Supplementary memorandum from Private Eye Magazine

 

Following my appearance to give evidence before the Committee on March 5 I am writing, as anticipated during the course of my evidence, to give some further information to the Committee.

Firstly, I enclose a copy of the letter of 29 April 2009[1] that Private Eye received from Schillings, solicitors, on behalf of its client, Richard Grainger. Mr Grainger was formerly Chief Executive of NHC Connecting for Health, the Department of Health Agency responsible for delivering the National Programme for IT to the NHS which has been the subject of very extensive criticism over its huge levels of spending and its very modest achievements to date.

Secondly I have looked at what happened in 40 cases since the beginning of 2000 involving libel claims made against Private Eye. For the avoidance of doubt the making of these claims did not necessarily lead to court action being started, as some were settled without any need to institute court action and others were not pursued. One action went to trial - the Condliffe action which was mentioned during my evidence - and resulted in victory for Private Eye when the action was abandoned after some six weeks of trial. One action went to trial and resulted in a hung jury. One action was settled on the eve of trial with a substantial payment of costs in the Eye's favour, in other words a victory for the Eye. Of the remainder, 26 claims were not pursued and 11 resulted in agreed settlement.

Thirdly, since the beginning of 2008 Private Eye has begun to receive a number of privacy injunctions granted at hearings of which it had no prior notice and designed to prevent the media generally from publishing allegations about individuals, usually well-known celebrities. In these instances, Private Eye has been sent copies of the court order, although it was not a defendant in the proceedings (orders are sometimes made against "persons unknown"). As I mentioned in my evidence, Private Eye is currently involved in contested proceedings for an interim injunction to prevent publication of information said to be confidential/private. Mr Justice Eady refused to grant an injunction in January 2009; the outcome of the appeal to the Court of Appeal is currently awaited. There are reporting restrictions in place from the court in respect of those proceedings.

In addition, but in contrast to the above type of privacy injunction, Private Eye has for many years now been in regular receipt of injunctions granted by the Family Division of the High Court which are designed to preserve the anonymity of children who for one reason or another have become of interest to the media. Private Eye has never taken issue with this type of injunction.

There is no doubt, however, that the increasing use of the former type of privacy injunction is of great concern. Court orders commonly prevent publication not only of the "private information", but also the name of the person who has obtained the injunction. In some cases, the order prohibits any disclosure of the fact that proceedings have been brought or an injunction granted. Private Eye receives copies of some (but not, I believe, all) of the orders made by the court.

On this subject, in my evidence to the committee, I may have suggested inadvertently that Private Eye receives a privacy injunction of the former type about once every two weeks. This is not the case. What I meant to say was that this is my understanding of the approximate rate at which this type of injunction is being granted by the Courts. I understand that I will have the opportunity to correct my evidence and I will do so in due course.

May 2009



[1] Not printed here