Tag: injunctions

A law to make an innocent person apologise for something they are not guilty of

Online abuse (and now, more frequently, mobile phone based abuse) is a terrible thing. It ranges from the poison pen on steroids to far more serious, malicious, pernicious behaviour. Public figures are subject to wholesale abuse, ridicule, discrimination, misogyny and threats on social media. Private individuals are subjected to emotional abuse and severe pressures. Something should be done.

Well, a number of people have proposed something that could be done. Two members of the Labour parliamentary party have proposed separate private members bills (draft laws introduced for debate by individual parliamentarians and not by the Government itself). Pat Rabbitte’s bill targets offensive and menacing messages. Lorraine Higgins’ bill would target a wider range of abuse, including incitement to commit suicide and “revenge porn“.

Senator Higgins has, in particular, been subjected to persistent abuse which no-one should have to endure. Some of it is likely criminal within the current legal framework but requires prosecution. Some of the abuse would also violate the terms of service of the social media providers involved. A lot of it is indecent, unpleasant and unacceptable, but it would be quite a jump to criminalise it. Senator Higgins has tonight said in the Seanad that her proposed law is intended to restore online decency. Unfortunately one has to wonder if such a thing ever existed, but there is a much bigger debate to be had about whether unpleasant commentary should be criminalised.

The core provisions of Senator Higgins’ bill are a mixed bag. As Fergal Crehan points out it is quite specific in its aims and includes some good ideas.

To her credit, Senator Higgins’ bill is far more focused than anything I’ve seen proposed before, dealing in a specific way with areas which are not already covered by existing law. Though there are elements of it which I consider absolutely unacceptable, in other areas it raises issues that do need to be addressed by the legislature.

There is little doubt, though, that such a law would represent a serious chilling risk and in particular section 4 (harmful electronic communications) would appear to be a potent weapon in the hands of a public or wealthy figure who wishes to shut down certain types of comment.

It is remarkable, however, that section 5 has made it into the Bill at all. It creates another criminal offence, of not complying with a court direction. That is not controversial. What is quite amazing, however, is the type of court direction concerned. Section 5 says:

If on the evidence the court is not satisfied that the person should be convicted of an offence under section 3 or 4, the court may nevertheless make any of the following upon application to it in that behalf if, having regard to the evidence, the court is satisfied that it is in the interest of justice so to order:

(a)  that the person remove or delete specific electronic communication(s);

(b)  that the person shares an apology or correction as the court deems appropriate in the circumstances;

(c)  that the person shall not, for such period as the court may specify, communicate by any means with the other person or that the person shall not approach within such distance as the court shall specify of the place of residence or employment of the other person.

In other words: a person who is accused of an offence and is found not guilty could nevertheless find themselves being ordered to publicly apologise for the thing that they were found not guilty of and to take other steps.

Courts order people to do things all the time: after they are found guilty of a crime or where an injunction is sought. The above provision is effectively a form of injunction. It would be applied in the District Court, which doesn’t have the jurisdiction to grant civil injunctions. It would be applied by a court that has found the person in front of them not guilty.

Section 5 would make a lot of sense if it applied following conviction. Given the structural nature of the internet there is usually little point in ordering the internet service provider or social media operator to do anything, as the order will usually be unenforceable, so it is quite a good idea to order the person responsible to delete the post rather than the service provider (although there would be issues with archives and caches).

The recently-passed online abuse law in New Zealand provides for similar orders to Senator Higgins’ section 5, including orders to an ISP, and it will be instructive to see how that operates. There are, however, two glaring problems with section 5:

  • the current wording empowers the court to make orders where the accused is found not guilty of a relevant offence but says nothing about the orders that can be made where an accused is found guilty; and
  • a law which orders an innocent person to apologise for something or to do anything related to the crime of which they were accused would not survive a challenge.

While one senator who backs the bill insists that it is supported by the Government and has been approved by the Attorney General, the relevant line minister does appear to recognise the problem with section 5.

This bill is unlikely to be passed but will have an impact on the debate any future proposals. Section 5 needs to be seriously reformulated if it is to be considered further.

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Protecting court proceedings from social media

[Updated 6/2/14] The most high-profile white collar crime trial in the history of the State got underway today. This post in not about that case, but rather the impact of social media on court proceedings and reporting. Previously, when the jury for that trial was being selected and sworn in, Judge Martin Nolan made a number of interesting comments which hint at the impact social media and the internet can have on court proceedings.

Jury Cat

[Judge Nolan] told the panel that it is unrealistic to expect them not to have heard of Anglo but said that anyone who has expressed strong views in public should not sit on the jury.

He said that this includes views expressed on the Internet, including Facebook. Judge Nolan said it would be embarrassing for the jurors if it emerged during the trial that they had expressed views on Anglo on such “permanent forums.”

Once the jury had been selected, he warned jurors that they “should not conduct their own investigations into the case or even read up on it. He said he will regard such activity as a breach of the jurors’ oaths.”

The risk that a juror would engage in independent research is not new but it is heightened by social media and the availability of information online. For example, a university lecturer in the UK was jailed for three months in 2012 for researching a defendant online and sharing her findings with the jury.

It is obvious from the comments of Judge Nolan that the Irish judiciary is alert to the risks. With smartphones in every pocket an array of research resources are available to everyone to an extent unimaginable fifteen years ago. The temptation for a juror to google the accused over lunch could be considerable. [In fact, the issue has already arisen: last year a criminal trial in Cork collapsed when the jury foreman informed the judge hearing the case that a juror had learned of information concerned the accused on Facebook and had discussed it with fellow jurors. Judge Ó Donnabháin warned the juror that she could be facing contempt of court proceedings and granted her legal aid in order to engage a solicitor.]

Research by jurors is an issue which the Law Reform Commission has already considered, in their 2013 Report on Jury Service.

The advent of the internet and social media sites, and in particular their ready accessibility through smart phones or Wi-Fi enabled tablets, now provide access to a wide range of materials such as archives of media reports that may have reported on the factual background to a trial, general information on scientific matters that might arise in a trial (such as DNA evidence) and a huge array of general commentary such as blogs and other material from social media. This information can contain prejudicial material, and has the potential to impact on the right to a fair trial. In recent years, trial judges have incorporated specific comments to the jury not to access information regarding the trial through internet search engines or social media.

The Commission recommended that specific reform was needed to deal with juror misconduct in carrying out “extraneous investigations” using the internet and social media. Their report includes a draft Juries Bill 2013 which includes, in section 39, an offence of making inquiries about the accused or any other matters relevant to the trial. “Making an inquiry” is defined as including “conducting any research, for example, by searching an electronic database for information (such as by using the internet), viewing or inspecting any place or object, conducting an experiment or causing someone else to make an inquiry.”

The proposed penalty, however, is a Class B fine on summary conviction – currently a maximum of €4,000. Under the existing law, referred to by Judge Nolan, such research could be a breach of the juror’s oath and result in a finding that they are in contempt of court. Such a finding could lead to a prison sentence, as has happened in the UK. I suspect that the proposal by the LRC is intended to highlight the issue for jurors and while the draft Bill is only a suggestion, one would think that a stronger maximum penalty is warranted.

Inappropriate contact between parties to proceedings is another risk, referred to by Gerry Curran in the Courts Service News in 2012.

Examples of flagrant abuse of this exist [internationally], including the appearance of disparaging remarks about other jurors on social media sites and jurors ‘friending’ each other on Facebook, trying to ‘friend’ counsel for either side and even ‘friending’ defendants in cases they were serving on.

This might appear unlikely to some readers but anyone who has maintained social media accounts for a few years is likely to have received more than one unexpected friend request. Juries already get warnings about discussing cases, but Judges may have to spell things out for jurors. According to Curran:

“[Studies suggest] that the magnitude of social change caused by social media requires the judge to adopt additional specificity when giving instructions. Brand names of social media need to be used as people are so used to using them as an extension of thought. It is also important to emphasis the fair trial element of the instruction – as the same familiarity might well cause a feeling in the juror of giving up a personal freedom in not communicating.

As if the courts don’t have enough on their plate worrying about the conduct of juries, court orders can of course be broken by members of the public. In the UK in 2013 two men received suspended sentences for posting photographs allegedly showing the now-adult killers of James Bulger, in breach of an injunction, on Facebook and Twitter (AG v. Harkins & Liddle [2013] EWHC 1455 (Admin)). That decision shows the relative speed and success with which the UK authorities have kept on top of the issue and no doubt will act as a deterrent in future.

Whatever about jurors, journalists have certainly taken to social media and many provide interesting updates in between various court hearings. [In fact, the Irish Times is liveblogging the Anglo trial.] Curran notes the risks:

Live ‘tweeting’ is akin to broadcast – it is sent with no delay, there is no taking it back, and no limits to dissemination. But what if soon after a courtroom tweet a judge rules something inadmissible, or to be ignored by the jury, or is patently shown to be a lie? In the UK guidelines effectively limit the use of Twitter to accredited media, who apply to do so and who, of course, are familiar with the court process and the consequences of endangering same.

Again, these risks are not necessarily new: a journalist might deliver an update on radio news during a lunchtime broadcast which includes material which might later be ruled on by the presiding judge. Journalists, of course, have expertise in dealing with court reporting and generally are sensitive to what should and should not be reported depending on the stage the case has reached.

Very meme

Nevertheless, recent developments certainly suggest an aversion to live tweeting or “contemporaneous reporting”. In the high profile surrogacy guardianship case  (M.R & Anor v. An tArd Chlaraitheoir & Ors [2013] IEHC 91), the appeal of which is currently being heard by the Supreme Court,  Mr Justice Abbott directed that the case be heard otherwise than in public but that certain journalists be allowed to attend and report on the hearings subject to a number of conditions, including that “no contemporaneous social media reporting e.g. by Twitter shall be carried out”. [I am not sure how the Irish Times liveblog of the Anglo trial is maintained but such a blog could constitute contemporaneous social media reporting.]

Similarly, family law proceedings have now been opened up to the media who can report cases so long as the parties are not identified. New guidelines on reporting of such cases prohibit live-tweeting (although the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013 do not contain the prohibition). Those guidelines appear to have been circulated to judges but not, to my knowledge to date, to lawyers and they don’t appear to be available on the websites of the Minister for Justice or the Courts Service.

As with many areas of the law, it is enforcement rather than any new measures themselves that will be interesting. Recent experience in the UK is of effective detection and prosecution of offences followed by serious penalties. The Anglo trial, which will last for months and be of intense media interest, may provide the first real test for the Irish court system in dealing with these dangers.

Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation (brief) consultation on filesharing injunctions

[Updated 23/06/11] In the (literally) last days of the previous Government, a rumour shot around that the then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation was about to sign a statutory instrument into law which would address the gap in the law criticised by Mr. Justice Chartleton in the EMI & ors v. UPC case.

A firm denial was issued by the Minister but I’m not sure anyone really believed that a draft SI wasn’t floating around somewhere. Anyway, the newly-titled Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation has put a draft SI out to consultation. The relevant SI text is below.

Deadline for submissions is 1 July 2011: less than 2 weeks from today. That’s pretty swift consultation by any standard. Apparently the Department received a number of requests for an extension to the consultation period, so the new deadline for submissions is Friday 29 July 2011.

New section 40(5A) of the Copyright & Related Rights Acts:

(5A)(a) without prejudice to subsections (3) and (4), the owner of the copyright in the work concerned may apply to the High Court for an injunction against a person who provides facilities referred to in subsection (3) where those facilities are being used by one or more third parties to infringe the copyright in that work.

(b) In considering an application for an injunction under this subsection, the court shall have due regard to the rights of any third party likely to be affected and the court shall make such directions (including, where appropriate, a direction requiring a third party to be put on notice of the application) as the court may deem necessary or appropriate in all the circumstances.

New section 205(9A) of the Copyright & Related Rights Acts:

(9A)(a) without prejudice to subsections (7) and (8), the rightsowner may apply to the High Court for an injunction against a person who provides facilities referred to in subsection (7) where those facilities are used by one or more third parties to infringe any of the rights referred to in Parts III and IV.

(b) In considering an application for an injunction under this subsection, the court shall have due regard to the rights of any third party likely to be affected and the court shall make such directions (including, where appropriate, a direction requiring a third party to be put on notice of the application) as the court may deem necessary or appropriate in all the circumstances.

Thanks to Ronan Lupton for bringing the consultation to my attention.

There is nothing super about these injunctions

The unfolding superinjunctions scandal in the United Kingdom is one of those legal stories that has gripped the media, broadsheet and tabloid alike. Much of the coverage now focuses on the fact that social media tends to make a superinjunction redundant.

An injunction is an equitable remedy and therefore a number of specific rules (maxims) apply when a judge considers whether to grant one. One such maxim is that equity will not act in vain. Mr. Justice Clarke summarised the position in a recent Irish case involving an attempt to force through the sale of a property where the purchasers had no ability to pay.

It has often been said that equity will not act in vain. A court should, therefore, be reluctant to make an equitable order where there is no reasonable prospect of the order concerned being complied with. I should add one qualification to that statement. There obviously may be cases where persons may simply decline to obey an order of the court. The fact that a party might be most unlikely to obey a court order could not, in my view, be a reason for the court not making the order in the first place. However, where it is clear on the evidence that a party would not, in fact, be able to comply with a court order, then a court should be most reluctant to make such an order.

For superinjunctions of the type currently in the news, there is no reasonable prospect of the orders being complied with. But this results from the fact that Twitter users, for example, are unlikely to obey the order, rather than being unable to obey it. Nevertheless, the issue of enforceability is significant. Proposals to impose editorial moderation on social media are somewhat silly and, as with many of the measures adopted to tackle illegal filesharing, doomed to fail.

As the Guardian commented in its editorial yesterday:

The case is, on the face of it, not a terribly attractive one for arguing either the cause of freedom of speech or for the supremacy of parliament.

However, the issue is not about the peccadilloes of a premiership footballer and the same principles will apply in far more serious circumstances.

What if some people on Twitter decided to name rape victims, or publish the current identity and whereabouts of Mary Bell, the child killer was who has, since 2003, been protected by a court order?

On the other hand, the existence of superinjunctions first came to public attention during the remarkable Trafigura affair in 2009 when the Guardian was prohibited from reporting on a question asked in the British Parliament. The case was something of a nightmare scenario for those with an interest in open democracy and press freedom.

The UK controversies inevitably involve debate on the merits of introducing a privacy law or reforming defamation law. What about this jurisdiction? Reforms have recently been made to our defamation law and while they were to be accompanied by a “deeply flawed” privacy law, that initiative has stalled.

The Privacy Bill 2006 proposed that a court could, in a privacy action, make an order prohibiting a defendant from doing anything that the court considers violate the privacy of the plaintiff. It also allowed for wide powers to control media reporting of privacy actions. It certainly appeared wide enough to allow for superinjunctions. Eoin O’Dell outlined the conundrum that the Bill would present the media with when coupled with the Defamation Act 2009.

[The Bill] has raised the spectre the defamation gagging writ of old simply being replaced by a shiny new privacy gagging writ. One aspect of the two Bills together puts journalists into a potentially invidious situation. To be able to rely on the defence of reasonable publication in a defamation action, one of the factors which the court will take into account is the extent to which a reasonable attempt was made by the journalist to obtain and publish a response from the person who is the subject of the article.

However, a journalist who makes such contacts in advance, now runs the risk of precipitating a privacy action from that person.

The journalist is now potentially damned by the Privacy Bill for contacting the subject of the article, and damned by the Defamation Bill for not doing so.

Of course, we don’t know if there are any superinjunctions in force in Ireland because, by their nature, the media is generally prohibited from reporting even their existence. Given that Ireland is such a small community, however, it seems probable that word of superinjunctions would quickly leak out. In addition, as noted by Flor McCarthy:

The constitutional requirement in this jurisdiction that justice must be administered in public would be a high hurdle for an applicant to overcome; though maybe we just don’t have the right celebrities!

Nevertheless, it is not inconceivable that such draconian injunctions could be issued in Ireland. After all, the ongoing banking crisis in Ireland has been accompanied by an astounding level of secrecy. The Credit Institutions (Stablisiation) Act 2010, a remarkable piece of legislation which should be far more controversial than it currently is, baldly provides:

The Court may order that any application under this Act, or any part of such an application, shall be heard otherwise than in public or may impose restrictions with regard to the disclosure in open court, publication or reporting of any material that might be commercially sensitive.

This is a very broad provision and was relied on almost immediately after the Act was passed. It was quite clear at the time this Act was first used that the parties hoped that the media would not be aware of the proceedings. Could a judge order that an article such as that in the Irish Times not be published on the grounds that the fact of the application itself was commercially sensitive?

There may well be grounds for the use of draconian court orders on occasion but it must be considered that the parties most likely to seek them are large corporations and wealthy individuals. As Mark Stephens, a high profile media lawyer, commented:

They are almost discriminatory justice. Not a single woman has taken out a super injunction and as a result of that, it is only the men. Invariably they are rich men because it costs between £50,000 and £100,000 (€56,000 and €113,000) to get a superinjunction.


Irish Courts have duty to override religious objections of parents to protect welfare of children

The judgment of Mr. Justice Gerard Hogan in Temple Street v. D & Anor, published yesterday, makes for dramatic reading. It is not often that a sitting of the High Court occurs in the private residence of a judge at 1 a.m., but it is not the first time that the Irish medical profession has made emergency court applications when treating Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In this case, concerning Baby AB, the medical evidence presented to Hogan J. was that a blood transfusion “was clinically necessary and urgent and all possible alternatives had been exhausted.” Hogan J., referring to issues of religious belief, stated:

A secular court cannot possibly choose in matters of this kind and, of course, a diversity of religious views is of the essence of the religious freedom and tolerance which [the Constitution] pre-supposes. Nor can the State be prescriptive as to what shall be orthodox or conventional in such matters, for, as Jackson J. put it in a noted US decision concerning the Witnesses, West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette:

“…if there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

It probably suffices for present purposes simply to say that the right of a properly informed adult with full capacity to refuse medical treatment – whether for religious or other reasons – is constitutionally protected: see, e.g., Fitzpatrick v. FK (No.2) [2008] IEHC 104, [2009] 2 I.R. 7.

However, the person at issue (AB) was a minor and Hogan J. relied on Article 42.5 of the Constitution to grant an order allowing the blood transfusion to take place. Article 42.5 provides:

In exceptional cases, where the parents for physical or moral reasons fail in their duty towards their children, the State as guardian of the common good, by appropriate means shall endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.

This requires a failure in moral duty on the part of parents, so the conclusion is that adherence to a particular religious belief may, in so far as the State or society is concerned, constitute such a failure. Hogan J. said that:

the use of the term “failure” in this context is perhaps a somewhat unhappy one, since there is no doubt but that CD and EF, acting by the lights of their own deeply held religious views, behaved in a conscientious fashion vis-à-vis Baby AB. The test of whether the parents have failed for the purposes of Article 42.5 is, however, an objective one judged by the secular standards of society in general and of the Constitution in particular, irrespective of their own subjective religious views.

He concluded that the Court has “a jurisdiction (and, indeed, a duty) to override the religious objections of the parents”.

The judgment is likely to be of interest to opponents of greater recognition of the rights of the child in the Constitution, particularly those who fear greater State opportunities to override the rights of parents.

For more, see the Human Rights in Ireland blog and the Irish Times.

In defence of Carter-Ruck?

The ‘gagging’ order issued by the English High Court against the Guardian yesterday kicked off a remarkable and fast-moving story in which the media and the law were on an apparent collision course, and in which the twitteratti has laid claim to a significant influence.

On first impressions, the injunction seemed wholly undemocratic and quite bizarre, given that the subject-matter it prohibited the Guardian from publishing was public information. However, the level of opprobrium heaped on Carter-Ruck Solicitors is equally remarkable. They might not, perhaps, be deserving of sympathy, but do they deserve the criticism and vitriol, or the protest which will apparently take place outside their offices on Thursday?

By some accounts, the founder of Carter-Ruck Solicitors was primarily motivated by self-interest in pursuing expensive libel claims. But don’t lawyers act on behalf of their clients? Rational firms do not wage wars of aggression on their own behalf (after all, they will want to be paid for their work). If a lawyer is a gun, someone must pull the trigger. Today, the Guardian says:

Carter-Ruck, the law firm representing Trafigura, was accused of infringing the supremacy of parliament after it insisted that an injunction obtained against the Guardian prevented the paper from reporting a question tabled on Monday by the Labour MP Paul Farrelly. [My emphasis.]

Surely, if any such accusation is to be made, it should lie at the door of Carter-Ruck’s clients?

More importantly, lawyers don’t own the shooting gallery. The British government is free to line up the libel ducks up in a different manner and most would agree that reform of UK libel law is long overdue (even Ireland has gotten around to updating its defamation law, though we await the Privacy Act that was to be its companion).

Today, Carter-Ruck Solicitors released a statement on behalf of Trafigura which complicates the episode somewhat and it may be that the legal technicalities behind this story are not simple enough to fit in a soundbite (or tweet, for that matter). Carter-Ruck has been accused of chilling freedom of speech. Should that criticism not be leveled at the firm’s clients rather than the firm itself?

At what point do we hold lawyers to blame for the actions of their clients?