Expenses scandal: Jacqui Smith resolves “haggling” dispute with Daily Mail

The PCC says Jacqui Smith – former Home Secretary who took a bashing in the press after it was revealed that her expenses claim included charges for adult films her husband had viewed has resolved her complaint against the Daily Mail. In line with reports on broadcast and other media, the paper had published a story claiming that Smith was “haggling” over £500 of expenses that MP’s expenses auditor, Sir Thomas Legg had asked her to repay. The Mail published an apology acknowledging its story was inaccurate and she had indeed repaid the money:
“Following a story on Channel 4 News alleging Jacqui Smith was challenging Sir Thomas Legg's request for repayment of £1,500 expenses, we ran a story saying she was haggling over £500. We accept that this was incorrect and that she has repaid all the sum asked except £39.99 for a barbeque she had never claimed for. We are sorry we got this wrong and are happy to clarify the facts.”

Smith, as other MPs, has been quite touchy about the subject of her expenses and when the former Chairman of the Committee of Standards in Public Life, Sir Alistair Graham, described Smith’s designating her sister’s spare bedroom as her main home as “near fraudulent”, Smith threatened legal action.

PCC report HERE


Trafigura-gate rumbles on as company seeks to suppress court documents

Oil company Trafigura which kept the courts and The Guardian’s legal department busy last year with its libel and other threats relating the articles about the alleged effects its alleged disposal of allegedly toxic waste was having on the health of people in the factually verified as affected western region of Africa has sent in the lawyers again.

Having made legal history in seeking to suppress the reporting of Parliament, the company is now reported to be seeking to ‘seal’ court records relating to last year’s proceedings.

This will be another interesting test for the courts and freedom of information given that the reporting of proceedings insofar as it is not or was not public could be deemed to be in the public interest. Surely if a case is brought in a court of law this is a matter of public record and unless the court proceedings are ruled to be and are heard only in private then the subject of these proceedings should be a matter of public record. Failing that and even if the subject matter contained within the proceedings is ruled as private then the fact of the proceedings themselves cannot be denied/suppressed (which is what Trafigura sought to argue last time round). If the company is confident that it is facing unfounded allegations then why not allow these to be publicised and then refute them? In seeking to create a blanket of smoke around the proceedings before they have even been reported, the company, one could suggest, is suggesting and arguable pouring more fuel onto its own fire.

France mulls Google tax

As reported in the Guardian and Liberation, France is planning to introduce a ‘Google Tax’ aimed at returning revenues from the internet to the artistic and cultural sphere. The idea is to tax Google, Yahoo and potentially other major internet portals on their advertising revenue and then use the monies to fund cultural projects.
This very much follows the spirit of continental European copyright which centres around the rights of the authors/artists and promoting their innovation and endeavour. The internet and its dominant companies are seen as enriching themselves with the profit from content that is drawn or borrowed from its original creators without returning the profit to them. The law aims to – in a roundabout way – redress this balance.
How exactly the law and the tax it introduces would work is not clear and one could cynically argue it’s a way for the state to levy additional tax revenue in the name of supporting creative industries. If Google images carries a photo produced by one person will that person receive any benefit from the state spend on the ‘cultural sphere’ to compensate/reward them for their contribution to the sphere that Google has profited from and is being taxed in respect of?


Court Reporting: Child ‘not concerned in proceedings’ can be named

The Press Association successfully challenged a court order that – using the discretionary powers of Section 39 of the Childrens and Young Persons Act 1933 – prevented journalists from naming the child of a mother who was convicted for child neglect.

Rebecca Ireland had gone on a drink and drunk binge in April last year before ending up in bed with her six week old daughter. She awoke to find her daughter face down and dead next to her. While experts could not agree whether she had died from suffocation or cot death but irrespective of this, Ireland had been charged and convicted of neglect. The judge at Preston Crown Court had originally used his discretionary power under Section 39 to prevent publication of the surviving sibling’s name but this was successfully challenged by PA legal editor Mike Dodd.

Under Section 39 there is no power to name as the subject of a s39 Order someone who is not a victim, witness or defendant. As the surviving child in this case was not a victim, witness or defendant they could not bee deemed ‘concerned’ in the proceedings. This was a good technical point for Dodd to argue to allow reporting of this case but the question remains over whether there should be protection from identification for children and other vulnerable people who while not ‘concerned’ with proceedings may be affected by them or by being identified in relation to the reporting of proceedings. If the surviving child was placed into care as a result of these proceedings then one could argue that such care order was ancillary to or arose out of these proceedings and as such Section 39 could extend to them IF the interpretation of being ‘concerned’ were deemed to intend such extension. If not then it would be down to the finer points of the child’s right to privacy over their personal life BUT this, being only indirectly engaged via Human Rights laws is not proactive and so would not provide protection unless a guardian were to bring and successfully be able to argue an action based on the court’s failure – as a public body bound by the UK Human Rights Act 1998– to uphold the child’s right to privacy under Art 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

See: Reporting Restrictions in the Criminal Courts – Judicial Studies Board and Newspaper Society joint publication October 2009 pp16/17
Further report on the case.

Use of ‘tranny’ pejorative rules PCC

The PPC has declared that the use of the word “tranny” was both pejorative and a ‘needless abbreviation’ and as such was discrimination under Clause 12 of the PPC code
A male to female transsexual had worked as a rape counsellor in Belfast. Sunday Life newspaper ran a story in November 2009 about the person under the headline “Tranny worked in rape centre”. The article questioned their suitability to work at a rape centre (given they had been born male) and also referred to them as being ‘strappy’ and ‘burly’. The person in question complained to the PCC about the article and in particular claimed that the use of the term “tranny” was insulting as there was, they suggested, a marked difference between transvestites and transsexuals.

The PCC upheld the complaint

Ms Keira McCormack complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "Tranny worked in rape centre", published in the Sunday Life on 1 November 2009, was discriminatory in breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the editors' Code of Practice.
The complaint was upheld. The PPC concluded that while it was appropriate/editorially justifiable to run a story discussing whether it was suitable for someone who was – or had been – male to work as a rape counsellor, it was discriminatory and indeed unnecessary to label them as a “tranny”.

As the PPC adjudication decided, it is perfectly justifiable to ask the question of whether someone who is or may have been male but now female is a suitable person to be working in a rape crisis centre. Indeed, had the article followed the line it could have provided useful discussion given that transsexuals are also vulnerable to rape and sexual assault. Headlining the piece as the paper did immediately fixed the phrase and image of a “tranny” into readers minds and as the complainant pointed out, people have different perceptions as to what a “tranny” is and the distinction between transsexual and transvestite. It was therefore a sensational headline aimed at grabbing attention rather than setting out what the essence of the story was – namely, should people who are trans-gender or of opposite genders work in rape crisis centres. So the finding of it being discriminatory under Clause 12 of the code is appropriate.