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UK court backs security ban on anonymised telephone calls system

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A UK court has upheld the Government’s right to ban commercial marketing of a money-saving telephone service on security grounds because it could provide anonymity for callers. The service uses “GSM gateways” that can reduce call charges by rerouting calls through mobile phone SIM cards – but it also allows users to make anonymous calls, potentially avoiding government surveillance.

The Court of Appeal refused to award companies damages for a government licensing system that in effect bans the GSM gateway services they offered and largely halted their business.

Lord Justice Richards said: “Since the time when the existence of GSM gateways first came to light in 2002, the Home Office has maintained that the exemption of commercial operators of such gateways from the licensing regime would be seriously detrimental to public security.” He explained the system thus:

“When a call is routed through a GSM gateway, the caller line identification of the party originating the call is replaced by that of the SIM card in the GSM gateway, so that the identity of the originating caller is masked. This is said to give rise to serious public security concerns for law enforcement agencies in relation to the investigation and prevention of terrorism and serious crime.” (Recall Support Services Limited et al v Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport [2014] EWCA Civ 1370 para 9.)

Recall Support Services and five other firms sought to challenge the ban under a European Union law to encourage the telephony sector to develop. They had originally claimed £415m in damages for alleged losses as a result of the UK Government’s maintenance of a restriction on the commercial use of GSM gateways despite a European Commission directive intended to free up telephony services. Read the rest of this entry

Jeremy Wright’s rule of law: Justice shall not be sold – unless the price is right

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Dicey? Bingham? Or perhaps you prefer the Wrightean doctrine of the Rule of Law as it operates in the UK? For Jeremy Wright (the Attorney General for those who’ve forgotten – or perhaps never knew) has given us his thoughts on this complex and contested legal principle.

Generally “the rule of law” is boiled down to a simple phrase: No one is above the law – including the Government. This though, is not the message Mr Wright wishes to get across. His speech “on the UK’s long commitment to the Rule of Law” was delivered at the London Law Expo in the City of London. The Expo is a sort of legal/business fest with, this year, Dragons’ Den man James Caan as keynote speaker.

Wright’s intended audience, therefore, was the business community – specifically the international business community. What excites him is less Britain’s commitment to the rule of law, forged through revolts and rebellions and the slow painful birth of a democratic society. No, what excites him is this: that

“the numbers show just how successful the legal services sector has been: in 2012 it was worth over £20 billion, or 1.5% of UK GDP and contributed some £4 billion in export value. There were over 300,000 people employed in our legal services sector with over 200 foreign law firms operating in London and elsewhere in the country”.

Britain, for these reasons, is not just a place to do business. It is a place to do law. So the point of  the rule of law is: it’s good for business. “Our long commitment to the rule of law [is] I believe, is of central importance to the British economy”.

For Wright has very little interests in the philosophy or practice of the rule of law; rather he is concerned to established Britain’s (or perhaps only London’s) unique selling point: “All companies know that they will be judged by clear rules applied in accordance with the law.” The rest of the speech is a promotion of UK plc’s legal services. Somehow he even manages to spin the Libor scandal as a “good” story:

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AA v Southwark – a conspiracy to evict ‘whether lawfully or not’

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A British High Court judge has accused officers at Southwark Council, London, of conspiracy to cause harm to a council tenant by unlawfully destroying his possessions and an illegal eviction. The council has been forced to compensate the tenant, AA, left street-homeless without income or possessions by the eviction, for an unknown sum. AA’s original claim was for £2.4m.

The judge, Anthony Thornton QC, in AA v London Borough of Southwark, said council officers were determined to secure the eviction “whether it was lawful or not”. As a result officers and the council itself were liable for misfeasance in public office. “They had limited prospects of evicting him lawfully and they therefore appear to have embarked on an eviction with the intention of evicting AA even though this could not be done lawfully.”

The entire contents of AA’s flat in Peckham, including his passport, laptops, papers, personal belongings and furniture were removed and illegally destroyed in a refuse disposal facility. The court heard that AA had made repeated attempts in the High Court and County Court to regain possession of his flat and to regain his belongings and also tried to discuss his predicament with council officials. As a result of his eviction he was street homeless for more than a year except for the use of a sofa or floor space in  friends homes for part of the time. His only income was financial assistance from those friends.

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Merlin has no magic wand to gag theme park safety campaigner

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A judge has backed the right of a critic of Merlin Entertainments’ theme park safety record to continue his “robust” campaign against the owners of Alton Towers and Chessington World of Adventures. The High Court judgment has asserted the obligation companies have to endure criticism even if it is upsetting or senior employees feel harassed by it.

Merlin Entertainments had sought a court injunction against a mass emailing and internet campaign on theme park safety by Dr Peter Cave and alleged he was harassing their staff. But Mrs Justice Laing said:

“An almost inevitable consequence of occupying a position of responsibility in a plc, the business of which affects many members of the public, is that, at times, a person will be exposed to robust, and occasionally upsetting, criticism. Its officers should, of course, be protected from real harassment. But they are not immune from criticism, even if that is misguided and intemperate.” (Para 56)

The judge took no view on the validity of Dr Cave’s criticisms but said that if they were unjust, the proper recourse for Merlin was the libel courts, not an injunction. “If such a claim succeeds, the level of damages will reflect the distress caused by the defamation.”

Dr Cave’s interest in theme park safety was prompted by the accident at Chessington in which Jessica Blake, 4, was seriously injured in 2012. Dr Cave and his company, Peer Egerton Limited (PEL) were hired to do a condition survey on the park after the accident.

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Libel juries: How Tim Yeo and Warby J buried the Seven Bishops

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It is ironic – and perhaps a little shocking – that an early high-profile beneficiary of Britain’s abolition of the right for juries to try libel cases should be a Member of Parliament – one who will doubtless have supported the Defamation Act 2013 that removed the long-standing right. So, step forward Tim Yeo, who will not (thanks to the new law and a sympathetic judge) have 12 jurors facing him in court who need to be persuaded that he did not show willingness “to abuse his position in Parliament to further his own financial and business interests in preference to the public interest“.*

Yeo succeeded in challenging Times Newspapers’ attempt to have a jury empanelled – but might be mortified that Mr Justice Warby in Tim Yeo MP v Times Newspapers decided the case could do without a jury because Yeo is just not an important enough figure to warrant one. Some public figures (government ministers or judges, perhaps, rather than footballers or celebs) might have to face a libel trial jury, but the moderately high and not-so-mighty-now Mr Yeo doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

More significantly, Warby’s decision about a jury has ditched centuries of legal and constitutional  principle, denying any public interest right for defamation cases involving senior public servants to be tried by those representatives of the public who constitute juries. But some background is needed.

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Bank error in your favour? Santander may be coming for you

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Santander Bank in Britain has been given the right to identify and pursue by telephone and email the beneficiaries of erroneous payments – even though the thousands of pounds-worth of errors were made as a result of Santander’s own failings.

The High Court has rejected privacy concerns and ruled that Santander can force other banks to reveal the details of mistaken beneficiaries by issuing a “Norwich Pharmacal” order – usually used to reveal fraudsters and other wrongdoers – even though wrongdoing may not have occurred in these cases. 

The unwitting beneficiaries can now have their names, addresses, emails and telephone numbers revealed to Santander which can use them to press customers to repay the money or ultimately take legal action against them. Mr Justice Birss in the High Court Chancery Division has concluded that privacy rights are trumped by property rights. The orders are supposed to be issued only in exceptional cases but Birss has in effect created a rubber-stamping mechanism for issuing the orders whenever banks make errors and cannot trace the beneficiaries.

The case undermines the right to privacy by suggesting that in future there need not be real evidence of wrongdoing (eg fraud or internet piracy) or of a wrongdoer before such orders are issued. They can be issued on the assumption of wrongdoing without an arguable case being put in open court that wrongdoing has occurred.

Hundreds of such transfer errors occur each month and Santander has recently set up a Refunds and Recoveries team to deal with them. Typical errors include duplicate payments, the selection of an incorrect mandate and the insertion of an incorrect account number. In some cases the bank is stymied when trying to get money back from customers of other banks because the beneficiaries – whose names and details are unknown to Santander – are protected by the other banks’ confidentiality.

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Ministry of Justice’s 2½-year legal wrangle over ‘bullying’ Court of Appeal Master

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The UK Ministry of Justice has been caught up in a two and a half year legal wrangle with senior Court of Appeal lawyer accused of bullying conduct.

Robert Hendy, a Master in the Civil Appeals office, has been suspended on full pay in excess of £65,000 since December 2011 when two female lawyers made complaints about him. His conduct was said to be bullying and undermining of colleagues. Hendy denies all the allegations against him.

His dispute about disciplinary procedures reached the High Court this week where Mr Justice Mann said: “There were also allegations of casual racism, alcohol misuse, absenteeism and neglect of his official duties, both managerial and substantial” – though these have since been dropped.

The High Court had heard that after compiling a 70-page report on the matter, an investigations officer appointed under the MoJ disciplinary procedure, Stephen McAllister, concluded there was enough evidence to prove the bullying and harassment allegations against Hendy and that they should be considered serious and that specific allegations of bullying particular people should be regarded as gross misconduct. He made comments about his power to sack people and “He [McAllister] found that Mr Hendy made a number of sexual innuendo remarks over time, meant in jest but having an adverse effect on the recipient.”

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