Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Irish judge orders Twitter to remove defamatory Twitter profile

In The Irish Times Ray Managh said:
"Twitter International was directed by a High Court judge in Dublin today to remove from the internet “grossly defamatory and offensive sexually related pictures and tweets” about an Irish schoolteacher. 
Mr Justice Michael White ordered Twitter International, which has its registered address at Pearse Street, Dublin, to immediately take down the offensive material contained in a profile associated with the woman. 
Judge White said the court would make no comment on the liability of Twitter which had previously indicated it simply facilitates members of the public to engage in discourse over the internet. 
Twitter had denied liability for posting of the pictures and tweets. The judge told barrister Shannon Michael Haynes, counsel for the woman, that while the proceedings had been heard in public he would direct that the profile complained of should not be identified by the media."

Monday, 30 December 2013

What Are Positive Effects of Social Media in the First Hours of A Crisis Like the Boston Bombing?

This was the question put to a panel of speakers on the April 19 2013 episode of Radio 4's 'Any Questions?' The special edition was hosted by Columbia University in New York, a most fitting location for such as discussion. You can hear the discussion in full here.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Olivia O'Kane - Key changes with England and Wales Defamation Act

The Defamation Act 2013 will come into effect in England and Wales as of January 1 2014, as we explained earlier here. Ahead of the new year Olivia O'Kane, Northern Ireland media lawyer at Carson McDowell and media law blogger, explains the 9 key changes enacted under the Defamation Act 2013. Click below to see the rest

Friday, 27 December 2013

Lessons from McAlpine v Bercow

Ahead of the new year and thus the coming into force of the Defamation Act, it is of value to cast our eye back over the lessons we learnt from the Bercow v McAlpine case. As Feargus O’Sullivan said in The Financial Times here, although Ms Bercow’s tweet would still fall foul of the new law, the situation may nonetheless change somewhat when the Defamation Act 2013 comes into force.

Over to the May 13 High Court ruling. Presiding over the case between Bercow and McAlpine was Mr Justice Tugendhat who found that Sally Bercow had libelled Lord McAlpine by publishing on Twitter defamatory, albeit "nuanced", communications. Full judgement can be read here. Bad for law firm Carter-Ruck who had been instructed by Bercow. In his summation, the UK's senior libel judge Judge Tugendhat said:
“I find that the Tweet meant, in its natural and ordinary defamatory meaning, that the Claimant was a paedophile who was guilty of sexually abusing boys living in care. 
If I were wrong about that, I would find that the Tweet bore an innuendo meaning to the same effect.”

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Northern Ireland Law Commission recommends libel law review

In the period between May and June 2012 Sammy Wilson, then Finance Minister, vetoed the Defamation Act 2013 without consulting any of the other parties, deciding not to pass a 'legislative consent motion'. He said that threats to free speech were "just a load of nonsense."

In May 2013 Mike Nesbitt introduced fresh libel legislation (our post here).

In September 2013 the newly installed Finance Minister Simon Hamilton asked the Northern Ireland Law Commission to cast "a fresh pair of eyes" over the Defamation Act 2013 (our post here)

In November 2013 the First Minister Peter Robinson said he supported the original veto and said that fears were "absurd".

Following the September referral to the Law Commission the News Letter has reported here that the Law Commission has recommended a public consultation on Northern Ireland’s libel laws. The Law Commission has given the advice to Simon Hamilton after he asked it to look into the issue (we looked at that move here and Tony Jaffa welcomed the development here).

The commission’s chief executive Judena Goldring has made the advice to DUP Finance Minister Simon Hamilton after he asked the agency to look into the matter. The Law Commission must now await formal clearance from the Justice Minister before it begins work on the project in the new year and submits a report to Executive ministers.

In February 2013 the former DUP Finance Minister Sammy Wilson made the unannounced decision to block Northern Ireland from the sweeping reforms of the British libel laws which have liberated and strengthened the protections on free speech for journalists, academics, internet users and others. The unilateral move has been opposed by some leading libel lawyers who claim that it will make it too difficult for ordinary people to sue publishers. Ms Judena Goldring told the News Letter:
"Our initial advice to the finance minister is that there ought to be a full public consultation on the issues here so that the people of Northern Ireland have a good opportunity to contribute to that discussion... Once formal approval is forthcoming we will expect to have a full public consultation on the issues here so that the people of Northern Ireland will have a good opportunity to contribute to that discussion and we can have a proper public debate on the issues."
Ms Goldring stressed that the commission wanted to see a balanced debate, not a “skewed” one.
“We will do the research and arguments on all sides and put that, in an unbiased way, into the public domain in the form of a consultation paper.”

She said that the commission was “fortunate” that there had already been a major consultation on the issue in England and Wales and the defamation law in Northern Ireland is “very similar” so the commission had “the benefit of all the responses back to that”.

Ms Goldring said that the commission would then put its recommendations to the Finance Minister. Ms Judena Goldring praised Mike Nesbitt, who has introduced fresh legislation here, for his handling of the issue, saying that he had been "very responsible and helpful" with the commission. She said: "He has done a lot of work in bringing this issue to the fore and taking the very responsible position that he has adopted in letting official consultation brought forward by the Law Commission to take it on."

News Letter report in full here.

For earlier post on the matter of libel reform in Northern Ireland, Tony Jaffa supports Law Commission investigation here, the News Letter said it supported libel reform here, Peter Robinson said that he saw no point in libel reform here and media lawyer Paul Tweed supported the Sammy Wilson veto here. The Stormont Committee found the libel reform was unnecessary here. Paul Connolly in the Belfast Telegraph and Lord Black backed reform here, 31 writers and poets called for libel reform here. Mike Nesbitt introduced new legislation here and explained why Northern Ireland needs libel reform here. His draft bill is here. David Pannick QC said here that an "unpleasant odour" was coming from Northern Ireland's libel laws. A doctor said here that the current libel laws in Northern Ireland had contributed to patient deaths. Mike Harris from Index on Censorship made representations before Stormont Committee on the need for libel reform in Northern Ireland, see here. Index's letter to the Stormont Committee can be read here. Jo Glanville of English Pen slammed the Stormont libel veto here. Lord Bew said here that the NI libel laws were bad for academics and journalists. Lord Black said here that the libel veto puts jobs and investment at risk. The Ulster Business Magazine asked NI media lawyers Paul Tweed and Olivia O'Kane if people should be worried by Northern Ireland's libel isolationism here. A May 2013 analysis of the events surrounded libel reform in NI here. Sam McBride tweeted about the possible consequences of the libel veto here. As did Newton Emerson here.

Mike Nesbitt wrote in the Belfast Telegraph on July 23 here:
"In all my years in broadcast journalism, I was involved in very few cases of defamation, but, of those that did emerge, all involved the political classes. Indeed, they all involved the DUP: two were brought by elected representatives; the third by those offended by comments made by one of their senior members.
So, should politicians declare an interest when commentating on the laws of defamation? They should certainly bear it in mind."

Monday, 23 December 2013

Is Social Media Uncontrollable?

In a recent episode of The Big Questions (broadcast April 28 2013), Nicky Campbell tackled the issue of social media misuse and abuse.

The context? Two days prior on April 26 2013, Dean Liddle and Neil Harkins were both handed down suspended sentences (see here) for breaching a court injunction that banned any revelation of the adult identities of Jon Thompson and Terry Venebles – the killers of James Bulger.

Last Febrarury the two men had both posted photos on Twitter and Facebook that claimed to be of the two child killers. As the judge rightly said, the photos could have been seen by thousands of social media users. This was an act directly in contempt of court.

In that context we ask: Is social media out of control? Vicky Beeching, research fellow in internet ethics at Durham University kickeded things off and gave a twofold answer. She said:
"Firstly, we need to remember that social media is in its infancy. It’s so young. Twitter has turned 7, YouTube has turned 8. We’re literally taking baby steps. So we can’t panic and say it’s out of control. 
Secondly, the danger is when we look at the technology and we say that technology is to blame, we need to remember that all technology, whether it’s the invention of the wheel, the printing press or the internet: they’re neutral tools, they’re in our hands and if they’re out of control it’s simply a sign that we’re out of control."
Nicky Campbell rightly added that social media is in effect a reflection on us. But by and large most people are decent and they are fair. Nicky Campbell then asked: Is there something about social media that allows people to be particularly vile? Kate Smurthwaite, feminist writer said in response:
"Yes, absolutely. Several decades ago Germaine Greer said, ‘women have little idea how much men hate them.’ Well thank you to the internet we now know. I’m less than a week away from my latest death threat. That’s my life. That’s normal for me (reminds me of the abuse Mary Beard got when she appeared on Question Time).

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Social Media and the Law Across the British Isles

In the same week that will host the final game of the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia I have produced a comprehensive overview of the laws that govern Facebook and Twitter across the British Isles. This includes separate and specific analysis of the four jurisdictions of England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

England and Wales

On September 20 2012 Keir Starmer QC, DPP for England and Wales announced that new social media prosecution guidelines would be discussed after a series of controversial arrests and prosecutions. For some time the public had been critical of the heavy-handed approach of the police and judiciary against social media users.

Judges and other law officials had also voiced concern about the uncertainty of the law. And I think everyone had a genuine desire to uphold traditional notions of free speech. The whole problem was typified by the #TwitterJokeTrial which involving Paul Chambers who tweeted that he would blow up an airport if his flight was cancelled.

On December 19 2012 the interim social media prosecution guidelines were then published. On the same day a public consultation was launched. The consultation process closed March 13 2013.

On June 20 2013, almost 9 months to the day after Keir Starmer QC announceed that the Crown Prosecution Service and other law makers would discuss social media laws, the full and final social media prosecution guidelines were published.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Your Twitter history can haunt you

Crude but a powerful metaphor that captures just how destructive social media can be:
"With twitter, once its out there & you try to remove tweets, it's like trying to taking piss out of a swimming pool."
There's just no hiding. The social analytics company Topsy now offers the entire history of public tweets on Twitter. Even deleting a tweet won't cover your back. If someone retweets the offending or questioned tweet it has been cast in concrete. As an Irish politician found out. Find out all about that here.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Ruth Patterson - All charges dropped

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

John Cooper QC on Social Media and the Law

John Cooper QC and Paul Chambers of #TwitterJokeTrial

Below are the blunt words of Keir Starmer QC, the former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). And why the bluntness? The former head of public prosecutions in England and Wales was obviously angered by the criticism delivered by experienced criminal silk, John Cooper QC (@John_Cooper_QC) who cast doubt on the newly published (December 19 2012) interim social media prosecution guidelines. Here's what he said:
“Well I don’t think John Cooper with all respect has seen anything like the number of cases I have. I don’t think he has thought about the sophistication of the issues. There are many cases…I mean he can point to one case [the Twitter Joke Trial]…yeah he makes a cheap point about one case. I've got to deal with the many thousands of cases that come in; I've got to deal with all the chief constables. So, yes, nice cheap point, but actually let’s get back to reality.”

How to report Twitter abuse and violations


Here are the basic steps any person concerned should take:
"Where an individual is being abused: “Twitter can only accept reports from the individual directly involved in the abusive situation, or their legal representation. We encourage people to file reports of abuse so we that we can investigate the situation and take action if necessary,” quoted by Twitter.
Report Abusive User by registering information here.

Violation of copywright and abusive content

To report both abusive content and unauthorised use of copyrighted and trademarked material, click here to access information on how to reporting accounts.


In the first instance contact the police where defamation/libel has occurred. At the same time you should report the account using the ‘Report Abusive User’ link provided above, and also request its removal via the links on the ‘How to report violations page’.

If you go down the copyrighted materials route, here is the information you require. You should say: “I am reporting on behalf of the rights holder, as their authorised representative.

Name of Rights Holder: Chris Shea. Your relationship to the rights holder: Colleague… if they ask for this information. We haven’t raised a trademark complaint on Twitter before and therefore don’t know what other questions are asked once you get into the form. Hopefully the information in this table should cover it.

Further reading and information

Further information from Twitter support page on dealing with online abuse here.

Twitter advice on safety and security here.

BBC guide to the law for Twitter users here.

BBC guides to what you can and can't say on Twitter here.

News surrounding defamation and libel in the Financial Times here

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

When Twitter accounts go rogue

The image above is of a rogue tweet made by the former head chef of the Plough Pub and eatery. Having lost his job the man decided to reveal damaging information. This shows how social media is not only a weapon of mass reputational destruction from outside, but also from within.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Panel - Social media, politics and protest

I had the great pleasure of featuring on the panel event, Social Media, Politics & Protests at University of Ulster on social media and civic change on December 10 2013, organised by (@ornayoung). Alan in Belfast (@alaninbelfast) covered the event on Slugger here. Alan in Belfast also has audio here and here. Images from the day here.Tweets from the day via Storify here.

The TCD Social Media panel which preceded this event in October 2013 can be seen here. See my discussion with Sharon O'Neill of UTV on social media law here.

Below is a paraphrased account of my presentation from the UU event:

1. Overview of social media and the rule of law:
"In the last decade we've seen a creative technological explosion. Technology is ubiquitous. Technology has penetrated into every corner of life. It's power lies in the freedom it gives people. The freedom to build and maintain new and old relations, create businesses and overthrow tyrannical governments. 
But this is a two-pronged freedom. Social media gives the freedom to do great good. Social gives the freedom to do great bad. By that formula, social media is both a criminal weapon and a weapon of mass reputational destruction.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Belfast woman may face prosecution for sectarian comment in relation to the Clutha Bar helicopter crash

Liz Bingham whose UVF father was shot dead by the IRA in the 1980s could be prosecuted after it was alleged she asked if there were any ‘taigs’ on board the Police Scotland helicopter or The Clutha Bar into which it crashed. Read more here.

This follows the arrest of a Scottish teenager who made sectarian remarks in relation to the same tragic event. Read more here.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Defamation Act 2013 will come into full force in E & W on January 1 2014

The Defamation Act 2013 (Commencement)(England and Wales) Order and the Defamation (Operators of Websites) Regulations 2013 were made on December 2 2013. The Defamation Act 2013 will come into force in England and Wales on 1 January 2014. After that date it will apply to causes of action “accrued”, i.e. to libels published from 1 January 2014 onwards.

The new libel law was vetoed by Stormont. Mike Nesbitt has proposed a Bill, its consultation is complete and is now been put before the Law Commission NI by the Finance Minister Simin Hamilton. 

In the Financial Times, Feargus O’Sullivan said
"Although Ms Bercow’s tweet would still fall foul of current laws, the situation may nonetheless change somewhat when the Defamation Act 2013 comes into force. It may become harder for the injured party of a perceived social network libel to seek legal redress. Courts will require proof of “serious harm” to reputation before a case can proceed. The act provides a statutory defence of “publication on matter of public interest”. It also makes defences of “truth and honest opinion” statutory. The reform is probably for the best. No one really wants social networks where users feel at risk of legal action for expressing a negative but honest personal opinion, and it is helpful to have the law simply expressed in a statute that is easily accessible.
Initial comments via Inforrm blog here

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Tony Jaffa welcomes developments on Stormont's Defamation Bill

Northern Ireland lawyer Tony Jaffa wrote in the Belfast Telegraph here:
"The news that Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has asked the Northern Ireland Law Commission to examine the Stormont Defamation Bill is good news for Ulster's publishers, broadcasters, bloggers and academics.While the rest of the UK will see the new Defamation Act 2013 coming into force on January 2, 2014,Northern Ireland libel law remains rooted in legislation that was formulated well before the internetand social media became part of our everyday lives. 
For those of us who are keen to see this relatively obscure, but fundamentally important area of law updated as soon as possible, Mr Hamilton's intervention could be the best way of achieving at least a measure of reform. After all, if the NI Law Commission advocates reforms, it is hard to see how those reforms could be different from the rest of the UK. 
As a solicitor who advises publishers and broadcasters in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, I can hear some people already thinking: "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?""
To read in full click here.

Friday, 6 December 2013

News Letter supports libel reform

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Dominic Grieve publishes advisory notes to help prevent social media users committing contempt of court

Twitter and other social media users have been warned that by commenting on court cases online they could be inadvertently be breaking the law. Dominc Grieve, the Government's chief legal adviser has issued previously unpublished advisory notes to help prevent social media users committing a contempt of court.

Read more here. Mr Justice Tugendhat spoke and made law here.

Bob Dylan meets Europe’s neo-blasphemy laws

Ed West writes in The Spectator here:
"The French authorities are investigating Bob Dylan after some Croats were offended by something he said in an interview with Rolling Stone last year. The singer had said: ‘If you got a slave master or [Ku Klux] Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood.’ 
Dylan is the latest victim of Europe’s neo-blasphemy laws, in which offending someone’s group identity is treated in the same way that offending God once was. When Christianity stops being sacred, everything becomes sacred; did GK Chesterton say that? Well it’s the sort of thing he might have said."

Monday, 2 December 2013

Teenager arrested following sectarian Twitter comments about Clutha crash

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Peaches Geldof could face investigation for contempt of court

Monday, 25 November 2013

Peter Robinson supports veto of the new Westminster libel law

Asked by the News Letter if he had any interest in the veto of Westminster's libel reform act, the First Minister Peter Robinson said:
"I certainly am interested. I have to say I am bemused at people who want to help their chums in the media out. I’ll stand up for ordinary people who are wronged by the media. The suggestion – the absurd suggestion – by some that this restricts in some way the media from doing their job and is an infringement of rights...there is a defence against any defamation case, a total defence against a defamation case, and that is truth. 
So if the media are telling the truth, what are they worried about? Why would they be concerned about this if they intended to write or to publish or to broadcast the truth? That is the defence that they could take and I think the withdrawal of that kind of legislation [in England and Wales] allows a recklessness that we’ve seen creeping in to broadcasting and media behaviour. 
The News Letter also reported that Mr Robinson, who has himself threatened to sue for libel in the past, said that it was not difficult to sue but the “costs are prohibitive”.
Original News Lertter report here. Previous posts on the veto of the Westminster libel reform by Stormont here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

John Maher - Can defamation law keep up with the digital age?

John Maher BL
John Maher BL is a barrister and author of The Law of Defamation. In an article here for the Irish Times (extracted from an address to the UCC Law Society conference 2013, "The Changing Landscape of Media Law") he wrote here:
"Is there any prospect of defamation law operating consistently around the world? We have created a global communications system, but we do not have a global response to its problems. The strong position of freedom of speech in US law and culture contrasts with varying levels of commitment to the same principle elsewhere, even within Europe
Those who seek to abuse online freedoms can avoid liability in one jurisdiction by operating from another, and the law has yet to address this obvious problem. 
Perhaps international co-ordination only happens when countries feel compelled to act together, for example to boost trade or tackle international crime. But the victims of serious online defamation are random and dispersed, and their problems are theirs alone. For now, lawmakers do not feel the need for a co-ordinated response. 
Finally, we might consider whether the internet and social media are changing us. Six years ago in the Atlantic magazine Nicholas Carr provocatively asked “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and bemoaned the decline of his memory, his attention span and his intellectual rigour as he flitted from one thing to the next on the internet. He may have exaggerated, but it is clear that the internet may be changing how we take in information, how we think about one another, and what we are prepared to say about one another. 
A remarkable aspect of the recent controversy involving former Conservative Party grandee Alistair McAlpine, falsely linked on Twitter to a child abuse scandal, was that his defamers included the respected columnist George Monbiot, and Sally Bercow, wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons. What impulse drove them, and people like them, to show that they were up to speed on the latest rumours? And if we are creating a world in which people will routinely put immediacy before accuracy, will it be possible for defamation law to hold the line and say: the individual’s reputation is still something worth protecting? 
John Maher BL is a barrister and author of The Law of Defamation (Round Hall). This article is extracted from an address to the University College Cork Law Societyconference 2013, “The Changing Landscape of Media Law”.
In full here.

Delfi v Estonia - ECHR suggests websites need to police their comments for defamatory posts

In Delfi v Estonia the ECHR delivered judgment about an Estonian news site should worry all websites allowing users to comment below online articles. Until now, prompt removal upon complaint has provided a defense against libel actions. This ruling by the European Court of Human Rights suggests websites need to police their comments and anticipate when a story will attract defamatory posts.

This will place a huge burden on news sites, which will need to review their moderation if the judgment is not challenged and rejected in the ECHR's grand chamber.Prior to this blog editors have always relied on rulings such as Godfrey v Demon Internet and Kaschke v Gray & Hilton which have said that removal on notice provides a defence to those blogs that host comments. More on this here.

In the case of Tamiz v Google [2013] here the High Court in London found Google was not the publisher of defamatory material posted by someone using its blog facility, the judge suggesting you could not hold the owner of a wall responsible for graffiti sprayed on it by someone else.

The Court of Appeal has overturned that decision, however, and likened Google to the owner of a notice board who, once aware that a defamatory notice has been pinned up, must either remove it or be liable for it.

In Delfi v Estonia the European Court of Human Rights went further, and said a news website should be able to predict which articles might generate offensive or libellous comments, and be prepared to act in advance. This would seem to stretch the obligations of news site owners beyond the practical and, although not directly applicable here, the case may set a tone for future decisions. The second fundamental issue is whether the law can balance the right to freedom of expression, while vindicating the rights of the person who has been defamed. It is fundamental to our Constitution and vital to our democracy that justice is administered in public.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Paul Tweed letter to the Financial Times

The Financial Times published a letter by Belfast media lawyer Paul Tweed.
From Mr Paul Tweed. 
Sir, You report (“Reducing costs of UK libel actions could cause wave of litigation”, November 4) that a media law firm has suggested that the proposed Qualified One-Way Costs Shifting “would hurt small publishers disproportionately”. 
However, the proposed costs protection order may also be granted in favour of a regional newspaper or publisher with limited financial means as well as an impecunious claimant. In other words, both claimants and defendants with limited means may not have to pay costs if it is determined to be in the overall interests of justice. 
Paul Tweed, Senior Partner, Johnsons Law Firm, London SW1, UK
Read in the FT here. Read on Scribd here and here.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Belfast Telegraph rejects Royal Charter

The Belfast has done what The Spectator magazine did, and said NO to the Royal Charter. Paul Connolly of the Belfast Telegraph wrote here:
"It is a clear and decisive affirmation that we reject as a shabby deal the agreement cooked up between the three main UK political parties and the Hacked Off lobby group."
He further said:
"So, the Belfast Telegraph gave notice that it will not sign the Royal Charter which, in our view, opens the door for politicians potentially to neuter the Press for the first time in 300 years.Only a two-thirds majority is needed in the House of Commons to overturn the current plans and shackle the Press even further. It is not too difficult to imagine that happening in more illiberal times."
The editor, Mike Gilson gave his viewpoint here:
"We believe that the industry's plans present the best future for the press and for the protection of the public. As the current phone hacking trial shows, there are already effective laws in place for those who might stray beyond acceptable boundaries.The press must be responsible, cannot be above the law but must be free to make mistakes as well as hold the powerful and famous to account. 
The Belfast Telegraph has a proud 143-year history of reporting the events in this part of the world without fear or favour. Signing up to this Royal Charter and its political interference would sell short the ideals of the newspaper. We do not intend to do that."

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Nick Cohen - Censorship is at its most effective when no one admits it exists

Nick Cohen wrote in The Spectator here
"Censorship is at its most effective when no one admits it exists."

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Incinerating Ireland's Censorship Board

Fintan O'Toole wrote about the continuing existence Ireland's censorship board here:
"So far this century seven books have been referred to the board by members of the public. Not a single book has been banned. In the same period 34 “periodical publications”, mostly magazines, have been referred to the board. Nine were banned, all in 2003. So for the past decade no publication has been prohibited."
He explained its cynical effect: "Yet it’s not quite true to say that the censorship process has no effect. It retains a vestigial power in one specific area: publications about abortion. The current register of banned publications contains no books prohibited on the old and notorious grounds that they are “in general tendency indecent or obscene”. But it does still contain books banned on the grounds that “they advocate the procurement of abortion or miscarriage or the use of any method, treatment or appliance for the purpose of such procurement."

Fintan O'Toole explained why the old infrastructure must be demolished and demolished loudly. He said:
"But it is worth making a fuss, because it provides the opportunity for an official apology for the way the State allowed a few busybody philistines to inflict their dirty-minded ignorance on many of our best artists. 
There was nothing funny or quaint about censorship. It was cruel and demeaning. Beginning with Liam O’Flaherty’s The House of Gold, in 1929, serious works of literature by Irish writers from Bernard Shaw to Kate O’Brien to John McGahern were systematically banned. The brunt of censorship was borne not by pornographers but by artists: one study found that 70 per cent of books banned for indecency or obscenity in the 1930s had been reviewed by the Times Literary Supplement. 
Irish writers were specifically targeted, so that none of them could make a living from the sale of their books in Ireland. As Frank O’Connor pointed out, the real aim of the censorship was to “destroy the character and prospects of Irish writers in their own country”. As for Irish readers, they were reduced, as Samuel Beckett – banned, of course – put it, to being fed, like Irish pigs, on the “sugarbeet pulp” of romances and cowboy novels. 
This cultural vandalism is still a stain on the State. The censorship board shouldn’t be allowed to expire with a whimper. It should be incinerated sacrificially, with an official apology for its miserable existence."
In full here.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Removing Blasphemy from the Irish Constitution

Members of the Convention on the Irish Constitution voted on Sunday 3 November 2013 on whether the reference to the offence of blasphemy should be kept as it is in the Constitution, 38% said Yes, 61% said No and 1% were either undecided or had no opinion. In a follow-up question, 38% of members believed the offence should be removed from the Constitution altogether, 53% said it should be replaced with a new general provision to include incitement to religious hatred and 9% had no opinion

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Joe Brolly - "Social media is not exempt from the laws of the land"

Short, sweet and to the point:

Carson McDowell media lawyer and blogger Olivia O'Kane made an important contribution:

Monday, 14 October 2013

Sergei Magnitsky libel claim - blow to libel tourism

The high court found that a Russian ex-policeman does not have prior reputation to defend in England and Wales. Mr Justice Simon at the Royal Courts of Justice said:
"His connection with this country is exiguous and, although he can point to the continuum publication in this country, there is 'a degree of artificiality' about his seeking to protect his reputation in this country."

Dr Andrew Foxall of the Henry Jackson Society said of the decision: "Today's ruling sends out a message that British courts will no longer be used to or abused to stifle or halt freedom of speech."

Friday, 11 October 2013

Christopher Hitchens on Censoring Pornography

In an essay on free speechChristopher   Hitchens called the urge to censor pornography a red-herring. He said:
"Other attempts at abridging free expression also come dressed up in superficially attractive packaging. As an example, surely we should forbid child pornography? In a sense this is a red herring: Anybody involved in any way in using children for sex is already prosecutable for a multitude of extremely grave crimes. Free expression doesn’t really come into it. The censor is more likely to prosecute a book like Nabokov’s Lolita and yet have no power to challenge porn czars. And surely the spending of money isn’t a form of free speech, as our Supreme Court has more than once held it is, most recently, as pertaining to political campaign contributions."

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Abolish Northern Ireland's Blasphemy Law

There's now an effort to abolish the old blasphemy law that still exists in Northern Ireland. See here:
"Blasphemy and blasphemous libel are legal offences in Northern Ireland.

In May 2008, blasphemy laws were abolished by the UK Parliament but this did not extend to Northern Ireland, leaving the matter to be decided by the NI Assembly which has shown no interest in addressing the issue.

Abolition of these archaic laws will bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of UK legislation. It will also be a symbolic act showing that Northern Ireland is finally moving away from religious prejudice, is shunning its fundamentalist elements and is prepared to embrace an inclusive, tolerant and secular future.

Blasphemy laws are used throughout the world to prevent free speech and to oppress and persecute religious minorities. Repeal of the Northern Ireland blasphemy laws will show solidarity with the oppressed while raising awareness of the issue and setting an example for other countries to follow."
Michael Nugent also wrote a compelling piece in The Journal on Ireland's blasphemy law in the summer 2013. He said:
"The Irish blasphemy law reinforces the religious ethos of the 1937 Constitution. The preamble states that all authority of the State comes from a specific god called the Most Holy Trinity. You cannot become President or be appointed as a Judge unless you take a religious oath. There are also other references in the Constitution to religion, as opposed to gods. We should be removing 1930s theistic references from the Irish Constitution, or updating them to reflect the reality of Ireland today, not legislating to enforce them."

Friday, 4 October 2013

Blasphemy Laws still stand in Northern Ireland

Blasphemy was abolished in England and Wales in 2008 through the action of Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris who described the law as, "ancient, discriminatory, unnecessary, illiberal and non-human rights compliant."

Because the law applied only to Christians and in fact the Church of England representing Anglican views. So that was born out of events from 1989 when someone tried to get permission to have a summons presented against Salmon Rushdie in respect of his novel, The Satanic Verses. That wasn't allowed because Islam was not protected by the blasphemy laws.

The last time a case was brought was by the state against an individual in 1922 who compared Jesus with a circus clown and they were sentenced to hard labour. After that there was nothing until the case of Mary Whitehouse which was brought in the 1977 when the art teacher used the law to try and prosecute the editor of Gay News. The ground for her action was on the basis that the publication has published an explicit poem about Jesus. They were found guilty by a majority of 10-2 and every court in the land upheld it.

Chris Ledgard said of Northern Ireland: "So, thinking about Northern Ireland, if I wanted to read out the poem on this programme, it probably wouldn't be a very good idea?"

Nicola Cain said: "Not if we're broadcasting to Northern Ireland but I also think we'd probably be in breach of our guidelines as well."

The law that was abolished in England and Wales in 2008 still stands in Northern Ireland. The law was so old in Scotland that it fell into non-use and became unusable in modern times.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Radio 4 - Language Laws


Chris Ledgard recently looked at the laws surrounding language use, from libel to blasphemy. He was joined by Barristers Nicola Cain and Christina Michalos who explained the law surrounding
defamation. We live in a society governed by laws which limit what we can say and how and where, laws concerning privacy, defamation and incitement.

If you say anything that it likely to lower the reputation of a person in the eyes of someone else, that's when you start to get into trouble. UK courts have been very busy in recent years on defamation, for which it took the title, "libel capital of the world." The new Defamation Act 2013 aims to change this. Aiming to offer better protection yo indiviudals, journalists, scientists and academics who wish to publish and air opinions without the fear of being taken to court under action of libel.

Barrister Nicola Cain was asked, "What is defamation?" She responded:
"Defamation is the publication of words or images that tend to damage the reputation of another. It's about reputation and bringing that person into disrepute. Libel is any publication in any more permanent form. So that may be a broadsheet, a newspaper or anything more permanent. 
Whereas slander relates only to transitory speech. So if we were having a conversation and I said something that was defamatory, that would be slanderous rather libellous. It has to be heard by somone else otherwise it is not a publication."

Why Stormont must adopt new libel legislation

Paul Connolly wrote a piece in the Belfast Telegraph on September 20 2013 entitled, 'Freedom of speech is vital in internet age.' He said here:
"By everyone, I mean everyone. This is not just about the Press. It's about writers and scientists; it's also about amateur bloggers or everyone who sends a Tweet or writes on Facebook or who runs a community website, or who writes a Press release. We are all publishers now, so freedom of speech matters even more in the internet age."
At the launch of his Bill for libel reform on September 19 2013, Mike Nesbitt said:
"Reforming Northern Ireland's law of defamation isn't about protecting the rich and powerful. It is about ensuring thousands of jobs are not lost, that the growth potential of our universities is not hampered, and that journalists have maximum opportunity to responsibly hold the devolved government to account."
At the same event Lord Black, executive director of the Telegraph Media Group, said here:
"This is an issue which is of huge significance for the United Kingdom as a whole but most importantly for ordinary people, jobs and free speech in Northern Ireland. Let's be in no doubt, the stakes are very high. It is a liberalising, modernising law which will have real benefit throughout our society. That is why it is totally unjustifiable and completely inexplicable that people and businesses in Northern Ireland are being excluded from the real benefits and protection it will bring."

Monday, 30 September 2013

Newton Emerson - PSNI turn blind eye offline while exercising firm hand online

In contrast with the averted legal gaze cast over loyalist murals and gable walls, Newton Emerson makes the point that the PSNI has not been as pliant when it comes to threatening words and images posted on social media walls. He said in the September 26 2013 edition of the Irish News:
"It is hard to avoid a comparison with the rise in social media prosecutions, and not just because Facebook messages are said to be posted to a 'wall'. Between 2009 and 2012, Facebook and Twitter were mentioned by the PSNI in almost 5,000 incident investigations. Over the same period, annual convictions tripled to 110 a year."
Newton then asked:
"How can the PSNI, the Public Prosecutiom Service and the courts chose to police this virtually infinite cyberspace for threatening words and images while ignoring a few dozen physical spaces right under their nose?"
He answered his own question:
"We are all wearily familiar with the answers. Paramilitary mural painters, unlike Internet trolls, would respond to lawful sanction with violence."
But perhaps a very real question needs answered: Are law enforcement agencies simply cherry picking those they chose to pursue within the infinite cyberspace, while allowing the more sinister and unruly elements to carry on unfettered?

Gillian Tett - Polarisation in cyberspace tends to herald street fights

Gillian Tett made some critical observations in the FT on the role of social media. Writing here, she said:
"One small sign can be seen in the proliferation of Facebook pages in Egypt which have taken radically opposing and increasingly extremist sides. But another illustration appears in some fascinating new research by Ingmar Weber and Venkata Garimella, two data scientists at the Qatari Computing Research Institute, working in conjunction with Alaa Batayneh, a data analyst at Al Jazeera.

Lucy Kellaway - Teaching our kids to govern their online tongue

Lucy Kellaway puts it perfect in her column for the Irish Times: We need to educate our children on how to govern their online tongue, just as we do with them offline. We often tell our kids to "think before they speak"; And so, as George Monbiot has previously suggested, we need to "think before we tweet" and teach this social norm to our kids. As Lucy said:
"Most people do not relish being nasty in person: we have all been brought up to be polite to strangers, especially if we are breaking bread with them.

By contrast, on the internet our upbringing is non-existent. No one seems to think there is anything wrong with being gratuitously horrible – so long as we cannot be seen."
And so, as Lucy has suggested, we need to make our children's internet upbringing existent.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Anthony McIntyre - Irish News Working to Censor

You can read all about it here, here and here.

Simon Hamilton asks Judena Goldring of the Law Commission to Review Libel Law

The newly installed Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has said he wants to bring a fresh pair of eyes to this issue of libel reform. Simon Hamilton has now asked Judena Goldring, the chief executive of the Northern Ireland Law Commission, to look at the situation. He has asked the official body for reviewing legislation, to do the following:
"Assess the act, which is expected to be commenced later this year, and to advise me on whether any corresponding provisions should be introduced here".
Read the Belfast Telegraph report from September 16 2013 here. The editor of that paper, Mike Gilson appears impressed. He said:
"This is an important subject, and the UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and the Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay deserve credit for keeping up the pressure on this issue."

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

31 Writers and Poets Call for Stormont action on libel reform

Thirty-one leading writers, poets and playwrights – including novelists Colm Toibin, Roddy Doyle, Sebastian Barry,  Graham Linehan, Brian Keenan, academic and political analyst Lord Bew, poet Michael Longley and Lucy Caldwell have signed a letter to the First and Deputy First Minister Mr Robinson and Minister Martin McGuinness urging action to ensure that Northern Ireland does not become a forum for libel bullies.

They said that without reform to the libel system that "the people of Northern Ireland will enjoy fewer free speech protections than fellow citizens in England and Wales".

Their letter concluded:
"We call upon the Executive to redress this imbalance, and breathe life into the right that underpins all other rights: our right to freedom of speech."
The newly instllaed Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has commissioned an official report on the new Westminster legislation which will examine whether or not the new law should be extended here A public consultation on Mike Nesbitt's Bill was launched on Thursday 19 September.

Read more in full here.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Head of Stormont Communications - "FOI is flawed"

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Social Media - "A weapon of mass reputation destruction"

Freedom of Speech is one of Four Freedoms paintings by Norman Rockwell that were inspired by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the State of the Union Address, known as Four Freedoms, he delivered to the 77th United States Congress on January 6, 1941.
Laura Hudson wrote on Wired Magazine here:
"At its best, social media has given a voice to the disenfranchised, allowing them to bypass the gatekeepers of power and publicize injustices that might otherwise remain invisible. At its worst, it’s a weapon of mass reputation destruction, capable of amplifying slander, bullying, and casual idiocy on a scale never before possible." 
In full and more anecdotes here.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Christopher Hitchens on England's pre-2013 libel system

Christopher Hitchens explained how his magazine Vanity Fair was sued for libel by Roman Polanski:
"Just for discussing this subject [child abuse] a couple of years ago, my magazine Vanity Fair was sued by Mr Polanski from Paris in London. Not in America but where he thought the jurisdiction would be easier on him. He didn't even have to appear in person because he thought that  might be risky. He made a video deposition. We claimed he had no reputation to defend. He walked away with a lot of our money on a libel judgement saying this couldn't be discussed."
Watch original video here from 4 minutes 50 seconds. Christopher Hitchens had previously explained what happened in a 2009 article for Slate Magazine. He said of the 2005 libel case:
"In July 2005, Polanski took advantage of the notorious British libel laws to sue my colleagues at Vanity Fair and collect damages for his hurt feelings. It doesn't matter much what the supposed complaint was—he had allegedly propositioned a Scandinavian model while purring about making her the next Sharon Tate—so much as it mattered that Polanski would dare to sue on a question of his own moral standing and reputation. "I don't think," he was quoted as saying of the allegation, "you could find a man who could behave in such a way." Say what? Anxious for his thin skin, the British courts did not even put Polanski to the trouble of appearing in a country where he has never lived. They allowed him to pout his outraged susceptibilities by video link before heaping him with fresh money. At this point, I began to feel a cold spot forming in my own heart. And then, just last December, while still on the lam, Polanski filed from abroad to have the original Los Angeles child-rape case, in which he had pleaded guilty, dismissed without further ado.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

2,111 Social Media-incidents reported to PSNI in first 6 months of 2013

The following question was put to the Chief Constable:
"To ask the Chief Constable to detail the number of arrests and prosecutions made in relation to offences on Twitter and Facebook in Northern Ireland in the year so far beginning January 1 2013, providing a breakdown of the arrests and prosecutions by PSNI Districts A-H." 
The following response was given:
"Currently, the PSNI does not record any specific offence types that relate to social media and therefore it is not possible to provide counts of arrests. In addition, the PSNI do not routinely record data in respect of prosecutions and this aspect of the request should be referred to the PPS and/or NICtS.  

To ascertain the true nature of any incident would require a manual review of the incident details to determine whether the incident related to a complaint, crime, or arrest involving social media, or whether facebook or Twitter was mentioned in the investigation log for other reasons. To carry out such a trawl would require the extraction of resources from core duties, which we are unable to facilitate at this time. 

However, I can confirm that the number of incidents where the words facebook or Twitter occur in the incident investigation logs is stated below:-   
2009 - 4 (The ability to search investigation logs was commenced on 14/10/2009)
2010 - 73
2011 - 1,541
2012 - 2,887
2013 - 2,111 (for the period, 1st January 2013 to 14th June 2013) 

It should be highlighted that above counts relate to reported incidents, rather than the number of individual arrests/prosecutions as previously mentioned.

In addition, if facebook or Twitter is mentioned in an incident investigation log, this does not signify that a crime or arrest occurred.

If facebook or Twitter are mentioned in an incident investigation log, this does not signify that facebook or Twitter were used by PSNI officers as part of the investigation.


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Allison Morris - Social Media Gives Leg Up To Extremists

Writing in the Irish News Allison Morris makes some apt observations about the social media community in Northern Ireland:
"While social networking cannot be held solely accountable for the rise in sectarianism in the north, it is facilitating people wanting to shape the views and language of a generation of young people who conduct much of the social interaction online." 
And another:
"People who in life would have little chance of success due to their obvious limitations can go online and attract large followings of like minded groupies."

Friday, 16 August 2013

UK libel laws undermined journalists in Armstrong Case

Lisa O'Carrol explained in the Guardian how the UK libel regime made things very difficult for the Sunday paper:
"Lawyers involved in the 2004 case said the Sunday Times did not stand a chance once the courts decided they had to produce evidence that Armstrong was an actual cheat.

Gill Phillips, one of the Sunday Times lawyers who dealt with the litigation and now director of editorial legal services at Guardian News & Media, which publishes MediaGuardian, said: "The way British libel laws are, the burden of proof lay with the paper. We did not have enough evidence to satisfy the burden of proof on the paper to show Armstrong was guilty. We had this body of very strong, but mainly circumstantial, evidence that was quite hard, but which was not enough to win.

"This makes it very difficult for investigative journalism. For all sorts of technical reasons, UK libel law makes it hard to write this sort of story, particularly when the evidence points to guilt, but doesn't actually prove it."
Lisa in full here.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Wall Street Journal - The UK's Doublespeak on Internet Freedoms

Ben Rooney in the Wall Street Journal here, called up the UK for government for its contradictory remarks on Internet freedoms. Ben Rooney made a first observation: 
"Here are two conflicting opinions about Internet censorship. Can you guess which government said which? You can chose from the following: China, the U.S., and the U.K. First: Democratic governments must resist the calls to censor a wide range of content just because they or others find it offensive or objectionable. Second: Put simply, there needs to be a list of terms—a blacklist—which offer up no direct search returns.
He then answered his rhetorical question: 
"It is a trick question. The U.K. government said both. The first was by Foreign Secretary William Hague, speaking at the Budapest Conference on Cyberspace in October 2012. The second was by Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2013 at a U.K. children’s charity event." 

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Richard Susskind discusses online dispute resolution

It's reported that Ebay has to deal with 60 million disagreements a year. That is not dealt with through the courts but by the mechanism of online dispute resolution.

Richard Susskind explains how this process works at 22 minutes here.

Ruth Patteron, The Communications Act 2003 and the New Labour Terror Law

Mick Fealty covers (here) the legal analysis from Newton Emerson who said, writing in the Irish News, that Blair-era terror laws make prosecution against Ruth Patterson-type communications that bit easier.

Ruth Patteron was arrested and then charged on the grounds of making a 'grossly offensive communication' as per the Communications Act 2003 on Facebook. She will appear in court on August 22 2013 and has said that she will plead 'not guilty'.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Over 1,700 cases involving abusive messages sent online or via textmessage reached Britain's courts

Over 1,700 cases involving abusive messages sent online or via text message reached Britain's courts in 2012. This news comes after the BBC lodged a Freedom of Information request.

More information on the BBC here


Thursday, 1 August 2013

Caroline Criado-Perez and Twitter abuse

Writing in the Times Libby Purves (@lib_thinks) gives her thoughts on the recent wave of Twitter abuse launched against the Jane Austen banknote campaigner, Caroline Criado-Perez:
"Until 1935 you didn’t need a driving test in Britain. Until 1967 there was no drink-driving limit, until 1983 no safety-belt law. Until the 1960s you could put up a sign saying “NO BLACKS NO IRISH”. Convicts could be birched till 1962; schoolchildren caned quite recently (it was in South Africa that enraged nuns would lay about me with a ruler, rosaries rattling, but contemporaries in the UK report the same). You could blow smoke in people’s faces in a pub or office till 2006. Thus the borders of what is acceptable and legal in any civilisation naturally change.

They do not always contract: we now have same-sex marriage, and a historically unprecedented range of personal rights. But new things happen (such as mass immigration) or are discovered (such as tobacco causing lung cancer) and philosophical perspectives alter too. So the rules change.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Paul Tweed defends libel veto

Northern Ireland could become the libel capital of the world

Paul Tweed defends the Stormont veto of libel reform in the Belfast Telegraph, July 31 2013. In full here.
"If the proposed changes to the defamation laws are ultimately introduced, it is the ordinary people of Northern Ireland who will be the losers – not the lawyers.
We, at least, have the option of practising in a jurisdiction where the libel laws are more friendly towards the ordinary citizen and international corporation and we do not have to travel very far."

Sinn Fein's Phil Flanagan to be investigated over Royal baby tweet

The relevant tweet was raised and pursued by Jim Allister MLA. Read more here.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Mary Beard - Naming and shaming Twitter Trolls

Kat Lay reported July 29 in the Times on the power of naming and shaming Twitter trolls:
'"The classical historian Mary Beard silenced an online abuser today by naming and shaming him on Twitter.
Ms Beard, who had been on BBC Radio 2 to discuss rape threats and other abuse on Twitter, retweeted an explicit message from Oliver Rawlings in which he referred to Ms Beard’s genitals and age.
After other users expressed their outrage, with one user offering to supply Ms Beard with Mr Rawling’s mother’s address, he took the message down and apologised.
He wrote: “I sincerely apologise for my trolling. I was wrong and very rude. Hope this can be forgotten and forgiven.”
He later added: “I feel this had been a good lesson for me. Thanks 4 showing me the error of my ways.”
His original tweet was apparently in response to Ms Beard’s description of abuse she had previously received on the site. She told presenter Jeremy Vine she had been “bombarded” with messages “commenting on the size, the smell, the capacity of my vagina. It was unbelievable.”
The don said exposing ’trolls’ was the best tactic. Talking to a fellow user about her decision to highlight the abuse, she tweeted: “It is a tough call. I have increasingly opted for name and shame."'

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Michael Nugent - Getting rid of Ireland's blasphemy law

A response: