Tag Archives: civil law

Tweet Your Victim/Facebook Your Perpetrator

While the appalling behaviour of Twitter users in the Ched Evans case has caused an uproar in the UK, there is a contrary case taking place in Germany. The recent social media use in the UK saw a rape victim being named on Twitter, whereas the German case involved a woman naming a man who had been harassing her by sending her sexually explicit messages. Ariane Friedrich an olympic high jumper who trained as a police officer, posted the name and location of the man who had been sending her the messages on Facebook. This has caused a huge discussion in Germany, where privacy laws are known to be particularly stringent.

The man allegedly sent her images of his genitals with the sexually explicit/suggestive message stating that he had “just showered and shaved”. Ms Friedrich became enraged and posted his name and location on Facebook, adding that she will be filing a complaint with the police shortly.

Since she posted the message 2200 people have clicked the “like” button under the post along with 400 comments. In a later post Ms Friedrich explained  that she has “carefully read” through both supportive and critical comments. She added that “of course it had been a big step to make such a vulgar e-mail public”, but she said that this is not the first time she has been insulted and sexually harassed. She also stated that she had previously had a stalker. She claimed that she now felt it was time for her to act and to defend herself, even this posting sparked a huge reaction leading to a further 1100 comments. While some argue that her behaviour was completely justifiable, others claim that her self-administered justice amounts to an erosion of the law.

Her liability would depend on whether her claims are genuine or not and whether the named man actually sent those messages. If her assertion is proven to be true, then she will not be liable for defamation or libel. However if this is not the case, the situation could become more complex. In a well known German tabloid, the man (described in the German media as ‘a man with the same name as the alleged author to the messages’) claimed he had been hacked and has closed his Facebook account as a result. However it is probably unlikely that a judge would make the assumption that Ms Friedrich is accusing an innocent person. Therefore seems unlikely that she will be charged in relation to defamation. However she could be liable under civil law as she breached his right to privacy by making his personal details public. If the named man went to court over the issue he could possibly win in a civil claim, if the circumstances surrounding the publication of his details had sufficient gravity.

While the Friedrich case is very different to the Ched Evans/Twitter case, one case infringing the victims privacy while the other concerns the alleged perpetrator.  Germany has much stricter privacy law than the UK, mainstream media are much more restricted than in the UK. Naming a rape victim, when they should have anonymity for life raises serious concerns about protecting victims. The contrast between these two cases highlights different aspects of privacy law and the ethical minefield surrounding social media.

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Consequences of Closed Material Procedures

The proposed ‘closed material procedures’ (CMPs) in the governments Green Paper seems not only alarming but also hugely misguided. The Green Paper proposes that these secret proceedings would be extended to any civil cases. CMPs would take place without the presence of the defendant and without their knowledge of the charges against them. In these closed procedures, ministers would be able to order hearings to be conducted in secret and claimants would be denied access to government evidence or witnesses.

While the absent defendant would be represented by a barrister in court, there may be no or little contact with their client. This would allow the material and evidence in the trial to be effectively unchallenged in court. To add to the secrecy and absurdity of the prospect of these proceedings,  even the final judgment could be wholly or partially withheld, allowing the convicted individual to be deprived of any information regarding his conviction.

Binyam Mohammed

The proposal comes after a number of actions were brought against intelligence agencies by former terrorist suspects, such as Binyam Mohammed, to the embarrassment of both government and the security services. Mohammed, an ex Guantanamo detainee and a British citizen, claims he was tortured while in custody, in the US amongst other places and accused the Britain of being complicit in this. Rather than disclosing intelligence related material to him and other former detainees, the British government paid him £1m in compensation.

Lord Carlile

In response to these proceedings against the government, it appears that high profile figures such as Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (and MP for Kensington), along with Lord Carlile QC are supporting CMPs as a viable a solution to such problems. The Green Paper proposes to extend the use of CMPs to civil claims. Lord Carlile criticised the current system as being insufficient in dealing with civil cases regarding national security, he claimed that payouts such as that received by Binyamin Mohammed was not an acceptable way of settling civil claims. He argued that the State should not be put in a position of having to choose to pay compensation to a claimant who may be the wrongdoer.

CMPs would take away the transparency of court procedures and give greater powers and increased secrecy to the workings of the security services and the government. The key issues here are accountability and transparency of the legal system. In its response to the Green Paper published on the HM website, the human rights group Reprieve gave a damning criticism of these proposals. They stated that this paper is simply asking the wrong questions, by seeking to drastically reduce the level of accountability of the government and intelligence services rather than attempting to improve these areas.

The response by Northamptonshire Police, welcomed the undisclosed sharing of secret information between states, however it also raised concerns over the misuse of CMPs and their human rights implications.

“The impact of the overuse of CMP’s would be to damage the UK reputation of a free and fair democracy. There are also considerations to be made pursuant to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights – namely, the right to a fair trial”

Malcolm Rifkind

However  Malcolm Rifkind argues that the protection of sensitive material is essential to the co-operation with foreign intelligence agencies, and that intelligence sharing will be endangered if these exchanges are exposed in court. He claims that the sharing sensitive material with defendants and the court threatens the the future intelligence co-operation between states, by undermining the principle of confidentiality. Therefore publication of intelligence material would harm our national security.

It is not unusual for government agencies to support legislation infringing civil liberties and human rights in the name of national security. This legislation allowing civil judgements to be made behind closed doors, increases their powers at the expense of fairness and transparency. One of the most notable pieces of legislation in the UK regarding secrecy in the name of protecting national security is the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). SIAC deals with appeals for foreign nationals facing detention, deportation or exclusion from the UK, often relating to alleged terrorism offences. It’s hearings and rulings are not fully revealed to the public nor to the appellant, this procedure has been widely criticised for it’s fairness and legality. To extend such secret procedures to civil matters is somewhat distrurbing.

Lord Carlile and Malcolm Rifkind stress the need for CMPs in the interests of national security, while this argument has been widely criticised by many of the respondents to the Green Paper. The response from the Special Advocates, who are appointed to work under SIAC in closed procedures and were proposed to act in CMPs, was particularly telling. They stated that no reason has been identified in the Green Paper to justify the introduction of such sweeping power.

“It is one thing to argue that, for reasons of national security, the unfairness and lack of transparency inherent in CMPs should be tolerated in specific areas…It is quite another to suggest that Government Ministers should be endowed with a discretionary power to extend that unfairness and lack of transparency to any civil proceedings, including proceedings to which they are themselves party.”

The apparent need for CMPs seems to be an attempt by the government to extend it’s powers in the under the guise of national security. The role that secrecy plays in the justice system appears to be solely to the advantage of the security services rather than in the interests of justice.  The Green Paper raises both grave procedural and practical concerns, whilst presenting a relatively unrealistic proposal. Transparency and accountability are essential elements of the justice system in England and Wales, by conducting trials in secret and in the absence of the defendant, these proceedings take away core features of a fair trial. Expanding the use of CMPs would also be debilitating for the practice and progression of common law, as these hearings would be prevented from being reported. This would deny lawyers from accessing precedents arising from these procedures, making them only available to a few existing special advocates.