for approximately 9 hours. According to a statement from the Intelligence, Security and Resilience in the Cabinet Office, the encrypted data contained in the external hard drive taken from the claimant contained approximately 58,000 highly classified UK intelligence documents. Many were classified SECRET or TOP SECRET.
Judicial review proceedings started shortly afterwards, and in November 2013, after various interlocutory hearings, the substantive hearing came before the High Court.
The Court’s Decision: Improper purpose
The Schedule 7 purpose – determining whether [the subject] appears to be a person who “has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism” – must be the purpose for which the officers execute the stop if it is to be lawful. It doesn’t make the stop unlawful if there is a subsidiary purpose – “killing two birds with one stone” – but the permitted purpose must be the “true and dominant purpose behind the act” (R v Southwark Crown Court ex p. Bowles  AC 641,  UKHL 16].
The fact that the police officers in question had not been given sufficient information about the intelligence did not mean that they had not executed their instructions in good faith:
Given the context – the possible apprehension of terrorism – Parliament must have enacted Schedule 7 in the knowledge that there might be very good reasons why the examining officers … should not be privy to the whole story. (para 21)
The purpose of the stop thus disclosed was to “ascertain the nature of the material which the claimant was carrying and if on examination it proved to be as was feared, to neutralise the effects of its release (or further release) or dissemination”. Moreover, the proper exercise of the Schedule 7 power did not require that the examining officer have any grounds whatever for suspecting that a person was connected with terrorism within Act’s definition. The Schedule 7 purpose was not to determine whether the subject is, but only whether he “appears to be” a terrorist. The Schedule 7 power was created by Parliament in order to provide “a reasonable but limited opportunity for the ascertainment of a possibility: the possibility that a traveller at a port may be involved (“concerned” – s.40(1)(b)), directly or indirectly, in any of a range of activities enumerated in s.1(2)”.
Given the facts stated in the last PCS and the National Security Justification, Laws LJ for the Court concluded that the purpose of the stop – to ascertain the nature of the material which the claimant was carrying and if on examination it proved to be as was feared, to neutralise the effects of its release (or further release) or dissemination – “fell properly within Schedule 7 of the 2000 Act on the latter’s true construction.”
The classic three step proportionality test – was the objective important enough to justify limiting a right, was the measure connected to that objective, and was the measure no more intrusive than other necessary – has been elaborated over the past decade, most recently by Lord Sumption in Bank Mellat v Her Majesty’s Treasury (No 2) 3 WLR 170,  UKSC 39. This adds a fourth question, which is to ask whether, even if the measure in question is not particularly intrusive, did it nevertheless fail to strike a fair balance has been struck between the rights of the individual and the interests of the community? Laws LJ pondered on the implications of such a requirement, and found it not to his liking:
It appears to require the court, in a case where the impugned measure passes muster on points (i) – (iii), to decide whether the measure, though it has a justified purpose and is no more intrusive than necessary, is nevertheless offensive because it fails to strike the right balance between private right and public interest; and the court is the judge of where the balance should lie. I think there is real difficulty in distinguishing this from a political question to be decided by the elected arm of government. If it is properly within the judicial sphere, it must be on the footing that there is a plain case.
Free Speech and the Protection of Journalistic Expression
Laws LJ commenced his consideration of this element of the claim with a brisk dismissal of all the Strasbourg case law on the matter. The idea of free speech has received sufficient emphasis in the law of England –
I do not therefore think it necessary, on this part of the case, to place any reliance on the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights; the common law is a sufficient arena for the debate.
In any event, much of the law on free speech in journalism was of no relevance here since it concerned protection of sources. No such issue arose here. The source was no secret: “Mr Snowden stole the material, and the claimant (however indirectly) got it from Mr Snowden.” (para 48).
Furthermore, the mistaken idea seems to have taken hold that the essential justification of free expression as a fundamental value is the promotion or betterment of democratic government. Freedom of speech may indeed be “the lifeblood of democracy”; but that is not the same thing.
The perception of free expression as a servant of democracy, however, would tend to devalue non-political speech and justify the prohibition or abridgement of speech advocating undemocratic government … This would fuel what is anyway one of exuberant democracy’s weaknesses, namely the intolerance of minorities. Everyone, even democracy’s enemy, must surely be allowed his say provided he advocates no crime nor violates the rights of others. The reason is that free thought, which is a condition of every man’s flourishing, needs free expression; and this is every person’s birthright, in whatever polity he has to live. There are of course undemocratic societies in which free speech is an idle hope. But free speech is not a creature of democracy; if anything, the converse. The critics of democracy may keep democracy on its toes. (para 45)
Turning to the matter in hand, Laws LJ observed that this privileging of political speech over other forms of expression has a distorting effect on the proportionality debate. The claimant, in other words, was seeking a heightened protection for himself, or at least the material he was carrying) on account of his association with the journalist Mr Greenwald. There was no basis for the court to extend such protection:
the application of requirement (iv) in the toll of proportionality – “whether… a fair balance has been struck between the rights of the individual and the interests of the community” – needs at least to be modified. The contrast is not between private right and public interest. The journalist enjoys no heightened protection for his own sake, but only for the sake of his readers or his audience. If there is a balance to be struck, it is between two aspects of the public interest.
The sting of the claimant’s challenge was that the defendants did not believe that the claimant’s possession of the material presented any real danger to national security or risk of loss of life. Whilst acknowledging the limits of evidence not cross-examined, Laws LJ could find “no perceptible foundation” for such a suggestion. The truth of it was that the claimant’s broader argument on proportionality – that the use of Schedule 7 was in any event unjustified – did not in fact depend on the categorisation of the GCHQ documents as journalistic material. The claimant was trying to make out a case that he had been assisting in the conduct of responsible journalism, and the law’s duty to protect that activity meant that interference with it by the summary and unsupervised process of Schedule 7 was disproportionate and unlawful whether or not any intercepted documents strictly fell within the statutory definition of “journalistic material”:
… given the substantial, often insuperable, difficulty a journalist faces in seeking to determine what classified material may be safely published and what may not (paragraph 58 above), the notion of “responsible journalism” throws little light on the proportionality issue.
The claimant’s essential argument rested on three propositions:
- Journalists, “like judges”, have a role in a democratic State to scrutinise action by government.
- The function of the free press is inhibited by an insistence that anything (in the security field) which the journalist seeks to publish must be stifled because it may be part of the “jigsaw” from which a knowing terrorist may draw harmful inferences.
- There is a balance to be struck, again in the security field, between the responsibility of government and the responsibility of journalists.
But nobody had satisfied the court that there was any constitutional basis for any of these propositions, which would confer on the journalists’ profession a constitutional status which it does not possess:
They suggest … that journalists share with government the responsibility of measuring what is required by way of withholding publication for the protection of national security. Journalists have no such constitutional responsibility. They have, of course, a professional responsibility to take care so far as they are able to see that the public interest, including the security of the State and the lives of other people, is not endangered by what they publish. But that is not an adequate safeguard for lives and security, because of the “jigsaw” quality of intelligence information, and because the journalist will have his own take or focus on what serves the public interest, for which he is not answerable to the public through Parliament. The constitutional responsibility for the protection of national security lies with elected government: see, amongst much other authority, Binyam Mohamed QB 218per Lord Neuberger MR at paragraph 131.
He concluded, therefore, that the Schedule 7 stop was a proportionate measure in the circumstances. Its objective was not only legitimate, but “very pressing”.
In a press freedom case, the fourth requirement in the catalogue of proportionality involves as I have said the striking of a balance between two aspects of the public interest: press freedom itself on one hand, and on the other whatever is sought to justify the interference: here national security. On the facts of this case, the balance is plainly in favour of the latter. (para 73)
For similar reasons the Court rejected the claimant’s and intervenors’ related submission, that the Schedule 7 power is over-broad or arbitrary, and for that reason not “prescribed by law” under Article 10(2).
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19 December 2013
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.
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