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Court: Queen's Bench Division (Media & Communications List)

High Court hands down judgment in defamation challenge to statements made by Jeremy Corbyn on the Andrew Marr Show

Millett v Corbyn [2020] EWHC 1848 (QB)

This was a claim for defamation arising out of a statement made by Jeremy Corbyn on the Andrew Marr Show at the time Jeremy Corbyn was the leader of the Labour Party. Mr Corbyn’s interview with Andrew Marr concerned, amongst other subjects, allegations that Mr Corbyn was an anti-Semite. Mr Corbyn made the Statement in response to questions from Mr Marr in relation to a speech which Mr Corbyn had made some years earlier. Mr Millett alleged that the words spoken by Mr Corbyn in the Programme were defamatory of him and their publication caused and is likely to cause serious harm to his reputation.

The Court found that Mr Millett was being accused of abusive behaviour in relation to a public speaker on a controversial topic. This is an accusation of a type of conduct which is contrary to the values of a modern democracy where freedom of speech is a cherished value. Further, the behaviour of which he was accused was of such a level of seriousness (at the first meeting to which Mr Corbyn made reference) as to involve the police in potentially ejecting Mr Millett and the other individual (suggesting criminal misconduct). Again, this suggests conduct falling below the standards expected of citizens in modern British society.

The Court also considered that there was both a personal defamation as to Mr Millett’s character and a professional form of defamation in relation to how he was said to behave in his profession as a person attending and reporting on meetings of the type in issue.

High Court awards remedies in Data Protection Act claim

Aven, Fridman & Khan v Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd [2020] EWHC 1812 (QB)

This judgment followed a trial of a claim for correction of the record and other remedies for breach of statutory duties imposed by the Data Protection Act 1998. Orbis, an English company established by two British former public officials, had produced the ‘Steele Dossier’ in 2016. Buzzfeed News had published an online article and made accessible, via link, sixteen memoranda from the Dossier. Within that dossier, the claimants alleged that ‘Memorandum 112’ contained personal data relating to them, which are inaccurate and had been proceeded by Orbis in ways which are unfair, unlawful or otherwise non-compliant with the First Data Protection Principle. The claim sought a declaration that the data are inaccurate, orders for blocking, erasure, destruction and rectification of the data, an order that Orbis inform those to whom it disclosed Memorandum 112 of the inaccuracies, and compensation.

The Court directed a rectification of Orbis’ records, and awarded compensation of £18,000 to each of the first and second claimants for the loss of autonomy, distress and reputational damage caused by the breaches of duty. The Court did not consider any further remedy would be required.

High Court rules service of Claim Form as ineffective, as served late.

Piepenbrock v Associated Newspapers Limited [2020] EWHC 1708 (QB)

This case discusses issues that can arise when a claimant leaves service of a Claim Form until the last moment. The Claimant issued an Application Notice seeking (1) relief from sanction under CPR 3.9; (2) correction of an error of procedure under CPR 3.10; (3) an order extending time for service of the Claim Form under CPR 7.6; (4) an order for service by an alternative means/at an alternative place under CPR 6.15; (5) an order dispensing with service of the Claim Form under CPR 6.16; and (6) summary judgment pursuant to CPR 24.

Held: the Defendants are entitled to the declaration that service of the Claim Form had been ineffective. The Claim Form was not served during its period of validity. In consequence, the Court has no jurisdiction over the Claimant’s claim. It follows that I should also formally dismiss the Claimant’s application for summary judgment.

Chris Buttler was involved in this case.

High Court refuses reporting restriction in a defamation claim about an alleged sexual assault.

CWD v Nevitt, Nevitt and Nevitt [2020] EWHC 1289 (QB)

This claim involves the second defendant’s allegation that the claimant raped her and the first defendant’s allegation that the claimant sexually assaulted her. The claimant denies the allegations and brought a claim for defamation, misuse of private information and harassment in respect of social media publications by the defendants, some of which identified the claimant as the subject of their allegations. At a pre-action hearing, without notice to the defendants, the court directed that all parties be anonymised but refused the claimant’s application for an interim privacy injunction to restrain the publications.

Held: This judgment determined the first and second defendants’ subsequent application to lift their anonymity and the claimant’s application for a reporting restriction order under s.11 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 that neither he nor the defendants should be identified in any publications. By consent, the judge ordered that the first and second defendant’s anonymity should be lifted because they expressly waived their right to anonymity pursuant to s.1-2 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 and there was no longer any risk of jigsaw identification. There was accordingly no jurisdiction for a s.11 order in respect of the defendants.

The judge refused to make a s.11 reporting restriction order to prevent identification of the claimant. She concluded that, as a s.11 order was not an interim injunction, the rule in Bonnard v Perryman should not apply, but noted the close parallel between the effect of an interim injunction and of the reporting restriction sought. She applied the test in s.12 of the Human Rights Act 1998 because the order sought was relief which, if granted, might affect the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. Weighing the respective Convention rights, she concluded that it was not necessary to make the order and could not say that it was more likely that not that the claimant would succeed in obtaining a final order at trial.

Court of Appeal rules that suspects of crime have a reasonable expectation of privacy

ZXC v Bloomberg LP [2020] EWCA Civ 611

This case concerned whether suspects of crime have a reasonable expectation of privacy and, if so, in what circumstances. The appeal by Bloomberg against the decision of Nicklin J was dismissed. The Court of Appeal took the opportunity to make it clear that:

“those who have simply come under suspicion by an organ of the state have, in general, a reasonable and objectively founded expectation of privacy in relation to that fact and an expressed basis for that suspicion. The suspicion may ultimately be shown to be well-founded or ill-founded, but until that point the law should recognise the human characteristic to assume the worst (that there is no smoke without fire); and to overlook the fundamental legal principle that those who are accused of an offence are deemed to be innocent until they are proven guilty.”

The Court also stated that the reasonable expectation of privacy is not in general dependant on the type of crime being investigated or the public characteristics of the suspect (for example, engagement in politics or business) and that the crime need not be sexual.

This statement of the legal position at appellant level is very important both for suspects of crime and the press and will have an impact on how such incidents are reported by the media in future.