Law, Justice and Journalism

Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

Second reading of Broadcasting (Television Licence Fee Abolition) Bill 2010-12

In Journalism, Law on March 30, 2012 at 3:52 pm

By Professor Lorna Woods

The Broadcasting (Television Licence Fee Abolition) Bill 2010-12 had its second reading on the 30th March 2012, having had its first reading on 5th July 2010. A private member’s bill sponsored by Mr Peter Bone, its aim was to make provision for the abolition of the television licence fee; and for connected purposes. It seems unlikely that this bill will proceed, or at least not swiftly.

The Bill was not moved for debate at second reading stage, which is part of the process of an enactment of a bill) and the order to read the Bill a second time lapsed. The Parliamentary website notes that “[t]here is no indication when the Bill will progress further.”

Mr Bone has sponsored a number of other private member’s bills, such as the European Union (Exemption from Value Added Tax Regulation) Bill 2010-12, European Union (Freedom of Movement) (Amendment) Bill 2010-12 both of which sought to get Parliament to ignore its obligations under EU law, as well as European Convention on Human Rights (Withdrawal) Bill 2010-12 and the European Convention on Human Rights (Temporary Withdrawal) Bill 2010-12. None have, so far, been successful.

Returning to the BBC and public service broadcasting, The BBC Licence Fee Payers (Voting Rights) Bill 2010-12, another Private Members’ Bill (this time under the Ten Minute Rule, SO No 23) was similarly unsuccessful.  it aimed to introduce a system whereby licence fee payers could vote on the BBC’s strategic direction, the membership of the BBC Trust and the non-executive members of the BBC Executive Board; and aspects of senior salaries and programming.

A third bill, Broadcasting (Public Service Content) Bill 2010-12, which aims to define public service content for the purposes of public service broadcasting, is still awaiting its chance at second reading.  The effect of this bill, were it enacted, would be to repeal s. 264 Communications Act and essentially make public service content subject to a market failure test and a requirement of taste and decency.


Geoffrey Robertson QC: Press ‘must do better to protect open justice’

In Events, Journalism, Justice, Law on March 21, 2012 at 1:47 pm

By PA Media Lawyer

The press needs to lift its game if the principle of open justice is to be maintained, a senior QC has warned.

Part of the rationale for open justice was that it meant that judges were themselves under trial while conducting cases, because of media and public scrutiny, and that the public was educated by reports of what was happening in the courts, said media law and human rights specialist Geoffrey Robertson.

“There has been very little informed criticism of the judicial performance of our judges,” he told a conference entitled Justice Wide Open, at City University London, on February 29.

“The media, it seems to me, are third rate, compared to the American media, where appointments to the Supreme Court are covered critically by a lot of experts and a lot of legal journalists,” he said.

“Here the level of coverage of the courts – and certainly critical coverage – is very poor. The number of journalists in courts has been cut.”

But little encouragement was given to critical journalism, Mr Robertson said.

Read the full article at PA Media Lawyer here (subscription required). Papers from the conference will be published later this spring, in a Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism publication. See the project page for more details.

Digital age poses challenge for jury trials

In Events, Journalism, Justice, Law on March 19, 2012 at 10:30 am

By PA Media Lawyer

The jury system might need to be changed to allow jurors to play a more active part in trials as a result of the advances in technology which brought the internet, micro-blogging and social websites such as Twitter and Facebook, a conference was told.

At present technological advances posed two dangers to trials in criminal cases, said Professor Ian Cram, Professor of Comparative Constitutional Law at the University of Leeds (left).

“We can characterise the dangers that arise in two ways – jurors who do their own research, producing information flowing into the jury room. Facebook and Twitter facilitate this sort of flow of information,” he said.

“Information also flows out of the jury room – jurors may send Tweets or updates on their jury room experiences in real time, including on how their deliberations are going,” he told the Justice Wide Open – Open Justice in the Digital Age conference at City University London, on February 29.

Read the full article at PA Media Lawyer here (subscription required). Professor Cram’s paper will be published later this spring, in a Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism publication. See the project page for more details.

Lorna Woods: Google and Data Protection – Again!

In Comment, Law on March 16, 2012 at 9:52 am

By Professor Lorna Woods

A new reference has landed on the ECJ’s desk: Google Spain and Google (Case C-131/12) from the Audiencia Nacional in Spain.

The ECJ official website is a bit thin on details, but this seems to be the same case reported by Reuters. That case concerns the right to be forgotten – implicit in the current data protection regime (but which would be made explicit were the draft Data Protection Regulation ever to come in to being).

While the judge apparently referred a number of questions, including one about jurisdiction, the central issue is whether Google should be obliged to delete data referring to individuals.  The impetus for the cases comes from aggrieved individuals who have applied to the Spanish data protection authority to have information deleted.  This case is likely to be one that is closely watched given the likely stormy passage of the proposed Data Protection Regulation.

Central to the discussion will be the relationship between the e-Commerce Directive (Directive 2000/31/EC) and the Data Protection Directive. While the e-Commerce Directive shields ISPs from liability in a range of circumstances, that directive is expressed not to apply to ‘questions relating to information society services covered by Directives 95/46/EC and 97/66/EC’ (article 1(5)(b) e-Commerce Directive and Recital 14).  Directive 95/46/EC is, of course, the current Data Protection Directive.

Google is, of course, not unfamiliar with the exception to the e-Commerce Directive, as it arose when directors of Google were charged under Italian data protection laws relating to user generated content (UGC) posted on a You-Tube type service operated by Google.  The UGC was a clip from a mobile phone which showed some boys bullying another boy with Downs Syndrome.  The Google executives were given 6 month suspended gaol sentences.  A decision on appeal was due to be handed down by the Court of Appeal in Milan in 2011, though in September the case, according to one of those involved (Peter Fleischer) had not been assigned.  One would hope that in the interests of timely just that this issue is decided before the ECJ hands down its ruling in Case C-131/12.

If the non-availability of the hosting exceptions, then presumably the key issue is the scope of the rights under the DPD.  Therein lies the rub.  While the DPD is set against a privacy (Article 8 ECHR) backdrop, it does not grant any particular right to be forgotten.  Instead, the DPD provides how data should be managed, which includes the archiving and deletion obligations. How far the ECJ is prepared to push this, especially in the light of data protection as a fully fledged right in the EU Charter, remains to be seen.  This is the new contentious issue in the privacy/freedom of expression debate.  For a range of views see: Google’s privacy counsel; a security consultant; and an academic viewpoint [PDF], among, no doubt, many more.

Justice Wide Open: courts and legal information in the digital age

In City University London, Events, Journalism, Justice, Law on March 2, 2012 at 4:42 pm

On Wednesday 29 February 2012, academics, lawyers and journalists gathered to discuss open justice in the digital age at City University London.

The programme included context and history, issues for the media and an academic perspective. Speakers included: Geoffrey Robertson QC; Hugh Tomlinson QC; Heather Brooke, journalist and author; Mike Dodd, editor of PA Media Lawyer; and Professor Ian Cram, Professor of Comparative Constitutional Law, University of Leeds.

Later in the spring the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism will be releasing a set of papers from the event and also work on practical recommendations to take forward. Please contact if you would like to be involved or have suggestions.

In the meantime, here are some links to reports elsewhere, tweets, photos and audio.

Audio recordings & slides

  • Session one, with Hugh Tomlinson QC, David Goldberg, information rights academic and activist; and Emily Allbon, City Law School librarian [slides] (chair: Professor Howard Tumber).
  • Session 2, with Heather Brooke, journalist and author; Mike Dodd, editor of PA Media Lawyer; Adam Wagner, barrister; William Perrin, founder of Talk About Local [slides] (chair: Judith Townend).
  • Session 3. An academic perspective, with Professor Ian Cram, Professor of Comparative Constitutional Law, University of Leeds [slides] and Dr Lawrence McNamara, Reader in Law and ESRC/AHRC Research Fellow, University of Reading (chair: Professor Ian Loveland).