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Guardian: Court of protection should be open to media, says leading judge

November 7th, 2011 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Legal, Politics, Press freedom and ethics

The processes of England’s most private court should be opened up to public and media scrutiny, the head of the court of protection Sir Nicholas Wall has said in an interview with the Guardian.

The media has recently been granted increased access to the proceedings of the court, which makes decisions in the cases of people deemed vulnerable or unable to make decisions for themselves, but on the rare occasions that the media is granted access judges still decide on a case-by-cases what they can have access to and report on, and at what stages of a case.

Wall told the Guardian:

It seems to me a matter of public interest. The public is, after all, entitled to know what’s going on. Locking up a mentally disabled person is a very serious thing to do and we don’t want people quietly locked up in private.

He added:

The decision about opening up the court is very fraught and people have very strong views. My entirely personal view is that provided we can protect the confidentiality of litigants and their families, there’s not a reason we can’t hear the cases in the presence of the media.

Read the full report on Guardian.co.uk at this link.

Journalism.co.uk court of protection coverage.

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Jo Yeates’ landlord: media responsible for ‘extraordinary tissue of fabrications’

November 2nd, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Legal, Newspapers, Press freedom and ethics

Chris Jefferies, who successfully sued eight newspapers for damages after his release. Image: Tim Ireland/PA

Chris Jefferies, the landlord of Joanna Yeates who was arrested on suspicion of her murder but later released, told Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that he was “very disturbed” by the “extraordinary tissue of fabrications” published by the press following his arrest.

Jefferies was appearing on the programme to talk about his work with the Hacked Off campaign to exclude privacy and defamation cases from proposed government reforms to conditional fee agreements (CFAs), otherwise known as “no-win-no-fee” agreements.

After his release Jefferies successfully sued eight newspapers – the Sun, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Mail, Daily Star, Daily Express, Daily Record, and the Scotsman – for damages. Two of the titles – the Sun and the Daily Mirror – were also successfully prosecuted by attorney general Dominic Grieve for contempt of court.

Jefferies told the today programme that during his time in custody he had been unaware of his treatment at the hands of the press, which had caused Grieve to issue a warning to all news outlets over possible contempt.

The landlord said that the press had had “a field day” with his reputation and said he had “become a household name for all the wrong reasons”.

Arguing against the proposed CFA reforms, Jefferies claimed that there is “absolutely no question that I would not have been able to take the action I did against the newspapers” if no-win-no-fee agreements were restricted. He went on to say that access to justice would be “undoubtedly denied” to victims of libel or privacy intrusion if reform went ahead.

I think there is absolutely no question that I wouldn’t have been able to take the action that I did because at the moment, one is able to take out a conditional fee agreement and that means that the lawyer’s success fees, which are a percentage of the total legal costs of taking the action, will be paid by the other side and one won’t be responsible for those.

Because these cases can be dragged out over considerable periods of time, particularly if they go to court, then legal fees are astronomic. One couldn’t begin to potentially expose oneself to the risk of having to pay tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds in advance.

Precisely for that reason I felt I had no other course but to take the legitimate action that was recently concluded against the eight newspapers.

Jefferies’ solicitor, Louis Charalambous, said after damages were awarded that the newspapers were paying them “knowing that once the conditional fee agreement rules are changed next year victims of tabloid witch hunts will no longer have the same access to justice.”

Yeates neighbour, Vincent Tabak, was convicted of her murder last week and sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in prison.

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Guardian: Ryan Giggs launches legal action over NOTW phone hacking

Ryan Giggs is the latest celebrity to take legal action over News of the World phone hacking, according to this article in the Guardian. The article states the footballer is suing NOTW parent company News Group Newspapers and private detective Glenn Mulcaire for breach privacy, claiming his mobile phone messages were intercepted by journalists.

It is understood that Giggs was visited by officers from the Metropolitan police in Manchester several weeks ago, before he was named as the footballer who took out an injunction against News Group Newspapers.

Separately, the Guardian can also reveal that Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News Group’s parent company News International, was shown evidence for the first time last week by the Metropolitan police which suggests she was also targeted by Mulcaire.

Earlier today former Conservative cabinet minister Norman Fowler called upon the government to hold an inquiry into the phone hacking scandal during questions in the House of Lords.

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Guardian: Ministers agree on terms of reference for privacy committee

June 9th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Politics

The Guardian reports today that culture secretary Jeremy Hunt and justice secretary Ken Clarke have agreed on terms of reference for the committee of MPs and peers to look at the balance between the rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

David Cameron called for a joint committee to be established following the celebrity injunction furore. The terms include looking at the issue of enforcement in online publishing, which has been at the heart of recent events and controversies.

According to the Guardian the full terms of reference are:

  • To consider the operation of the current law in relation to privacy and the use of anonymity injunctions and superinjunctions and to advise the government on any improvements that should be made.

In particular, to consider:

  • How the current law, both statutory and common, has operated in practice.
  • How issues relating to determining the balance between privacy and freedom of expression, including particularly determining whether there is a public interest in material concerning peoples private and family life, could best be decided.
  • Issues relating to the enforcement of anonymity injunctions and superinjunctions, including in relation to publication on the internet, parliamentary privilege and the rule of law.
  • The role of the press and issues relating to press complaints and self-regulation in the context of privacy matters, including the role of the Press Complaints Commission and Ofcom.
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Independent: Poll finds judges ‘too ready’ to gag newspapers

June 1st, 2011 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal

The findings of a poll run by the Independent show  the majority of respondents believe “judges have been too ready to issue gagging orders” which enable the rich and famous to protect their privacy, the paper reports.

People appear to have little sympathy with those high-profile film, television and sports stars who have resorted to the courts to stop embarrassing details of their private lives reaching the public domain, according to the ComRes survey.

According to the Independent, which reported last week that at least 333 gagging orders have been granted in the last five years, 70 per cent of voters in the poll agreed that courts had been “too willing” to grant injunctions.

A total of 65 per cent believed that “celebrities and sports stars owe their lifestyle to their public profile so they should not complain about intrusion into their private lives”.

Although voters disapprove of the efforts that well-known figures make to prevent damaging headlines, they also believe by a narrower majority that privacy rules have failed to keep pace with the rapid growth of the internet.

This comes as a new account appears on Twitter publishing allegations of identities said to be being protected by injunctions. Following a previous case of a Twitter account publishing accusations against celebrities of taking out injunctions, as well as the wide Tweeting of individual identities said to be subject to privacy injunctions, the site reportedly confirmed it would hand over details about users if legally obliged to do so.

According to reports, just this weekend, in an entirely separate case not related to injunctions, a local council was allegedly successful in making Twitter hand over user details for a court case.

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Guardian: Hunt rules out new privacy law

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has ruled out the introduction of a new privacy law, the Guardian reported today, following a meeting with justice secretary Ken Clarke.

This comes before the conclusion of a review of the use of superinjunctions by a special committee chaired by Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger, and expected shortly.

Hunt admitted the current situation was “bordering on farce”. Numerous gag orders have been granted to footballers, celebrities and other public figures and some of their names published on Twitter anyway.

After meeting with Clarke, Hunt said: “I don’t believe a privacy law is the way forward. We’re not minded to have a new privacy law but we’re not ruling out the need for legislative changes.”

See the full report here…

Earlier today the alleged details of a superinjunction obtained by former RBS chief Sir Fred Goodwin were raised in the House of Lords by Lib Dem peer Lord Stoneham, who was protected under parliamentary privilege.

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Superinjuctions and celebrity privacy case numbers revealed

May 16th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal

The Daily Star Sunday yesterday published an A to Z list of 50 superinjunctions and “anonymous injunctions”, including one which allegedly relates to someone who has died.

Publication of the list follows a week of much debate after a Twitter account featured a string of allegations against public figures accused of having taken out superinjunctions, some of which have since been publicly denied.

This weekend the Daily Star Sunday reported there are currently 12 superinjunctions in existance, of which no details can be reported. The paper then lists the remaining “anonymous injunctions”.

This came a day after the Mail reported that between 30 and 40 celebrities currently have legal protection in place. On Friday the Telegraph revealed the courts had issued 80 gagging orders in the last six years.

The International Forum for Responsible Media reported it hopes to provide its own list from public sources, shortly.

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Independent: Max Mosley ‘bankrolling’ legal costs of phone hacking victims

May 5th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal

Max Mosley, the former Formula One chief who won £60,000 in damages in a privacy action against the News of the World, is “bankrolling phone-hacking victims’ fight against the tabloid”, the Independent reported today.

Based on an interview with Vanity Fair, Mosley, who is currently battling for a legal “right to notification” for individuals before a newspaper publishes allegations about them, is said to have agreed to underwrite the legal costs of “an unknown number of people”.

Last month News International announced it was to admit liability “in a number of cases” brought against the News of the World for phone hacking between 2004 and 2006. The owner of the tabloid also said it will make an “unreserved apology” to some of the claimants taking civil action against the title, in cases meeting “specific criteria”.

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Kelvin MacKenzie: Online makes mockery of super injunctions

Technology is “making fools” of high court judgements in relation to injunctions, according to former editor of the Sun Kelvin Mackenzie.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 Today on Saturday, reflecting on Andrew Marr’s revelation last week that he had taken out a super-injunction to protect his family’s privacy, Mackenzie said there should not be any such protections afforded.

I am in favour of free speech. We get ourselves in a shocking situation now where there’s a sort of two-track society. There’s those of us who know what the allegations are and all the names of all the famous people, which are basically media folk, and there are the rest of the public who are denied of knowing.

He added that the “explosion” of the online world means allegations are instead just being published on sites based outside the US.

Allegedly intelligent high court judges … have absolutely no common sense on this issue or an understanding of how technology is making fools of their judgements.

Also speaking on the show was Desmond Browne QC, a member of the special committee set up by Lord Neuberger to examine the use of media injunctions by the courts.

I think there’s a substantial difference between someone who knows the name being able to go on Wikipedia, seeing that there has been a redaction and making a conclusion as a result, and something being plastered all over the front page of the Sun or the Daily Mail and I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the courts to simply give up in the face of something that may be accessible on the web.

On Sunday the Observer published a debate between Max Mosley, the former chief of Formula One who previously won damages of £60,000 from the News of the World for breach of privacy, and John Kampfner, chief executive of Index on Censorship, on the very issue of super-injunctions.

Mosley is currently trying to get the UK law changed in favour of “prior notification” before a newspaper publishes allegations about an individual. Speaking in the debate Kampfner claimed that if Mosley’s law succeeds “it will set back the cause of free speech by decades”.

Read the full debate here…

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Lord Lester ‘not enthusiastic’ about privacy laws

April 27th, 2011 | Comments Off | Posted by in Legal, Press freedom and ethics

Lord Lester today urged the newly-formed joint committee on the draft defamation bill not to try to tackle a privacy law within the legislation.

Giving oral evidence before the committee, where he praised the government’s draft bill, he said he was “not enthusiastic” about privacy law.

The one thing I would say to this committee is that if you want to kill defamation law reform you will start by going into privacy and saying that needs to be tackled in the same bill. Because I promise you the plan to have an actual bill come out next May and be enacted next year will not happen if you get involved in the thickets of privacy at the same time.

In a following discussion on the power to make decisions on a day-to-day basis on what becomes public knowledge, he added that he “strongly believed” in self-regulation.

That is why I continue notwithstanding in the Ministry of Justice’s draft that having regard to adherence to professional codes needs to be written into the responsible journalism defence to emphasise that the judgements are for the editor or reporter, not for the court … Judges are not editors, reporters and are not competent to act in place of editors and reporters.

The law therefore needs to encourage self regulation. The Press Complaints Commission needs to be able to give effective remedies to keep the courts away.

Ultimately I think that a free press is obviously essential to democracy and the judgements have to be made by the profession … you will notice that in all the fuss about injunctions, super injunctions and privacy, that is a fuss which is made very often by newspapers that earn a living by trading in publishing private information to the public and good luck to them, but if you take a newspaper which does serious investigative reporting … if you are a responsible profession and you then take advantage for example of my Reynolds defence you’ll be able to tackle that.

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