The Murray factors applied to the Meghan Markle case – when is there a reasonable expectation of privacy?

The England and Wales privacy of Murray v. Associated Newspapers [2007] EWHC 1908 (Ch) set out a number of criteria applicable to establishing whether there was a reasonable expectation of privacy in the matter at issue. This is one of the two part test for an action of misuse of private information to be made out.

The recent Markle case for misuse of private information applied the Murray criteria in by rote. The circumstances in which a publicised letter to the claimant’s father breached a reasonable expectation of privacy were broken down in a illustrative way, highlighting the effectiveness of the Murray criteria:

Factor One: Role and Status

(1) The claimant was a prominent member of the Royal Family,
and in that sense a public figure, who had a high public profile, and about whom much
had been and continued to be written and published; this is an important feature of the
background and the circumstances but

Factor Two: Was the nature of the activity she was engaged with private?

(2) the nature of the “activity” in which she had
engaged was not an aspect of her public role or functions; she was communicating to
her father about his behaviour, its impact on her, her feelings about it, and her wishes
for the future; and

(3) she was doing this in a letter sent to him alone, privately, by
means of a courier service.

Factor Three: What was the intrusion complained of?

(4) The “intrusion” involved the publication of much if not
most of the information in the Letter by way of sensational revelations over four pages
of a popular newspaper and online, to a very large readership; and that, in broad terms,
was the purpose of the “intrusion”.

Factor Four: Was there any consent to the intrusion?

(5) There was no consent, and it is beyond dispute
that this was known to or could have been inferred by Mr Markle and the defendant.

Factor Five: What was the impact of the disclosure?

(6) The unwanted disclosure was likely to cause the claimant at least some distress,
especially as it was done with the co-operation of her father, and in the context of a
detailed and critical response by him to the content of the Letter.

Factor Six: How was the information obtained?

(7) The information
was given to the defendant by the claimant’s father.

Mail on Sunday settle with Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, over allegations regarding “distancing” from the British Armed Forces

A unilateral statement open court was presented before Justice Nicklin in the case bought by the Duke of Sussex against the Mail on Sunday.

The settlement concerns an article published on 25 October 2020 that alleged that the Prince had distanced himself from the British Army and the Royal Marines in particular ignoring correspondence from Lord Dannatt, a former Chief of the General Staff.

The Mail on Sunday and the MailOnline admitted the falisity of the statements.

The Statement recounted the Duke’s continuing efforts to engage with the British Armed Forces including the Royal Marines.

It highlighted that the article has remained published for 33 days, all the while disparaging the Duke’s relationship with the British Armed Forces.

A settlement offer was made to the Duke on 3rd December 2020 and accepted on 21st October 2020. Am apology to be placed in the Corrections and Clarifications columns was agreed.

As is typical with these statements attention was drawn to the fact that the intention was to settle the case and prevent further costly litigation. It was stated that the damage caused by the article in relation to these reparations was disproportionate.

The correction was published in the Mail on Sunday an area of the paper far smaller than the original article and in a right hand page which garners significantly more attention. There was no heading to the apology.

The MailOnline published a similar correction and clarification the garnered 9 shares compared to the 1,000 shares and 3,000 reader comments on the original article. The apology was also only published on the MailOline app for a period of 24 hours despite 64% of the readership having used the app to read articles, meaning a significantly less number of readers would have read the apology.

Importantly both Defendants were alleged to have used wording which significantly underplayed the seriousness of the complaint. Further they failed to acknowledge the statements were false meaning the Duke had to resort to a Statement in Open Court.

The Defendant had offered to donate the proceeds of the settlement to the Invictus Games Foundation. However, the apology did not state the Duke has decided to donate the settlement monies to the Invictus Games Foundation after receiving them himself so he could feel that some good had come of the case.

See coverage of the settlement on:

Inforrm

Sky

Independent

BBC

Top 10 Defamation Cases 2020

In 2020 there were many significant defamation cases from across the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. These cases provided prominent forums for defamation cases and facilitated for significant development, analysis and application of the law.

  1. Depp v News Group Newspapers [2020] EWHC 2911 (QB) 

The highly publicised libel trial of Johnny Depp against the publisher of the Sun newspaper. The action came following the publication of an article characterising Depp as “wife beater Depp”.  It was concluded: 

“The Claimant has not succeeded in his action for libel. Although he has proved the necessary elements of his cause of action in libel, the Defendants have shown that what they published in the meaning which I have held the words to bear was substantially true.”    

There was an Inforrm case comment. Coverage from news outlets was also predictably broad with the IndependentNews.au and the Sun itselfDepp is reported appealing the finding.    

  1. Serafin v Malkiewicz & Others  [2020] 1 WLR 2455  

An action for libel and misuse of private information in respect to an article published in October 2015. The Supreme Court here provided guidance on s.4 of the Defamation Act 2020, the public interest defence. The case is also significant due to the rare instance of the UK Supreme Court ordering a full retrial in the case, concluding that “the justice system has failed both sides” with “deep regret” and “a degree of embarrassment in relation to respected colleagues” in the Court of Appeal. There was an Inforrm case comment and a comment from 5RB Chambers.  

  1. Gubarev v Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd [2020] EWHC 2912 (QB) 

A defamation trial concerning the publication of an article on Buzzfeed alleging that the claimants took actions to undermine the democratic party leadership throughout March-September 2016. It was not established that the defendant was responsible in law for the publication of the publication complained of.  There was an Inforrm case comment

4. Vardy v Rooney [2020] EWHC 3156 (QB) 

A preliminary trial as to meaning following Ms Rooney’s statement on her Instagram account that she had identified who was leaking details of her personal life to the Sun. There was an Inforrm case comment. As expected the case drew a media frenzy with commentary from the MetroCNNTelegraphDaily Mail and INews.   

  1. Campbell v Dugdale [2020] CSIH 27  

A case in First Division, Inner House of the Court of Session. The case concerns allegations that a tweet made by the claimant was homophobic. The then Leader of the Scottish Labour Party described the tweets as “homophobic” and described the author as “someone who sprouts hatred and homophobia towards others”. It was affirmed that the defence of fair comment was applicable here and the appeal was dismissed. Brodies LLP has a case comment.  

  1. 1704604 Ontario Ltd. v. Pointes Protection Association; Bent v. Platnick   

These two cases analysed anti-SLAPP legislation in Ontario providing a detailed review of the language of the legislation and how it ought to, theoretically, be applied. Plantick involved the application of these principles with the 5:4 split suggesting that there remains a high degree of judicial discretion at play in the application of Ontario anti-SLAPP legislation. There was an Inforrm case comment.  

7. Herron v HarperCollins Publishers Australia Pty Ltd (No 3)[2020] FCA 1687 

The case concerned allegations made in a book written by journalist Steve Cannane, published in 2016, which concerned the Church of Scientology in Australia. The Claimants sued for defamation over the book’s contents, despite the issues raised having been found against them by an enquiry 30 years previously. The case covered determinations of many factual matters and ultimately the claimants were unsuccessful. There was a  5RB news item

  1. Rush v Nationwide News [2020] FCAFC 115  

The Newspapers failed attempt to appeal against the original finding in the Geoffery Rush defamation case from last years list, this concerned the assessment of the award of damages made by the Court. The award of $2,872,753.10 to Mr Rush was upheld. The case was covered by the BBC.  

  1. Fairfax Media Publications; Nationwide News Pty Ltd; Australian News Channel Pty Ltd v Voller [2020] NSWCA 102.  

A finding that establishes that media companies can be considered publishers of comments made by readers on their social media accounts. This means media companies can be held responsible for responses to media they post. The Court of Appeal majority in the case concluded: “it is not uncommon for persons to be held liable for the publication of defamatory imputations conveyed by matter composed by another person”.  

There was an Inforrm comment on the case. 

  1. Higgins v Irish Aviation Authority [2020] IECA 157.   

A €387,000 defamation award by a jury to an Aer Lingus pilot against the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) has been cut to €76,500 by the Court of Appeal. Mr Justice Donald Binchy, on behalf of the three-judge COA, found the appropriate sum for general and aggravated damages was €76,500.  There were pieces in The Irish Examiner and the Sunday Times. There was a discussion on the Ronan Daly Jermyn website

Top 10 Defamation Cases 2019

Happy New Year readers!

This year we again are publishing our thoughts on the Top 10 Defamation cases of the year.

This covers the top 10 defamation cases jurisdictionally from across the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Case will be ranked on the strength of the precedence they set, including thier impact on the jurisdictions legal framework.

Many thanks to INFORRM for orginally agreeing to post this article.

Determining the meaning of a statement in defamation proceedings before the Supreme Court – Stocker v Stocker [2019] UKSC 17

The Supreme Court has heard a case on establishing the meaning of the statement “he tried to strangle me”. The case concerned and exchange between Mrs Stocker and an Ms Bligh (then Mr Stocker’s partner) on Facebook in which Mrs Stocker alleged that Mr Stocker tried to strangle her.

In this context, Mrs Stocker also alleged that Mr Stocker had been removed from the house following issuing threats against her, that there were some “gun issues” and that the police had determined he had breached a non-molestation order. Continue reading

Defamation

Defamation seeks to protect the individuals’ reputation from false statements which harm or may harm it. Slander and libel (more permanent forms of communication) refer to a statement publicized to a third party which has or is likely to cause serious harm to their reputation.

Defamation is a construct of the common law, built up over a series of legal cases. Defamation cases have been held to extend to social media, such as to tweets made by Katie Hopkins to food writer Jack Monroe.

Thornton v Telegraph Media Group Ltd [2011] EWHC 159 (QB) highlighted that defamation claims often cross the threshold to engage Article 8 privacy rights. In particular, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that:

“In order for Article 8 to come into play, however, an attack on a person’s reputation must attain a certain level of seriousness and in a manner causing prejudice to personal enjoyment of the right to respect for private life…”

Claimants have to show the statement at issue is likely to cause serious harm to their reputation per s.1 Defamation Act 2013. This is typically via evidence such as circulation, subscribers and views of the statement at issue.

The defenses available to defamation are:

  1. Truth: That the statement itself was substantially true.
  2. Honest opinion: That the statement was one of opinion and that an honest person could have reasonably held that opinion.
  3. Public interest: That the matter was one which was in the public interest and the publisher of the statement reasonably believed it to be so.
  4. Privilege: This can be absolute (such as a Parliamentary statement) or qualified (e.g. job references). Qualified privilege does not protect the publisher of a statement where it was done so maliciously.

Citation: INFORRM, Top 10 Defamation Cases of 2018: a selection – Suneet Sharma

A recent piece considering the most significant defamation cases over the previous year. Thanks goes to the INFORRM blog for their assistance.

Inforrm's Blog

Inforrm reported on a large number of defamation cases from around the world in 2018.  Following the widely read post on 2017 cases, this is my selection of the most legally and factually interesting cases from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States and England from the past year. 

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