Archive for January 18th, 2011

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European court deals blow to no win, no fee deals in Naomi Campbell case

Guardian: Judgment provides boost for press freedom following marathon legal battle by Daily Mirror over privacy ruling

The European court of human rights today unanimously ruled that the recovery of success fees by lawyers in privacy and defamation cases represents a significant violation of freedom of expression, in a case brought by the publisher of the Daily Mirror.

In a judgment that is likely to have significant ramifications for future privacy and libel cases in the UK, the Strasbourg court ruled in favour of Mirror Group Newspapers, finding that the “depth and nature of the flaws” in the no win, no fee payments system is in breach of the European convention on human rights.

Mark Stephens, the media lawyer who drafted a submission on behalf of the organisations, told the Guardian that today is a “very good day for justice in this country”.

“This is a stunningly good result,” Stephens said. “I put a brief in on behalf of NGOs [non-governmental organisations] who are being threatened by these rapacious claimant libel lawyers.

“Today the claimant libel lawyers’ train has hit the buffers – this is a very good day for justice in this country. Our legal costs are 140 times more expensive than in many countries in Europe. I hope this is a clarion call to judges in the high court to keep costs low.”

This is a good result for freedom of expression.  It will be interesting to see what the European Court of Human Rights makes of Max Mosley’s claim for privacy.  Joshua Rozenberg, writing in The Guardian recently,  noted…” No journalist wants to see an enhanced law of privacy – especially at a time when the government may be willing to restore some of the balance to libel law. But when the Strasbourg judges deliver their ruling later in the year, we may well find that a prior notification requirement is what the court has imposed on us.”

It is  unfortunate, on the same day, that the Cabinet Secretary has prevented The Chilcot Inquiry from publishing notes of discussions between Tony Blair and George Bush.

The Independent reports: ” The head of the civil service has refused to allow the official inquiry into the Iraq War to publish notes sent by Tony Blair to former US president George Bush. Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell denied requests for exchanges between the former prime minister and Mr Bush about Iraq to be declassified and released……..”

Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot said: “The inquiry is disappointed that the Cabinet Secretary was not willing to accede to its request….This means that in a narrow but important area the inquiry may not always be able to publish as fully as it would wish the evidential basis for some of its comments and conclusions.”

Sir Menzies Campbell MP noted on BBC radio 4 earlier this evening that the rules of our system allow a civil servant to dictate in this instance, that changes to our system are needed and that there was little David Cameron or Nick Clegg could do. Ming Campbell expressed the view that even, at this late stage, the matter should be re-considered by the Cabinet Secretary.  Is this decision of the Cabinet Secretary perhaps unwise? Comment and conclusions will be put by Chilcott and, inevitably, comment and conclusions will be drawn by readers and commentators when the Chilcot Inquiry reports.  The absence of certain information on a ‘narrow but important area’ may be more damaging in terms of speculation and opinion than the actual information itself?

Gus O’Donnell is right

John Rentoul, writing in The Independent opposes Sir John Chilcot’s view and provides a very interesting quotation:

“….there is only one way to interpret this, which is that the dreadful secret of how Blair signed Britain up in blood and oil to do whatever the idiot Bush wanted is being concealed”Well, not concealed exactly, because, as the excellent Andrew Sparrow reports, we know what one of the notes said, at the end of June 2002, because it was in Andrew Rawnsley’s book:

You know, George, whatever you decide to do, I’m with you.”

And finally… on the theme of expression…. freedom of expression is a vital and important freedom…. but it is a freedom circumscribed by a need for fairness and accurate reporting.  Adam Wagner of 1 Crown Office Row and the UK Human Rights blog reports: Inaccurate human rights reporting will not help either side of the debate

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