Thursday, 30 January 2014

@Kenanmalik "on the importance of the right to offend"

Kenan Malik (@kenanmalik) is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster, including a presenter of BBC Radio 4's Analysis. His last book From Fatwa to Jihad was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. He recently wrote a piece on his blog, 'On the importance of the right to offend.' He said:
"There is something truly bizarre (and yet in keeping with the zeitgeist of our age) that someone should become the focus of death threats and an international campaign of vilification for suggesting that an inoffensive cartoon was, well, inoffensive. 
From the Rushdie affair to the controversy over the Danish cartoons, from the forcing offstage of Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Behzti to the attempt this week by members of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to shut down the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s production of The Bible: The Complete Word Of God (a decision thankfully later reversed),  reactionaries have often used campaigns against ‘offence’ as a political weapon with which to harass opponents and as a means of bolstering their community support. The anti-Nawaz campaign is no different. Muhammad Shafiq and Muhammad Ansar both have had public spats with Nawaz, and both are cynically exploiting the claim of ‘offensiveness’ to reclaim political kudos."

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

"Overwhelming support" for libel reform

The public consultation into the reform of libel laws in Northern Ireland has received "overwhelming support" says Mike Nesbitt. Over 90% of responses to his public consultation backed changing the law. The public's response was stronger than the UK-wide consultation by the Ministry of Justice on the Defamation Act 2013. On the need for libel reform Mike Nesbitt stressed the special need Northern Ireland has for a robust, curious and unfettered press:
"This is about protecting freedom of speech in Northern Ireland. This is particularly important to us, because our current system of government means we do not have a second chamber, like the Lords in London, who scrutinise and revise legislation coming out of the Commons. Nor do we have an official opposition, a role performed to a large extent by the media.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Courtney love cleared in first US Twitter libel case

We looked at the case and its implications ahead of judgement here. The Courtney Love Twitter lawsuit was described as "monumental". By ruling that the case should go to jury trial, the judge determined that tweeting in California can potentially give rise to liability under the theory of defamation.

The civil suit seeking $8 million filed by Rhonda Holmes has since concluded as Courtney Love wins a landmark Twitter libel case as an Los Angeles jury finds that she did not defame her former attorney in a tweet. A jury composed of six men and six women heard eight days of testimony and statements. Thereafter they deliberated for just three hours. They determined that although Love's statement had a natural tendency to injure Holmes' business, they did not believe she knew the statement was false.

LA Times report in full here. Lessons have been learnt. Twitter is not simply a "slot machine" as Courtney Love's attorney put it. But as Paul Tweed has said, "Twitter is likely yo be one of the key legal battlegrounds of the next decade." Under the criminal law in the UK we have learnt that tweeting abuse could mean an immediate custodial sentence, see here. Under the civil law in the UK was have learnt from the Lord McAlpine versus Sally Bercow case here that defamatory tweeters will be liable for damages.

@JackofKent - Tweeting abuse could mean immediate custodial sentence

Friday, 24 January 2014

Two Twitter trolls jailed after sending abusive tweets to Caroline Criado-Perez

John Nimmo and Isabella Sorley jailed for sending threats to feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez
Isabella Sorley has been jailed for 12 weeks for subjecting Caroline Criado-Perez to abuse on Twitter. John Nimmo received eight weeks. The Telegraph reports here. Read the sentencing remarks here. Read a statement by Criado-Perez here. Martha Gill wrote in Telegraph blogs here, 'Twitter mobs are confused, angry and stupid. Police and employers should ignore them.'
Earlier post on this case here.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Report calls for e-safety forum and joined-up approach by all concerned with internet safety

National Children's Bureau (NCB) director Celine McStravick called for a more co-ordinated approach
The National Children's Bureau (NCB) has published its report and made two core recommendations.
  1. Northern Ireland should create an online e-safety forum to protect young people. 
  2. Organisations should improve collaboration to combat the threat. 
The NCB's director, Celine McStravick, said:
"To achieve this level of strategic coordination we recommend the establishment of an e-safety forum for Northern Ireland. The required level of strategic coordination will not be achieved by one organisation working alone. It will only be possible through effective collaboration across the local key players identified in this  There is a role for an independent organisation such as the Safeguarding Board Northern Ireland to take the lead in developing this forum."
The NCB research was done on the behalf of the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland. Following the publication of the report, junior ministers Jonathan Bell and Jennifer McCann called on parents to ensure children stay safe when they go online. Mr Bell said:
"I have no doubt that there isn't a parent or guardian in Northern Ireland who would not admit to moments of anxiety about the potential of either social media, or the web, to inflict catastrophic harm on the young people they have responsibility for. The findings in this unique piece of research will be of significant help in addressing how e-safety messages should be relayed in today's fast moving online community."
Belfast Telegraph report here. The BBC report here.

Paul Tweed - Twitter is likely to be one of the key legal battlegrounds of the next decade

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

America's first Twitter libel case

Lawyers have warned that the first libel case involving Twitter to hit the courtrooms of the US could set a social media precedent for defamation. The Drum reports here:
"It centres on a case in which actress and musician Courtney Love was accused of defaming her own former lawyer [Rhonda Holmes] in a tweet posted back in 2010. Speaking to On The Media American lawyer Ellyn Angelotti said: 
“Courtney Love said in a tweet ‘I was f@cking devastated when Rhonda J. Homes Esq of San Diego was bought off...’ “So she was angry that her attorney would not represent her in a fraud case she wanted to bring against the people who were managing the estate of her late husband Kurt Cobain. 
The law around defamation is very ambiguous in regard to social media, we’re seeing all of these people say horrible things about one another online and treating Twitter like the Wild, Wild West because the courts don’t understand the technology well enough to regulate it.”
The judge dismissing Courtney Love's claims that the tweet should be read in context of the internet as her and the judge ruled that the case should go to jury trial. A guilty verdict could have serious implications for all Twitters users regarding defamation laws. The opening statements began and Courtney Love took to the dock, the Daily Mail reports here.

Rhonda Holmes’ attorney Mitchell Langberg said:
"The jury’s really going to have to decide if there’s anything special about Twitter. When you make false statements a fact about someone that hurt their reputation, are you responsible for them, just like you would be anyplace else?"
Attorney Brian Claypool here told ABC News:
"The Courtney Love Twitter lawsuit is monumental because the judge has now determined that tweeting in California can potentially give rise to liability under the theory of defamation. The Courtney Love case will set a precedent that will result in, potentially, the average person being liable as well."

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Lord McAlpine dies after Twitter libel torment

In The Sunday Times of January 19 2014 the paper included the story here, 'Twitter peer dies after libel torment.' Lord McAlpine's solicitor Andrew Reid said:
"For those who put him through the stress and worry of having to take legal action, I hope that their consciences are troubled by their ill-informed and unnecessary allegations... I hope there’s a lesson in this — that people get their facts right before they open their mouths or go on Twitter."
Lord Tebbit, who was Conservative party chairman when Lord McAlpine was treasurer, said:
"I think he was... deeply upset that anybody would for a moment believe [the allegations about] him."

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Mike Harris speaks of the urgency to reform Northern Ireland libel laws

The Head of Advocacy at Index on Censorship Mike Harris (@mjrharris) wrote an overview of the Defamation Act 2013 which came into effect in England and Wales on January 1 2014 (government press release here) on the Inforrm blog here. The new speech and communication law considerably strengthens the position of the publisher, journalist and the internet user. Of interest: tweets sent after January 1 will be required to meet the higher thresholds set out in the Defamation Act 2013.

Mike Harris said of the situation in Northern Ireland:
"Of particular urgency is the situation in Northern Ireland where libel sceptics have won the day with the Northern Ireland Executive blocking the application of the new Defamation Act to the province. The Department for Finance and Personnel refuses to comment on the basis of “confidentiality” as to why it had not been able to secure the “necessary consents” for the Defamation Bill within the required timescale. The Libel Reform Campaign hopes to help the Northern Ireland Law Commission with their forthcoming consultation on the libel law and will be campaigning to ensure the Executive revisits this issue to create a law that can be a progressive blueprint for other common law jurisdictions."

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

TUV councillor apologises and pays legal fees after defaming Sinn Fein representative

Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) councillor Boyd Douglas has issued a High Court apology to a Sinn Fein representative for defaming her during an interview on a discussion on the Good Morning Ulster programme, broadcast by BBC Radio Ulster on June 14, 2011.

Boyd Douglas made remarks which were defamatory of Anne Brolly. He also agreed to pay legal costs to Anne Brolly as part of a settlement reached in the libel action against him.

Belfast Telegraph reports here and here. News Letter here.

Ed Moloney - Censorship in Ireland and Northern Ireland

The Irish journalist Ed Moloney wrote in the Nieman Reports of Hardvard University here. He started with a brief historical sweep:
"Censorship has a long if not very honorable place in Irish history. The British imposed press controls during the 1919-21 war of independence, as did the pro-Treaty side in the subsequent Irish civil war. Newspapers were forbidden, for instance, to use words like “guerilla” to describe opponents of the new Irish government. Censorship lived on after the early Troubles. In the south of Ireland it took a less political and more religious form. The state censor was allowed to ban books and films on moral grounds, i.e. when they offended Catholic doctrine or values. 
In Northern Ireland censorship remained entirely political. In the 1920’s the pro-British Unionist government passed the Special Powers Act, a draconian piece of legislation which gave the police the authority to ban any dubious expression of political thinking and to imprison those responsible.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Two plead guilty after sending abusive tweets to Caroline Criado-Perez

Two people have plead guilty after sending abusive tweets sent to UK feminist campaigner and journalist Caroline Criado-Perez. They will reappear in court January 24 2014 for sentencing. The BBC reports here. Caroline speaks on BBC Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman in the video above. On Radio 4 PM here and in the audioboo below.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

US Media Law Firm SmithDehn eyes Northern Ireland

The US media law firm SmithDehn LLP has helped to create a media law course at the University of Ulster, furthering chances that the media law firm will establish operations in Northern Ireland. SmithDehn co-founder Russell Smith is on Twitter at (@rsmith8). Michael Cleaver of SmithDehn is also on Twitter (@mpcleave).

SmithDehn already has offices in London, but a Northern Ireland base would represent a further bridgehead into the European market and the growing entertainment economy in Northern Ireland. The move would also represent and a boon for the Northern Irish economy, possibly employing up to 75 legal professionals and be an attraction for further international investment.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Update - Defamation Act 2013

In the UK Human Rights Blog here, Sarina Kidd updates us on the Defamation Act 2013 and quotes Mike Harris :
"The Defamation Act 2013 came into force on the 1st January 2014. The Act aims to reduce the ‘chilling effect’ that previous libel laws had on freedom of expression and legitimate debate. It is also hoped that it will prevent journalists, scientists and academics from being subjected to unfair legal threats. It is now the case that claimants, before suing, will have to demonstrate that they have suffered ‘serious harm’. Mike Harris of The Libel Reform Campaign stated that: 
‘we hope the judiciary will take note, and that in the future open debate on matters in the public interest will not be chilled by litigious oligarchs or corporations’."
The government's press release on the coming into force of the new law here. Original UKHRB in full here. Olivia O'Kane outlines the 9 keys changes enacted under the new law here. Introductory blog post here. The blog post which announced the enaction of the new speech law here.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

David Allen Green on social media regulation

The Financial Times legal blogger David Allen Green (@DavidAllenGreen) wrote about social media regulation in The New Statesman. My previous post on Allen Green's move from the New Statesman to the FT can be read here. He said here on social media self-regulation:
"Social media provides the means by which clusters of like-minded individuals can easily swap ideas and scrutinise data on public matters. In this way, social media users can hold politicians and media outlets to account in a manner not possible -- or conceivable -- until a few years ago. Instead of a politician saying something forgotten the day after, or a reporter's bylined piece being in next day's fish-and-chip paper, those involved in social media can pore over details and make connections weeks and months later. Transgressions can be linked to and accumulated. A speech or a byline can now come back and haunt you long after you have "moved on". 
As long as there are those willing to promote such accountability then politicians and media professionals can now be subjected to on-going and sometimes intense examination. The effect of this may be to make those with political and media power more responsible; it will certainly mean that it is more straight-forward and more likely that individuals can be called out for any wrong-doing. On this basis it is not those in power who will be regulating social media, but social media regulating those in power. 
Once social media is understood as an advanced form of active citizenship then it can become part of the solution to the problem of abuses of political and media power; not part of the problem to be addressed by regulation. Regardless of the self-serving caricatures promoted by some in the media, the record of bloggers and tweeters compares rather well to tabloid excesses. In the medium- to longer- term, it is clear that those in mainstream media who work with social media will tend to produce better output. 

Friday, 3 January 2014

Adam Wagner responds to Leveson on regulating social media and blogs

Adam Wagner was asked here by Lord Leveson: "The Inquiry would also welcome your views on the extent to which the content of websites, and the manner in which you operate, can be regulated by a domestic system of regulation?" He responded here:
I do not think blogs can or should be regulated by a domestic system of regulation, for the following reasons: 
a. Practically unworkable: Practically it would be impossible to regulate all blogging. Hundreds of thousands of blogs are set up each day, let alone posts published, and the term is so elastic (see above) that the task would be simply too large and amorphous for any regulator to manage. Even if only popular blogs were targeted, say those over a certain number of hits, what is to stop an individual blogger simply setting up a new blog in order to avoid regulation? I expect that such a system would be simply unworkable. 
b. Current system works: The current system of criminal and civil law already provides a reasonable level of regulation. Bloggers - whether their websites are read by 1 or lm people - are subject to financial penalties for libel or quasi-criminal sanctions if they commit a contempt of court. See for example the case of Elizabeth Watson, referred to be below, who was sentenced to 9 months imprisonment (later suspended) for breaching a court order through information published on her personal website. That being said, I also note a 1 February 2012 report in The Independent that Mr Justice Peart has said in relation to an Irish case involving the website that "The civil remedies currently available have recently been demonstrated to be an inadequate means of prevention and redress". 

Olivia O'Kane - Internet Service Providers and User Generated Content

The Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland recognised the advantages and the dangers of the internet and remarked on the role of service providers in R v McCartney [2009] NICA 52 the:
"[16] The internet has revolutionised the way in which we live…there is much that is positive about the internet, this case demonstrates the dangers to which children can be exposed as a result of which they may be corrupted or indeed in some cases exploited…This case illustrates graphically the dangers faced by adolescents with unsupervised access to the internet and the need for parent to be aware of the requirement for a high degree of supervision of the use of computer equipment. It also raises serious questions as to whether service providers are doing enough to prevent the dissemination of this type of dangerous and degrading material on the internet and indeed whether there is in fact a legal obligation on them to do so."
Currently, in Europe there is no general requirement for an internet service provider (“ISP”) to moderate user generated content (“UGC”). 

News Round-up - Defamation Act 2013 comes into effect in England and Wales

BBC News wrote on December 31 2013 here, 'Defamation Act 2013 aims to improve libel laws.' The Press Gazette wrote a piece by the title here, 'Defamation Act comes into force with 'serious harm' now needed for claims to succeed.' The editor of the Press Gazette Dominic Ponsford wrote a piece here, 'Six things all journalists need to know about the Defamation Act 2013 (which is now in force).' John Aglionby and The Financial Times produced a piece here, 'UK Defamation Act aims to end trivial claims and libel tourism.'

See the earlier blog post here where Olivia O'Kane outlines the 9 keys changes enacted under the new law. Introductory blog post here.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

How Free Is Our Speech? - Radio 4 Discussion

Clive Anderson recently chaired a discussion on Radio 4 in May 2013 that asked a simple question: how free is our speech in Britain today? The discussion also took the time to considered specifically how speech on social media should be controlled or otherwise.

Billed as 'the programme that gets behind the legal issues of the day,' it certainly did that. You can listen to the episode in full here.

Clive Anderson kicked things off with a nice overview of the legal history as it exists in law in Britain to date and how this contrasts with our love of freedom: