Tag Archives: High Court

Telegraph: James and Rupert Murdoch to be questioned under oath

The Telegraph reported yesterday that both James and Rupert Murdoch are to be questioned under oath in the High Court as part of the Lord Leveson inquiry into phone hacking.

According to the paper’s report Lord Leveson is also “keen” for the inquiry to be broadcast live. A Cabinet Office spokesman declined to comment on whether the Murdochs will be questioned, but told Journalism.co.uk live coverage of the inquiry is being looked into.  The closing date for submissions to the inquiry is tomorrow, with reportedly “dozens of letters” already having been sent to potential witnesses to ask for their input.

The Murdochs, as well as Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, both former editors of the News of the World, are likely to be called.

David Cameron and other senior politicians are also likely to be questioned over their links to News International, the parent company of the News of the World.

Today Reuters also reported that lawyers for News International are carrying out “a broad inquiry into reporting practices at all of the company’s UK newspapers”.

Citing sources who have been briefed about the inquiry Reuters reports that lawyers for law firm Linklaters will be “looking for anything that US government investigators might be able to construe as evidence the company violated American law”.

In addition to conducting personal interviews with selected journalists, lawyers will also be looking at email and financial records, said this source.

A News International spokesman confirmed that a review of journalistic standards is underway at News International, which Linklaters is assisting with.

“This is part of a process that started a number of weeks ago and is under the ultimate control of the News Corp board through the independent director Viet Dinh, Joel Klein and the Management and Standards Committee”.

Independent: John Prescott evidence triggered new inquiry into phone hacking

The High Court yesterday heard that evidence relating to Lord John Prescott’s claim of phone hacking by the News of the World helped to trigger the new police investigation into phone hacking, the Independent reports today.

This followed news yesterday that Lord Prescott and three other individuals, including Labour MP Chris Bryant, who also allege that the News of the World hacked their phones, have again applied to the High Court for a judicial review into the police inquiry of the matter.

Lord Prescott, Mr Bryant, ex-Met deputy assistant commissioner Brian Paddick and journalist Brendan Montague want to take judicial proceedings against the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

Their previous application was rejected in February, the BBC reports.

Number of libel claims last year highest in a decade, claims law firm

More defamation claims were issued in the high court last year than in any year since 1998, according to London law firm Reynolds Porter Chamberlain.

Figures released yesterday by the firm reveal that 298 claims were issued in 2009, a 15 per cent rise on the 259 in 2008.

The figure for 2009 is also the highest since the introduction of civil prodedure rules in 1999, known as the Woolf reforms, which were designed to reduce the risk of costly disputes and aid pre-court settlements.

Jaron Lewis, media partner at RPC says: “This is the third year in a row where the number of claims has increased, firmly putting to bed the notion that libel law is not a serious challenge for the media. There are now nearly 50 per cent more libel claims each year than there were three years ago.

“Despite efforts to reduce the likelihood of expensive defamation litigation, the number of claims has been creeping up consistently as claimants continue to rely on favourable laws to bring expensive and often unnecessary litigation through the courts.”

RPC points to the increasing number of defamation cases being brought by new law firms, amount of material published on a daily basis, particularly online, and a rise in the number of claims brought relating to allegations of involvement with extremist groups and terrorism.

According to Lewis, the number of claims reaching trial has remained constant, suggesting that more claims are being settled or withdrawn before trial.

Libel reform coverage on Journalism.co.uk Editors’ Blog

Cameroon journalist appealing deportation to appear at High Court next week

Cameroon journalist Charles Atangana will appear at the High Court on Thursday 7 October as part of his application to seek a judicial review of a deportation order, according to a release by the NUJ.

In June this year, Atangana was informed that his application for asylum had been refused, six years after arriving in the UK.

With support from the NUJ, which led a campaign for the reversal of the order, he was awarded a temporary reprieve and six weeks bail last month in order to appeal the decision.

Atangana came to the UK claiming he had been detained and tortured in Cameroon. Following the refusal of his asylum claim, the NUJ called on its members to write in protest to their local MPs and now also urges journalists and other trade union members to join in a demonstration outside the High Court on The Strand in London on Thursday next week.

Last month Journalism.co.uk went to meet Charles at the NUJ offices in London:

High court ruling ‘not a complete loss’ for Jon Gaunt, says Liberty

Legal office for human rights group Liberty, who backed Jon Gaunt’s high court appeal against an Ofcom ruling that said he breached the broadcasting code, argues on Index on Censorship that the high court’s decision was not a complete loss for the “shock jock”.

Gaunt lost his appeal against the industry regulator, which censured him last year for calling local councillor Michael Stark a “health nazi” in an interview about children in care.

Corrina Ferguson from Liberty says the high court has laid down some important principles with regards to freedom of expression, but failed to follow its own rules:

It is difficult to understand why calling someone a Nazi once (and in a measured tone) could be deserving of the highest protection as political speech, but saying it again with more force is not protected at all. There are of course limits on free speech and it would be nonsensical to protect absolutely one person’s right to speak freely when it would have a grave impact on the rights of others – incitement to murder being an obvious example. But there is no right not to be offended.

It is very much hoped that this aspect of the judgment will be improved upon in the Court of Appeal. There is a real danger that allowing the regulator to intervene in this type of case will have chilling effect on robust political interviews. The Human Rights Act protects shock jocks as much as flagship political commentators and free speech is no more worthy with extra syllables.

Full post on Index on Censorship…

High court ruling imposes new ‘threshold of seriousness’ for defamation

An interesting and significant ruling on defamation was yesterday made in the High Court; here’s a quick round-up from the reports.

Mr Justice Tugendhat dismissed the claim that part of Lynn Barber’s Daily Telegraph review of ‘Seven Days in the Art World’ by Sarah Thornton (in 2008, but no longer available online) was defamatory.

The Lawyer reports:

Thornton brought the defamation action against The Daily Telegraph after journalist Lynn Barber claimed in a review of Thornton’s book Seven Days in the Art World that the author gave her interviewees copy approval – a practice of which Barber said journalists disapproved.

TMG’s lawyer, David Price Solicitors & Advocates, said that the ruling was a judgement that “raised the threshold” for defamation.

In a statement, the solicitor says:

Solicitor Advocate David Price, acting for the Telegraph Group, successfully argued for a qualification, or threshold of seriousness, to be applied to defamation claims in order to prohibit trivial claims, thereby effectively raising the bar for claimants.

Mr Justice Tugendhat, accepting this argument gave a new definition of what may constitute defamation as follows [para 95 of Tugendhat judgment]:

“the publication of which he complains may be defamatory of him because it [substantially] affects in an adverse manner the attitude of other people towards him, or has a tendency so to do”.

Inclusion of the word “substantially” is crucial and is likely to set a higher bar for defamation cases in future.

The Inforrm blog also emphasises this point, stating that a “novel ‘threshold of seriousness'” had been entered into the legal definition of what constitutes a “defamatory” imputation. “The consequences are potentially far reaching,” it continues.

Read Inforrm’s full post and comment at this link…

High Court does not collect statistics on ‘super injunctions’

Statistics about non-reportable injunctions, the so-called secret ‘super injunctions’ are not collected by the High Court, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Bridget Prentice said yesterday, in answer to a written Parliamentary question.

MP Paul Farrelly tabled a written question asking the Secretary of State for Justice ‘if he will (a) collect and (b) publish statistics on the number of non-reportable injunctions issued by the High Court in each of the last five years.’

Bridget Prentice answered that the information requested is not currently available and the High Court has no intention to collate such data:

“The High Court collects figures on applications, however injunctions are not separately identifiable, and there are currently no plans to amend databases to do so.”

(Hat-tip: @loveandgarbage on Twitter)

Independent in High Court to challenge closed court cases

The Independent reports how its group, Independent News & Media (INM), supported by other media organisations, is currently challenging private hearings for certain cases.

“The cases involve vulnerable people incapable of managing their own affairs, including brain-damaged soldiers, people with Alzheimer’s disease and others lacking mental capacity.

“In a test case before the High Court in London, this newspaper argued that such matters should not be decided in secret by the newly created Court of Public Protection.”

This latest challenge follows the opening up of the family courts earlier this year.

The case will continue at the High Court today.

Independent story at this link…

Twitter injunction: ‘No such thing as unfettered freedom of speech’ says right-wing blogger

Yesterday we noted how the UK High Court served its first order via Twitter, saying that the social website and microblogging service was the best way to reach an anonymous Tweeter who had been impersonating someone.

Solicitors Griffin Law sought the injunction against @blaneysblarney claiming that it was impersonating the solicitor Donal Blaney – the owner of Griffin Law – who uses the name Blaney’s Blarney for his right-wing political blog.

His barrister, Matthew Richardson, is triumphing it as the ‘Blaney’s Blarney order’ – a success in the battle against anonymous abuse online, he said.

But it also raises questions about the threat to freedom of speech caused by such an order. Cynics might also suggest such a high-profile move was simply good PR for Blaney’s firm. Journalism.co.uk put these questions to Donal Blaney this morning:


Bypassing Twitter to court

Blaney said he chose not to contact Twitter but go straight to court, because the microblogging service is like the ‘very worst ISPs were 10 years ago’, who said ‘oh it’s not our fault, we just provide the platform’.

“Well, the court says ‘no chaps. It is your fault’. You are a publisher and you are just as liable as if the Daily Telegraph published something,” argued Blaney.

When he approached the service during another case – his client wanted to have an account removed – he had found Twitter unhelpful: “It took a week for the offending account to be taken down – which is outrageous. Getting hold of Twitter is impossible. They don’t provide a phone number. There is a fax number that no one replied to.”

High risk strategy, but good PR

“Ok yes, I am getting good coverage on this,” Blaney admits. “But equally if it had gone wrong people would have called me a prat.”

Blaney is not convinced it will win him additional clients: “Unfortunately the way the legal profession works, even though I might like to think ‘oh great on the back of this every celeb or sportsperson who is being impersonated is going to come and use my firm’, I know they’re not.

“I was resigned to having to waste a week of my life chasing Twitter to get them to take it down. I thought it was worth giving it a go in court. I’m at risk on damages.”

[Cross-undertaking damages: applicant will be required to pay the damage caused to the defendant arising from the grant of the interim injunction, if it turns out the injunction should not have been ordered in the first place]

Bullying not parody, says Blaney

Blaney said it was not an instance of satire or parody in his view: “The grounds under which I got the order were breach of copyright and passing off.” And the court agreed, he says, or he wouldn’t have got the order.

“It is bullying, that is precisely what it is: to set up an account in someone else’s name. To pass yourself off as them, to contact your friends and pretend to be them. To use your image, to use the name of your blog, to deliberately and maliciously to screw with someone else’s head. That’s bullying: exactly the same concept as flushing someone’s head down a toilet or anything else,” he claimed.

He said he advised others – and names at least one celebrity currently being mocked in a similar fashion – to think about similar action:

“If it’s a situation where someone’s being parodied this is not the route to pursue; if it’s a situation where someone is being stalked or bullied or harassed, or having their intellectual property rights infringed, I would encourage them to do this.”

Blaney believes harassment ‘trumps’ the right to freedom of speech:

“There are two other things that trump freedom of speech: right to [intellectual] property and infringing copyright,” he argues.

“There is a boundary which gets overtaken – harassment, the malicious causing of harassment and distress. There’s no such thing as unfettered freedom of speech.”

And what next?

The account holder must obey the court order, or will be in contempt of court. But what Blaney’s next step is, he doesn’t know. “Will this person just take the site down and not reveal their identity?” he asks.

If it is closed, that would only solve it ‘up to a point’ he claims, adding ‘but it depends if I can be bothered to go after the individual behind it.’

Journalism.co.uk has attempted to contact @blaneysblarney for further comment (via Twitter.)

What do you think? Was the court correct to issue such an order? What are the implications for online anonymity?

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