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In Mr Justice Eady’s court super injunctions and libel tourism are of little concern

Despite Mr Justice Eady’s little quips during his speech (about telling footballers apart in soft lighting, for example), the colour from last night’s speech at City University London came in the questions afterwards.

Heather Brooke proudly announced herself as a freedom of information campaigner and British-American. Whilst Eady professed himself an advocate of freedom of speech, his feelings about Americans had been less favourable – we often overlook the fact that we are not part of the United States, he jibed at one point.

When Eady finally located Brooke (“Sorry, the reason I was looking round the room was because I didn’t recognise you compared to the person who portrayed you on television”) he tackled her questions: why are super-injunctions not recorded publicly and what are the total libel costs that go through his court each year?

“Super-injunctions are something of an artificial construct, blown up by the media recently. I’d never heard the term till it was mentioned till a few months ago.

“I’m not conscious that I’ve ever granted one, though it’s conceivable I might have done.”

They were, on the whole, he claimed, used in celebrity blackmail cases to ensure the threatening party didn’t find out the nature of the injunction and run off to the newspapers.

“The trouble is when a judge grants an anonymous injunction, it’s recorded anonymously and you can’t find out the details.”

The only thing to be done, he said, is to invite judges over a period of time to list the number of the super injunctions they’ve granted, if they have done.

“One couldn’t break into the confidentiality of a particular case. I think you’d find it’s a tiny number. I might have done one or two in the past.”

On costs, he was equally unenlightening: solicitors come up with a fee he said, based on the number of hours. “Sometimes one suspects they may be over charging in the sense that more hours are spent handling documents than is strictly necessary, but it’s very difficult to establish that’s the case.”

While Eady had been to one or two training sessions with cost judges on keeping costs down, not much light had been thrown on the issue, he said. He had no statistics to offer: “Costs are huge, I’m sure of that”.

Scientific debate
On Simon Singh’s ongoing case, in which Eady ruled that Singh’s comments about the British Chiropractic Association were fact not comment (currently awaiting a Court of Appeal decision) he would not be drawn, following a question by Connie St Louis, who runs City University London’s new science journalism course.

“I don’t want to discuss a particular case. But the basic principle is pretty clear, in terms of scientific discussion and research, that there should be completely free and uninhibited communication between experts in the field and indeed the general public at large,” said Eady.

“The question arises whether or not, in a particular set of of circumstances, whether the boundary between comment and fact has been overstepped. That’s a very central issue in that case. I don’t want to get drawn into that because I’ve expressed my view in that case.”

“I don’t think there’s great danger for scientific investigation. Everyone accepts, I think, that freedom of communication is vital in that context.”

Libel tourism
On libel tourism,he was equally unconcerned, when asked a question by journalist James Ball.

“I would be interested to see the research on libel tourism, if there is any, because sitting where I do I don’t see an awful lot of it,” said Eady.

“By libel tourism, I think you mean people coming to this country with no connection to it, who have been libelled in it.”

If there is genuinely no connection between the claimant and the UK, then there is a mechanism to strike out the case, he said.

The facts are often exaggerated, he said, presumably in reference to the press accounts.

“Sometimes it’s said the person has no connection to this country, but in fact the person has strong business connections (….) As our law stands here, they’re entitled to sue in this country.”

No-one in the audience took up the Independent’s challenge to ask him about future plans, despite several dares via the Twitter conversation (which you can see at this link).

Mr Justice Eady speech in full

To the surprise of some, it was Mr Justice Eady who took the platform for a speech on freedom of expression in the context of human rights law last night, to mark the launch of City University London’s new centre for Law, Justice and Journalism.

The high court judge is known for his judgements that led to big media payouts to Max Mosley, Madonna and Tiger Woods for breaches of privacy, and for the many libel cases over which he has presided. In a speech in 2008, the Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre said that Eady was bringing in a “privacy law by the back door.”

We have uploaded Eady’s speech in full, below:

Justice Eady Speech – City University London – March 2010

Video links for City University London new media election debate

Last week’s lively ‘2010: the first new media election?’ debate at City University London provoked a fair bit of online comment, particularly as it coincided with the announcement of the rules for the televised leader debates. You can now watch the Media Society event online:

Election 2.0: ‘The internet is not national, it’s not local, it’s everywhere’ says Google’s DJ Collins

As reported elsewhere on Journalism.co.uk, last night we supported City University London’s ‘Will 2010 be the first new media election?’ event, hosted by the Media Society and also supported by the Media Trust.

  • Listen to Evan Davis talking to Journalism.co.uk at this link: the BBC Radio 4 Today journalist posed, rather than answered the ‘how much influence will social media hold’ question, but said both new and media forms have their merits. “What might be quite interesting is the way they interact: the way old media results get amplified through the new media and the way the old media events are interpreted through new media.” Both these events will have more resonance together than they would on their own, he said.

Finally, here’s Rupa Huq, blogger, socialist, Labour supporter talking to City University student Heather Christie (@heatherchristie) about getting carried with the “brave new world of new media”:

Catch up with the other Journalism.co.uk coverage here:

Event: Will 2010 be the first new media election?

Tonight Journalism.co.uk is pleased to be supporting City University London’s event to mark the launch of its new political journalism MA, ‘Will 2010 be the first new media election?’ The charity the Media Trust is also partnering the event, organised by the Media Society. Chaired by the BBC’s Evan Davis, it also  features:

  • DJ Collins, Google/YouTube’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs, EMEA
  • Prof Ivor Gaber, City University London
  • Rupa Huq, blogger
  • Matthew McGregor, Blue State Digital (Obama’s social media/web advisors)
  • Nick Robinson, BBC Political Editor

For those wanting to follow by Twitter, the tag is #cityvote.