social media


Libel on the internet: Christian author takes on Dawkins and Amazon

16 May 2012 by

Mcgrath v Dawkins, Amazon and others [2012] EWHC B3 (QB) -read judgment

In an interesting ruling on a strike-out action against a libel claim, a High Court judge has delineated the scope for defamation in blog posts and discussion threads where the audience is small and the libel limited.

Background

The claimant, C,  is the author of a book entitled “The Attempted Murder of God: Hidden Science You Really Need To Know”. Published at the same time on the same general topic, but taking the opposite side, was “The Grand Design: New Answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life” by the very well-known scientist Professor Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.  Both books were available for purchase through the Amazon UK website run by the third defendant.

Amazon includes an online public-access facility, through which any member of the public may publish their own review of a book for sale on the site, and others may post comments on that review, or on previous comments, so creating a “thread” which may be read by any internet user worldwide.  Since Prof. Hawking’s book was likely to attract far more interest among readers than C’s, he decided to raise the profile of his own work. In September 2010 he posted a purported review of the Hawking book, signed by “Scrooby”, which began by giving the details of his own book, and then went on to claim that this book “answered all doubts raised in [Hawking’s] book” and was an “antidote to this misguided book”. As the judgment continues
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The rising cost of free speech: Reynolds, contempt and Twitter

12 April 2012 by

Free speech is under attack. Or so it seems. The last few weeks have been abuzz with stories to do with free speech: a Supreme Court ruling on the Reynolds defence to libel; contempt of court proceedings against an MP for comments made in a book and the latest in a growing line of criminal trials for Twitter offences. The diversity of media at the heart of these stories – print news, traditional books and online ‘micro-blogging’ –  indicates the difficulty of the task for the legal system.

Flood v Times: how does this affect calls for libel reform?

On 21 March, the Supreme Court affirmed the Times newspaper’s reliance on the Reynolds defence to libel – often referred to as Reynolds privilege or the responsible journalism defence – to a claim by a detective sergeant in the Metropolitan Police.

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UK Supreme Court is tweeting, but where are the other courts?

7 February 2012 by

The UK Supreme Court began tweeting yesterday as @UKSupremeCourt to deserved international fanfare. Some even speculated that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition fate could now be revealed on Twitter.

The court is already being followed by almost 4,000 Twitter users (for the uninitiated, that is a lot) and has already beaten its own Twitter policy’s prediction of “2-3 tweets a week” with eight on its first day. The eventful debut tweets included seven live updates on the swearing-in ceremony of the court’s newest Justice, Lord Reed, and one relenting to Twitter user @FOImanUK‘s valid point that contrary to the court’s stated policy, it should be possible to put freedom of information requests to the court via Twitter.

This is all excellent news. The UK’s newest and highest appeal court is now setting the international standard for open justice, with its splendid press summaries of judgments, live transmission of hearings online (today’s is a very interesting case about the state’s financial responsibility towards disable people), accessible court facilities and generally public-facing approach. This is also as it should be: the Court has a statutory duty to be “accessible”. But the Supreme Court, which is largely independent from the rest of the court system, is now streaking ahead of it in terms of access to justice. And this open justice gap is becoming a problem.

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Facebook contempt trial begins tomorrow

13 June 2011 by

Tomorrow sees the beginning of a contempt of court prosecution against a juror who allegedly communicated on the social networking site Facebook with a defendant who had already been acquitted.

The co-editor of this blog, Angus McCullough QC, is representing the Attorney General in the case; he is not the writer of this post. Isabel McArdle has already posted on the case – for background, see Silence please: A Facebook contempt of court – allegedly.

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Must lawyers blog and tweet?

24 May 2011 by

Lots of lawyers are blogging and tweeting. Should they be?

I spoke last Thursday at the second #lawblogs event, kindly hosted in the grand (not to mention establishment) surrounding of The Law Society. The event was attended by around 75 people, most of whom had a passion for legal blogging and tweeting. You can read the Twitter feed of the event here, or reviews by James Wilson, Mike Scutt, James Dean of The Times (paywall) and The Guardian’s Siobhain Butterworth .

One issue which I tried to explore was the professional ethics of lawyers blogging and tweeting. There are a number of questions which lawyers could, and probably should, ask themselves before making their social media debut . Is it right for lawyers to comment publicly on the law? What about on their own cases? And might there be a positive ethical duty to explain the law to the general public?

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How Supreme Court Live works

18 May 2011 by

This week the Sky News website began broadcasting UK Supreme Court hearings live. I have been talking up this idea for a while, and in my view the new service marks an important moment for access to justice.

In its first few days, Supreme Court Live has been showing an insurance case which has been, shall we say, a little difficult to follow (of course it would have been much more difficult to follow but for the excellent advocacy on display…) But the service works well and the footage is of high quality by current standards.

Whilst watching the case my mind wandered to the nuts and bolts of the arrangement between Sky and the court, and whether there are plans to expand the service in the future. I asked the Supreme Court, and this is what they said.

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#lawblogs is back on Thursday 19 May – how to sign up

3 May 2011 by

Update – apologies for the earlier confusion. The details below are correct and confirmed.

The second #lawblogs event will be held on 19 May 2011 at 6pm. The Law Society at 113 Chancery Lane have kindly agreed to host the event.

To reserve your place, send an email to lawblogsevent@gmail.com with the subject heading “Legal blogging event” and your full name only in the text. Only one place can be reserved per person. Space is limited so please email as soon as possible if you want to attend. You can also follow updates and live tweets from the event on Twitter via our new account at @legalblogging.

Like the “Future of Legal Blogging“, but on a larger scale, the event will be a panel based discussion of the past, present and future of legal blogging, tweeting and journalism, followed of course by drinks and nibbles. The speakers will be:

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Silence please: A Facebook contempt of court – allegedly

28 April 2011 by

A juror has found herself facing contempt of court charges, it being alleged that she communicated on Facebook with a defendant who had already been acquitted.

These types of proceedings can have human rights implications in two ways: Article 6, providing the right to a fair trial can be infringed upon by improper communicaton by jurors, and to a lesser extent, Article 10, which provides the right to freedom of expression may be engaged. As Article 10 includes a large number of circumstances where freedom of expression may be lawfully restricted, raising freedom of expression arguments to challenge the bringing of contempt proceedings would be very unlikely to succeed in these circumstances.

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Should justice be televised?

6 December 2010 by

The head of Sky News has argued in a new Guardian article that justice must be televised as allowing TV cameras in court would help restore public faith in criminal proceedings.

Sky news has been campaigning for TV cameras to be allowed in court for the past year. John Ryley argues that the upcoming prosecutions of 5 men accused of abusing the parliamentary expenses system should be televised as the judge in the case has said the matter is “of intense public interest”. Televising proceedings would help restore the loss of confidence in parliament and politics and ensure that judges who are seen are “out of touch” and “liberal” need not escape the spotlight.

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Twitter joke trial: Do “offensive” tweeters have freedom of expression rights?

2 December 2010 by

In January of this year Paul Chambers used Twitter to express his feelings about the possible closure of Robin Hood Airport due to snow, which he feared would thwart his trip to Belfast to meet his new girlfriend, a fellow twitterer going by the name @Crazycolours.

He said via his @pauljchambers Twitter account:

Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!

The consequences of his tweet were summarised in the Guardian:

A week later, he was arrested at work by five police officers, questioned for eight hours, had his computers and phones seized and was subsequently charged and convicted of causing a “menace” under the Communications Act 2003 .

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Rooney, Coulson and Hague scandals reveal the need for more, not less, press protection

6 September 2010 by

What does Wayne Rooney’s alleged philandering have to do with human rights? In itself, not very much. But a recent spate of exposés in and of the press has exposed more than a footballer’s indiscretions.

The starting point from a human rights perspective is the fragile relationship between two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights; namely, the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression. Article 8 provides that everyone has the “right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” This right is qualified, in the sense that it is possible for a state authority to breach privacy rights if it is (amongst other things) necessary in a democratic society.

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