Leveson reading list

9 Mar

A fair few tomes have been referred to at the Leveson Inquiry so far. I have compiled a short list of books, whose authors have appeared before Lord Justice Leveson, Amazon links and references to them in oral evidence.

To be updated, so any suggestions welcomed.

Fake Sheiks and Royal Trappings – Peter Burden (1-30 throughout)

Confessions of a Fake Sheik – Mazher Mahmood 4, 12-13

Tabloid Girl – Sharon Marshall 40-130 (throughout),

The Insider/Don’t You Know Who I Am? – Piers Morgan 44-45, 51-53, 56, 64, 74-78, 86-92, 97-100, 102-105

Flat Earth News – Nick Davies (57-120 throughout, 1-29 (throughout), 21-21, 77-79

East and West – Lord Patten 3-6

Mr Paparazzi – Darryn Lyons 3, 10-12, 19-21, 33-34, 37-38

Read All About It – Max Clifford 65-69

Line of Fire – Brian Paddick 102-105

Not For the Faint-Hearted – Lord Stevens 93-95 8-9

Policing Controversy – Lord Blair 1-8, 23-25, 30-36, 45, 74-76

Police hearings held in secret

29 Jun

[Originally posted on the website of Heather Brooke]

Freedom of Information requests have revealed that 48 police officers in Wales have faced serious misconduct hearings in the past three years, including allegations of assault, careless driving, drinking on duty and breach of confidentiality, all of which were held in secret.

Yesterday, the Western Mail reported that calls had been made for public hearings for police officers, in line with doctors, nurses and teachers. Councillor Malcolm King told the paper:

It is a balance between what harm is done by having them out in the open against what harm is done by not doing so.
For pubic services the question should always be, ‘are we being open enough with the public, do the public have a right to know and is it in the public interest?’ There needs to be a change in priorities.
All hearings should have to be held in public unless there is a good reason to have them in private, not the other way around.

A spokesman for Dyfed Powys Police, the force which was heavily criticised for arresting a citizen who refused to stop filming a public council meeting earlier this month, said the figures only referred to misconduct hearings, and that minor cases were brought to misconduct meetings as outlined by government policy. John Feavyour from the Association of Chief Police Officers defended the current system, saying other public professions only hold hearings in public when allegations are ‘serious breaches’ that ‘involve their professional bodies’.

Gwent police officers smashed the car window of Robert Whatley, 71, after he was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt. He was denied access to the disciplinary hearing that vindicated the two officers involved, as was his lawyer. His son Peter pointed out that the hearing panels are made up of senior police officers rather than independents, and told the Western Mail:

These hearings need to be held in public simply for accountability. If a doctor is accused of breaching confidentiality or a teacher for assaulting a pupil they are made accountable in public hearings, why should it be any different for police officers? It is an antiquated system and sets a dangerous precedent.

Tom Whatley is right, and disciplinary hearings should be accessible, transparent and effective. If justice is not seen to be done, if it is done at all, then hearings serve little purpose other than to spare the blushes of chastised officers. If the public are to have confidence in the police, they need to see the police live under the same laws as the rest of the population, and face consequences when those laws and codes are broken.

FOI requests submitted by the Times (£)

Surveillance: the other side of the lens

17 Jun

[Originally posted on the website of Heather Brooke]

Jacqui Thompson, a campaigner and blogger, was arrested last week by Dyfed Powys Police after she refused to stop filming a council meeting. She was angered by the way that members of Carmarthenshire Council had dismissed a petition (presented by elderly campaigners trying to save a local day centre) and decided to start recording the meeting on her phone. In her words, the reason for this was obvious: “People need to know what is going on in that Chamber.”

Ms Thompson refused to leave; she was not disturbing the meeting in anyway, or breaking the law, or contravening the council’s standing orders. The police were called, four officers arrived and Ms Thompson was arrested for breaching the peace. She was taken to a police station 30 miles away and held in a cell for two hours. News of the arrest quickly made its way onto Twitter, where the discussion earned the hash tag #DaftArrest.

The circumstances of the arrest were indeed daft. Legal blogger David Allen Green submitted several questions to the Dyfed Powys Police press office calling for an explanation as to why and under what circumstances Ms Thompson was arrested. Four days later an official response was emailed back and issued on their website. It was riddled with factual inaccuracies and gave no proper reason for the arrest itself (you can read David Allen Green’s full breakdown of the response here).

Ms Thompson pointed out the real injustice when she said: “I can’t quite believe what happened to me for trying to film a public meeting.”

Filming a public council meeting is not a breach of the peace, a fact that even the police attending the scene were confused over. The members of the council who called the police, including the Chair, were uncomfortable at being recorded when attending to issues of public concern, one of which being the petition signed by 1500 local residents. Jacqui Thompson’s arrest, as she puts it, is about the wider issues of local government transparency. Surveillance is power, but for ordinary citizens to be empowered is dangerous in the eyes of the council. Local authorities are clearly not happy to be on the other side of the lens.

Seminar: Are we sleepwalking into a privacy law?

8 Jun

This panel discussion was hosted by Weber Shandwick and 25 Bedford Row Barrister Chambers on 8th June 2011. The speakers were Graham Atkins (Atkins Thomson), John Cooper QC (25 Bedford Row), Jo Glanville (Index on Censorship) and Joshua Rozenberg (journalist and legal commentator).

Are we sleepwalking into a privacy law?

The resounding response from the panel was no.  John Cooper referenced Judge Cooley’s famous phrase from 1888 – “the right to be let alone” – explaining that we are experiencing a natural development in the law, and that courts are simply interpreting the “parameters and frictions” between articles 8 and 10, along with section 12, of the Human Rights Act. Joshua Rozenberg added that in all likelihood, we will not see the creation of a statutory tort of privacy.

The debate settled around the familiar territory of celebrities and media intrusion. Cooper called for the media-initiated debate over injunctions to be examined, asking if the issue really lies in secrecy and curbing freedom of expression or whether injunctions vital to protect individuals from harassment and exposure. Rozenberg agreed that there is more to privacy than secrecy, pointing out that the Ryan Giggs injunction is currently being upheld to protect the footballer from harassment. The value of reputation was also acknowledged – are celebrities who claim privacy is required to protect family members really protecting other interests? Rozenberg pointed out that individuals appearing in criminal trials are generally not entitled to anonymity, leaving family members open to scrutiny.

Cooper dismissed a strict distinction between public figures and civilians in terms of privacy and publicity, saying: “You have to take your celebrity as you find them.” He added that there are degrees of celebrity, and how an individual has fed parts of their personal life into the public domain should be taken into account, and often is, by judges. Graham Atkins called into question the “frenzy from an increasingly frustrated media” over celebrity injunctions, saying that the day-to-day private lives of civilians aren’t going to sell papers in the same way.

Atkins blamed the media for starting the ball rolling with outing injunctions. This was picked up by Rozenberg with reference to a flurry of innuendo-laden articles in the press pointing readers to Twitter. It was suggested by more than one of the panel that journalists may be directly involved in setting up the injunction-busting Twitter accounts – pure speculation of course. The Spartacus effect – the safety in numbers for Twitter users publishing celebrity injunctions – was touched on by Rozenberg, who reminded us that the law applies here, and no one can assume they are safe in cyberspace (I lesson I will take with me, having been picked out by Mr Rozenberg for tweeting the seminar).

Rozenberg also questioned how judges will be influenced by public debate, and if the apparent public disdain for injunctions would push judicial decisions slightly more towards freedom of expression. Jo Glanville, who called privacy the “number one issue” in freedom of expression debates, pointed out that judges sometimes do get it wrong when balancing public interest and the need for prior restraint – suggesting that remedy for privacy invasions might become more appropriate  (Max Mosley might take issue with that one). She criticised judges for denying the impact of online publication as the distinction between this and traditional media is becoming increasingly blurred, adding that privacy law is at the centre of a collision between HRA aided-development and global internet revolutions.

If I can offer a tentative conclusion to the panel’s discussion, we might not be sleepwalking into a privacy law in the UK, but have reached a significant turning point. The multiple topics touched on by the panel demonstrate that privacy is a concept that includes many legal and cultural sub-concepts, and that any legal development must try to take these all into account.

Are toothbrushes incriminating evidence?

6 Jun

(Image via thehandbook.com)

Blake Lively, star of US teen drama Gossip Girl and muse of Karl Lagerfeld, has become the latest starlet to have intimate photographs of herself leaked online – allegedly. Her reps have been quick to deny the validity of the pictures. The source of the leaked photos had originally sent out a series of nude photographs purporting to show Lively, but hit back against accusations they were fake by releasing further self-portraits of the actress which appear to be genuine. The photographs could be an elaborate hoax, the real deal obtained by hacking into Lively’s phone, or a mixture of the two.

Leaked personal photographs are nothing new, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Alba and Vanessa Hudgens are all victims, but the interesting part of Lively’s story is how the online community is trying to prove the authenticity of the pictures through a jigsaw identification. Gossip websites have pointed out that the phone seen in the pictures is the same as Lively’s iPhone, that she was seen buying a toothbrush in March that matches the one in some of the shots, that the tattoos shown in one of the pictures match those that Lively sported in The Town. 

Regardless of whether this circumstantial evidence proves that the photos are of Lively, the fact remains that they were obtained without permission. The real cynics out there will say they were probably released by Lively and her PR team to boost her profile. But does a young woman with a successful television career behind her, a string of Hollywood films ahead of her and a coveted contract with Chanel – not to mention being the latest girlfriend of Leonardo DiCaprio – really need that kind of publicity?

Update: Reese Witherspoon dispatched some unsympathetic advice at the MTV Movie Awards last night, saying: “If you take naked pictures of yourself with your cell phone, you hide your face. It’s possible to be a good girl.” Ouch.

[Source: Egotastic/TMZ. Hat-tip: @Guy_F)

The many meanings of privacy

6 Jun

[Originally posted on the Media Standards Trust website. You can follow the MST on Twitter @NewsMatters.]

We all know privacy is a fundamental human right, but what exactly is it? Article 8 of the Human Rights Act tells us that everyone has the right to respect for private and family life, and judges must decide with a certain amount of subjectivity whether an individual has a “reasonable expectation” of privacy. “Privacy” as a term has been defined by scholars and legal practitioners as intimacy, autonomy, dignity, solitude, control over personal information, reputation and protection from intrusion to name a few. It is all of these things, and yet none of them capture what we mean by privacy in its entirety – it is a state of semantic limbo.

This isn’t just about language though. Important legal decisions curbing press freedom and with implications for privacy protection are made around this concept, but a universal definition of privacy has never been agreed on – and probably never will be. And yet the difficulty in defining what privacy is, and why it is important, lies at the heart of an effective privacy law. The recent Twitter revelations over anonymised injunctions show that the law needs to be flexible in order to cope with newly emerging problems. As Ryan Giggs found out to his detriment, trying to regulate the online community with outdated legislation just does not work.

It all points towards the need for a pluralistic view of privacy. Academic Daniel Solove has spent the last ten years working on a pragmatic approach to the legal and philosophical problems around conceptualising privacy, by investigating its historical development and technological and social change. He focuses on the problems around clinging to a conception of privacy that is not suited to the Internet:

Life often involves exchanging information with third parties, clinging to the notion of privacy as total secrecy would mean the practical extinction of privacy in today’s world. (Daniel Solove, Understanding Privacy)

Solove suggests a bottom-up approach which focuses on the context of each legal case, and encourages judges to accept multiple conceptions of privacy, lest clinging to outdated definitions leads them astray in finding solution. If anything, privacy is best used as a shorthand umbrella term for a range of different issues – an abstract reference fails to be useful in solving legal and policy problems.

The privacy debate has become a cultural phenomenon in the UK, and is now played out in the press rather than being restricted to courtrooms and academic journals. We know that our privacy is valuable to us; Hugh Grant even described it as a “commodity” on Newsnight. But until privacy, and privacy harms, can be articulated effectively, judges, politicians and journalists will struggle to put privacy interests in their rightful place. To satisfy those on all sides of the privacy debate, accepting a pluralistic definition of privacy is the right way forward.

The guilty verdict: Amanda Knox and trial by media

21 May

(Image via aishdas.org)

Amanda Knox was convicted of the sexual assault and murder of British student Meredith Kercher in December 2009. A media frenzy quickly whipped up from the discovery of Kercher’s body in 2007. Currently Knox and former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito are in the middle of appealing their convictions. Rudy Guede, who was also convicted of the sexual assault and murder of Kercher, lost his appeal last year.

Being perfect tabloid fodder, a vivacious and attractive young American, Knox has suffered the brunt of intrusion into her private life. Media reports leading up to and following Knox’s arrest and trial dove into salacious details: her childhood nickname of ‘Foxy Knoxy’, the fact that she kept sex toys in the bathroom she shared with Kercher, the way she kissed her boyfriend in front of photographers just after her friend’s body was discovered, an ill-judged cartwheel down the corridor of the police station before giving a statement. Personal photos of Knox have been splashed across front pages, along with pictures of her at her trial and appeal. To some she is an angelic, misrepresented and unjustly incarcerated, to others she is manipulative, wicked and rightly behind bars.

Earlier this year, American network Lifetime broadcast ‘Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy’, a made-for-TV film about the case starring Hayden Panettiere as Knox. Knox’s lawyers tried to stop the film being aired, saying it would prejudice her appeal. Her legal team and family already feared that the intense media interest in the case, in particular the portrayal of Knox, had influenced the outcome of the original trial. According to her stepfather, Knox was so upset when watching a preview clip of the film that she nearly vomited. He has also said that she finds her ‘celebrity’ status “ridiculous”.

Today, The Sun printed a double-page piece entitled ‘Is She Knox Guilty?‘, citing Knox’s false confession, the questionable forensic evidence and discredited witnesses as reasons to support her appeal. The Sun is one of many media outlets, both in the UK and US, who has swung between portraying Knox as unfeeling and manipulative, and too angelic to have committed murder at all – let alone a sex-fuelled killing.

A verdict by the appeals court in Perugia is expected by the end of the summer. Even if Knox’s appeal is successful, the intense media coverage of her case will leave an indelible mark on the rest of her life. Louise Woodward, the British nanny working in the USA who was found guilty of murdering her eight-year-old charge in 1997, had her charge reduced to involuntary manslaughter and returned to the UK and relative obscurity (after granting an interview to Panorama), having always denied the charges. However, in 2007, she was named “the most notorious criminal” convicted in the state of Massachusetts by Boston law magazine Exhibit A.

Woodward’s defence lawyer Elaine Whitfield Sharp, said at the time: “This shows that the American hysteria over this case is never going to go away.” Guilty or not of Kercher’s murder, it is likely that Knox will never be forgotten by the press, on either side of the Atlantic. She is simply too good a story.

Did You Hear About The Morgan?

18 May

(Image via NYDailyNews)

On Monday, Piers Morgan made his feelings towards Hugh Grant’s 5 Live appearance very clear when he tweeted:

“Listening to Bishop Hugh Grant telling @richardpbacon he wants popular newspapers eradicated. I feel the same about his crap movies.”

In case his standpoint was unclear, he followed this with:

“Hugh Grant is now banned, in perpetuity, from @PiersTonight and Life Stories. And anything else I ever do. Tedious little man.”

Yesterday, 5 Live presenter Richard Bacon invited Morgan, via Twitter, to talk about the issue on his radio show. Unsurprisingly, he received this response:

“@richardpbacon I can’t – I’ve banned the absurdly hypocritical goon from my life. So not allowed to mention his name. Sorry mate.”

I can’t see that this will devastate Mr Grant, who has said in the past that he would like to “ram [journalists’] microphones down their patronising throats”.

Source: Twitter/Press Gazette

Can superinjunctions survive the internet?

9 May

[Originally posted on the website of Heather Brooke]

“Injunction-busting” Twitter accounts stepped into the spotlight over the weekend, and have successfully whipped up the building storm on social networks and internet forums – with a helping hand from the media.

Judges and lawyers across the country must be scratching their heads this morning, perhaps wondering how information can be restricted once it gets onto the internet, to be replicated over and over again, usually by members of the public who feel little of the legal threat hanging over newsrooms. The flow of free speech that the internet allows is breaking down previously unwavering barriers of control. What good are one nation’s laws when information flows across a global jurisdiction? It becomes impossible to take action against hundreds of Twitter users simply for retweeting an allegation that is a contempt of Court in England.

Recently names have been flying around social networks with users speculating about who has an injunction. Wikipedia was forced to take action when information relating to superinjuctions was posted on individual celebrity pages.

Both Gabby Logan and Jemima Khan have furiously denied allegations that they have taken out injunctions. A popular anti-injunction sentiment says that if secrecy continues, more innocent parties could fall victim to erroneous name-and-shame campaigns, while those hiding behind genuine injunctions remain unscathed.

Opinion seems largely split between those who see injunctions as necessary to protect the private lives of celebrities and public figures from the prying eyes of the tabloid press, and those who see any prior restraint on media stories as dangerous – whether it concerns the sex life of a footballer or the secret dealings of a multinational company. It’s safe to assume that the right to privacy created by the Human Rights Act wasn’t designed to protect the sexual indiscretions of the rich and famous, although that seems to be its primary role in the UK court system.

Celebrity sex lives may be none of our business and potentially cloud a ‘public interest’ defence for breaking injunctions, but they are a national fascination. The air of mystery surrounding potential splash stories has the public gagging for more details, whether people are happy to admit personal interest or not.

Journalists at the national newspapers are rubbing their hands with glee, and the Daily Mail and Telegraph in particular have sailed close to the wind with innuendo-laden comment pieces. The Daily Mail went so far as to put the injunction fiasco on their front page this morning.

While the media may be bound by the shackles of legal restraint, the internet remains beyond the control of English judges. The great debate is whether or not that is such a bad thing. As the uprisings in the Middle East show, free flows of information beyond the control of established authority can lead to surprising results.

Two sides of online censorship

6 Apr

[Originally posted on the website of Heather Brooke]

Communications minister Ed Vaizey recently commented on the planned additions to the EU data protection directive saying changes need to be both “practical and proportionate”. The additions focus on the right to be forgotten online, particularly for users of social networking sites. That could require websites to delete data held about individuals and inform people how their personal information is handled.

Vaizey says he’s concerned the directive could give people false expectations, saying: ‘No government can guarantee that photos shared with the world will be deleted by everyone when someone decides it’s time to forget.’ The minister is worried that implementing revisions could “stifle innovation”, although he doesn’t explain how allowing users to control their personal information could result in hindering international business development.

Internet users do need more information about how their data is stored and used – and that should be readily provided by website owners – but giving individuals a right to delete personal data from the internet is obviously the more contentious point, perhaps stemming from an idea that people will use a right to be forgotten to edit personal history to the detriment of free speech.

Interestingly, Vaizey is also one of the main players in the proposed ‘Great Firewall of Britain’, a self-regulatory scheme which would allow the government to block websites that music and film companies accuse of copyright infringement. Several civil liberties groups, including The Open Rights Group (ORG), have raised concerns that this could lead to a heavy-handed approach resulting in excessive legal claims and censorship of legitimate material.

Jim Killock of ORG called this proposal a backdoor private arrangement between the government and rights-holders without the scrutiny that judges or a formal act of parliament would require. The democracy of the scheme is certainly called into question – who will decide which sites can be blocked and why? Who will oversee these decisions to make sure they are democratic? It seems that ISPs would be allowed to blacklist censored sights with no judicial review.

Vaizey is concerned that implementing a right to be forgotten could stifle innovation. But the proposed firewall has been accused of leading to a situation where censorship could be done at will. The message seems to be that giving individuals the right to block or delete online is dangerous, while large corporations and the state can go right ahead.