Facebook “not evil incarnate” says oversight board member Alan Rusbridger in a heated debate over the power of the organisation

Journalists fiercely debated the power and influence of Facebook following a controversial decision – now revoked – to remove news coverage from Australia on its site in a bitter dispute with the Australian government. The webinar was organised by the Ethical Journalist Network. For those interested in their work which support journalists striving to provide ethical coverage of issues and create more trust in journalism you can go to the website to see other issues. Here is a report from a member of the committee. Above is a video of the event.

By Matt Walsh  the head of the School of Journalism, Media and Culture, Cardiff University and a UK Committee member of the Ethical Journalism Network.

“I’m probably prepared to cut Facebook and the other companies more slack because I think that there are valuable things that they’re doing. I don’t see them as evil incarnate.”

That was the view of one of the members of the Facebook Oversight Board, Alan Rusbridger, during last week’s Ethical Journalism Network debate on social media, journalism and regulation.

The former Guardian newspaper editor-in-chief was responding to the investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who accused Facebook of being a bad actor who is exploiting the good intentions of people who are sat on the board.

Facebook tried everything to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny- Carole Cadwalladr

“Facebook has tried everything to avoid Parliamentary accountability,” she warns.

“That slipperiness, that evasiveness and refusal to answer to lawmakers puts it into a special case. It’s not acting in good faith.”

The Facebook Oversight board was set-up to review controversial decisions made by the company about content on its platform. To date, it has published reviews of seven cases.

The debate, which took place on Zoom, was chaired by the deputy director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Meera Selva.

Also on the panel was Jillian York, author of ‘Silicon Values: The Future of Free Speech Under Surveillance Capitalism’ and director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

York warned that many of the solutions to digital regulation are overly focussed on the United States and Europe.

Westerners making up rules for the rest of the world- Jillian York

“Westerners are making up rules for the rest of world and doing so quite badly,” she said. “A lot of these tendencies are nationalistic and will have negative impacts on people in other countries.”

Reacting to news that Facebook had stopped users in Australia from sharing links to news sites, Carole Cadwalladr was damning in her assessment.

“It’s mob behaviour,” she said “They’ve stopped carrying evidence-based journalism to an entire country during a global pandemic that is marked by toxic mis- and disinformation.”

Cadwalladr also accused Rusbridger of being silenced on the issue.

Rusbridger denied the accusation and warned that there are huge problems of trust for traditional news publishers.

Somebody has to protect freedom of information- Alan Rusbridger

He said of the oversight board’s work: “Somebody has to come in and work out how to protect freedom of information globally, to the highest possible standards, and to try and enforce the highest standards of human rights. And I think that’s an honourable thing to be trying to do.”

York said that while she welcomed some of the early decisions of the board, “there’s isn’t really case law around these issues. The Oversight Board has made some really good decisions. But those decisions are not going to trickle down.”

Responding to claims that self-regulation of social media is ineffective Rusbridger said: “I’m not sure the Facebook board will look like self-regulation in five years’ time because it will have completely de-anchored itself from Facebook. It will have more of a feeling of independent regulation rather than self-regulation. It may not work but I think you just have to give it time.”

The Tories who tried to pressurise judges to keep secret their character references for a sexual offender ex MP

Lord Freud :” failed to act on his personal honour”. Pic credit: gov.uk

This week a peer and former Tory government minister Lord Freud was ordered to apologise to the House of Lords for breaching the code of conduct by “failing to act on his personal honour.”

The peer was among the signatories to two letters sent to two senior judges, Lady Justice Thirlwall and Dame Victoria Sharp and to Lady Justice Whipple, seeking to persuade her not to publish his name giving a good character reference to the ex MP who is now a convicted sex offender.

Charlie Elphicke Ex MP Now in jail

The MP was Charlie Elphicke, Tory and later Independent MP for Dover until 2019. He was convicted of three counts of sexual assault on two women in July last year and sentenced in September to two years in prison. He is currently appealing the case.

In November last year three newspapers, The Guardian, the Times and the Daily Mail, sought permission from Lady Justice Whipple to publish the character references from prominent people who were supporting him.

Dame Victoria Sharp pic cap : Judiciary.uk web site

This led four other Tory MPs and the peer to write to two senior judges to persuade them to intervene in the case. The Lords Commissioner for Standards,Lucy Scott-Moncrieff , ruled this week in Lord Freud’s case was “was intended to persuade Lady Justice Thirlwall and Dame Victoria Sharp to intervene.”

She added: “Similarly, the letter to Mrs Justice Whipple was written in terms intended to influence her thinking.”

Former Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers

MPs say intervention ” a point of principle”

The MPs action became public when Col Stewart asked for a ruling from Jacob Rees Mogg, leader of the House, – but he kept away from committing himself to intervene. The MPs claimed their action was on a point of principle to stop all character references being released but were shot down by the Lord Chief Justice’s office saying it was “improper” to seek to influence the decision of a judge who would ultimately rule on the basis of evidence and argument in court.

Now the Lords Commissioner for Standards has described the letters as ” emotive” and ruled: “I believe doing so in private correspondence to senior judges in terms designed to influence the trial judge must also be considered outside the standards of conduct expected of individual members.”

Existence of inquiry into MPs a secret

This leaves the question of the conduct of the MPs. They come under the Commons Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone. Under the rules of the House of Commons since 2018 it has been decided that no information on whether a complaint has been laid against an MP will be published until a final report is made. So officially it remains a secret whether there is any investigation. However the Guardian has reported that Helen Jones, the Labour MP for Warrington, North until the last election when the Tories won the seat, has put in a complaint.

It would be egregious if Lord Freud , who appears from the Lords report to have been encouraged by the MPs to write and complain, took the entire blame for this. It also, in my view, would encourage MPs to try and influence the judiciary without facing any penalty. And it smacks of the new chumocracy – one rule to protect the powerful and influential and another for Joe Bloggs.

The MPs of course say they are acting for the public who will be frightened to give character witnesses for convicted criminals if they are to be published.

Mrs Justice Whipple’s deft ruling

But this was shot down by Mrs Justice Whipple in a very deftly worded judgement. She distinguished between the ordinary Joe and public figures in releasing the names and references. Only those who had a public role in society were revealed – keeping to the right to know principle of public interest. As a result we also now know that Jonathan Aitken, a prominent former MP once jailed for perjury and now a vicar provided one . As did prominent local Roman Catholic priest, Father Jeff Cridland; Neil Wiggins, a community non executive director of the Port of Dover; and David Foley, chief executive of the Thanet and East Kent Chamber of Commerce. But we don’t know about 21 private individuals who are not prominent in public life.

Let’s see if anything comes from the sphinx like Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards on this one.

How journalists and bloggers can counter Covid 19 misinformation during the pandemic

The Ethical Journalist Network held a thought provoking webinar this week where experts gave top tips for journalists in writing up stories, read by millions of people, about the latest scientific and factual developments in the current world wide pandemic. As a member of the EJN UK committee myself I am reproducing the report written by Ali May, a fellow member of the committee. As he says it is an issue of life and death.

If you click on the headline it will take you to the EJN website where you see the original article ( reproduced below), learn more about the charity and read about other key issues journalists cover. Here is the full recording of the session chaired by investigative journalist James Ball.

A complete recording of the panel for those who want to delve into the issues.

EJN panel shares expert tips for journalists on tackling Covid-19 misinformation

By Ali May, EJN UK Committee member

As vaccines effective against the novel Coronavirus begin their global rollout, tackling misinformation, disinformation and earning public confidence could not be more starkly an issue of life and death.

This was the theme of a panel for the Ethical Journalism Network chaired by EJN trustee and Bureau of Investigative Journalism global editor James Ball, in which experts explored the role of journalists in tackling disinformation, the communicating of public health messages, and online fact-checking during this key phase of response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

What should journalists do to tackle misinformation, where are such myths coming from, and how can reporters avoid inadvertently becoming vectors for health misinformation? Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, Kate Wilkinson, Nina Jankowicz, Anjana Ahuja and Marianna Spring joined Ball to share their insights.

A wave of misinformation about Coronavirus on social media has evolved over the past year, observed BBC Specialist Reporter Marianna Spring who covers disinformation and social media.

“At the beginning, it was lots of panicked viral WhatsApp messages, voice notes, lots of really understandable concern about what was going on about lockdowns, about how you could cure or prevent Coronavirus and while it was often spread quite innocently, its impact could often be really quite bad, giving people bad health advice, advice at a time when they most need good advice and resulting in direct harm. And as the pandemic went on, you started to see the human cost of that misinformation,” she said.

The same sentiment was reflected in comments by Nina Jankowicz, the author of How to Lose the Information War.

“Disinformation is not just silly memes on the internet. It’s not just fringe groups, talking about fringy things, but it has offline harm. And I think over the last year, we have seen case after case after case of that harm being borne out in real life.”

She pointed at the case of Ukrainians evacuated from Wuhan in the early days of the pandemic whose return caused riots in the country, with their bus attacked.

In such a tricky environment, the importance of fact-checking has become vital. And it comes in different forms, depending on the context. Fact-checking sometimes needs to play a diplomatic role, according to Kate Wilkinson, deputy chief editor at Africa Check.

“You sometimes have to act as a bit of a bridge between what’s happening on the ground, and what the scientific community thinks is worthy of their time and attention,” she said, “What can be difficult though, is when you go to an expert, a scientist, or a doctor who is understandably under quite a lot of pressure and stress, and you take what they consider to be quite ridiculous concepts or ideas, and you want half an hour of their time to actually unpack it. So, you can explain accurately why that can’t be the case, you sometimes get a mismatch between what the public is really fervently believing and what the experts or the scientists believe is worth their time or worth debunking.”

Editorial judgement becomes much more important at times of crisis. In the middle of a global pandemic, journalists have to make “a nuanced judgment about where the balance of evidence lies,” said science journalist Anjana Ahuja, a contributing writer for the Financial Times.

“Deciding what to platform is important,” she said, “There’s no point me putting up something quite frivolous just to knock it down, because that actually just circulates the idea further.”

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, author of the Art of Statistics, said there was reason to be optimistic, caused by the side effects of the pandemic.

“The relationship between the media and experts has matured,” he said, “experts have become, hopefully, better at expressing uncertainty, about inadequacy of explaining that the evidence isn’t good enough to be confident either way.”

He hoped that journalists will “realise that science is a hotly disputed area, that basically, there’s a lot of uncertainty, there are groups with different opinions that never been aired in public.”

Tips for journalists, shared by the panellists:

  • Get in there first. Counter the misinformation before people hear it on WhatsApp.
  • Don’t try to use tricks to be trusted. Demonstrate trustworthiness on a purely ethical basis.
  • Think carefully about what issues are worth legitimising by covering, and how issues might need to be reframed. In the case of climate change, Ahuja says ‘I decided to reframe it in my writing as climate emergency or crisis. Because it suggests that with climate change there is no question. The extent is how much do we need to worry about it? It’s happening.’
  • Meet people where they are in a language that they understand.
  • Approach people and the issues they hold strongly with empathy. Disinformation and conspiracy theories online can have a significant impact on people. Understanding the legitimate concerns and fears often explain why they’ve sought out those conspiracies, or where they have been preyed upon or conned into believing them. Separate those who are victims or casualties of online falsehoods and conspiracies from those often very small number of committed activists or bad actors who are deliberately looking to exploit that nervousness or that concern.

How a leading expert on home working is stymied by the government’s “litany” of failures to deliver broadband

John Howkins. You can find him at johnhowkins.com

MPs condemn multiple failures on planned broadband provision

John Howkins is well known in the creative industry as an innovator, author and an international speaker. His books – particularly relevant in the present pandemic – highlight a new way to look at work based at home. His latest book ” Invisible Work” concentrates on how people in work can adapt to the new age of artificial intelligence rather than be made redundant by it.

His world centres on publishing, TV, film, digital media and streaming – all the new technologies brought to us by the huge growth of the new digital age.

Supreme Irony

It is therefore a supreme irony that his opportunity to engage in this age of isolation has been wrecked by a Conservative government breaking its manifesto promise to bring broadband to everyone. The failed manifesto pledge – only a year after it was made – is highlighted today in a new report from the all party House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

For Mr Howkins’ problem is that he lives in rural Norfolk near Attleborough in the Parliamentary constituency of Mid Norfolk represented by Tory MP George Freeman – a tech enthusiast who has written pamphlets on how technology can save the NHS. But as yet has done nothing to help his constituents get the broadband they need.

Mr Howkins like millions of others living rural Britain has no proper broadband that can download videos in seconds or easily stream Netflix or the BBC I Player. And today MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee tell you why.

On November 20 last year Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, unceremoniously dumped the promise to all voters to get fast broadband by 2025 – and substituted a promise for 85 per cent coverage – dumping most rural parts of the UK ( and many Tory voters) in the process. Cynics might suggest the Tories only made this pledge because Jeremy Corbyn, for Labour, had promised a universal free broadband service – saying it should be a basic utility in the 21st century like water or electricity.

Ministry admits target unachievable

The MPs report concludes that not only in ministers’ words ““clear that Government’s 2019 election pledge to deliver nationwide gigabit broadband connectivity by 2025 was unachievable”  but that even this lower target will be missed.

There is supposed to be £5 billion of our money put aside to bring this about but the report reveals that the Department for Culture ,Media and Sport, has yet to allocate 75 percent of this money one year into government for the contracts to do this.

It also warns : PAC is “increasingly concerned that those in rural areas may have to pay more, and may reach gigabit broadband speeds late” and is not convinced that “if and when rural users finally do get gigabit broadband, they will enjoy the same choice of service provider and the same protections as their urban counterparts”.

The scoreboard of failures by the ministry is appalling Mps found:

  • failure to make meaningful progress to tackle the barriers faced by operators in maximising gigabit connectivity by 2025,
  • failure to demonstrate it has learnt lessons from the superfast programme for the detailed design of the gigabit programme,
  • failure to demonstrate how its centralised procurement model will retain the people, skills and knowledge in local authorities that were critical to success in the superfast programme,
  • failure to give any reassurance that local authorities will get additional funding to retain their expert resources at a time when local government finances are under severe pressure from the pandemic,
  • failure to make any meaningful progress in delivering the policy and legislative changes deemed essential by industry to achieve rapid roll-out,
  • failure “yet again” to prioritise consumers in rural areas

Well done culture secretary Oliver Dowden ( NOT )!

Meg Hillier: chair of the Public Accounts Committee

Meg Hillier MP, Labour Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “With the grim announcement that the country and economy will be locked down for months, the Government’s promises on digital connectivity are more important than ever. But due to a litany of planning and implementation failures at DCMS, those promises are slipping farther and farther out of reach – even worse news for the “rural excluded” who face years trying to recover with substandard internet connectivity.  

“For the foreseeable future, ever more of our lives is moving online, whether we like it or not. Government cannot allow digital inequality to continue to compound and exacerbate the economic inequality that has been so harshly exposed in the Covid19 pandemic. It needs to be clear about timelines in each area so that businesses and individuals can plan for their digital future.”

As for Mr Howkins, his submission to MPs said: ” My current supplier is BT. I have an upload speed of a maximum of 0.3MB and a download speed of 3.0 MB.  BT engineers have visited three times in the past few months and have been unable to improve on these speeds. Several neighbours are in the same position.

“It is therefore difficult to carry on business at present. Our ability to receive even a moderately sized data file is limited. It is impossible to upload a video file of any significant size. Interactive usage (banking) often fails. This week, I led presentations in China and Chile. My own internet link was worse than anyone else’s”

… “The suppliers celebrate their gigabit services but do nothing for those, like me, who would be delighted to have a much lower rate, say 10MB down and 2-3 up.

Regulatory failure

” It is a regulatory failure in the UK that broadband providers are evaluated according to national averages rather than the meeting of local need. So they benefit much more by providing 1GB to a one location, even if it is seldom used, than by providing an increase of 10MB to 10 locations. And providing 1GB to one location is treated as the equivalent to providing 10MB to 100 locations.”

” The pandemic has shown up the extent of the government’s failure.  Although offices will re-open to some extent, the numbers working from home will increase.

I find it extraordinary in 2020 that the UK does not have universal service for broadband as it has for other utilities. Yes, broadband is a utility. “

He told me that he had been reduced to finding a friend who had better connections to do a lot of his work. His only alternative would be to use a local library which had restricted opening times.

He must be one among millions who have this problem and the UK is far behind other European countries.

” I’d be happy if we could reach the standards available in Romania”, he said.

My blog in 2020: The year total visitors passed over 2 million

Welcoming the New Year in London

Happy New Year. Since this blog was launched at the very end of 2009 it has had over 2.8 million hits and over 2 million visitors – a remarkable achievement – even if I say it myself – for a single handed effort.

The number of blogs on my site also topped over 1000 – 1072 – to be exact. Last year my blog got 511,721 hits – that is fewer than the 1,041,000 the previous year – but still the second highest figure since it started.

BackTo60 campaign

I am extremely grateful that so many people are interested enough to read my news and views on current issues and also to the women following the BackTo60 campaign who have had a dispiriting year after losing their Court of Appeal case for compensation for raising their state pension age from 60 to 66. They are also having to wait for a very long time to find out whether the Supreme Court will hear their cases – far too long in my opinion. If it goes to the Supreme Court I shall be reporting it.

Like last year the majority of most read stories were about that campaign. The most read story of all last year was the revelation – from a reader using a Freedom of Information request – that 4.6 million men over 60 had their national insurance contributions paid by the state if they did not register for the dole to keep the unemployment figures down. This had over 64,000 hits and when the Department for Work and Pensions revised this figure to a staggering 9.8 million that had another 34,600 hits – bringing interest in both stories to nearly 100,000.

Coverage of BackTo60’s Court of Appeal hearing was the second highest at 58,860 – which is a pretty high figure for a court case.

Also an old story on how the government has saved paying out £271 billion to the National Insurance Fund which could have paid for higher pensions and also stopped the need to raise the pension age for women had another 22,000 hits. Originally written in the summer of 2018 this enduring blog has now had 311,000 hits altogether.

Boris Johnson announcing the Brexit deal in Parliament. Pic credit: @UK Parliament_Jessica Taylor

Outside other highly read blogs on the pensions campaign the most read blog was one on how Boris Johnson and other Cabinet Ministers were moving towards an elective dictatorship by devolving power to themselves rather than Parliament under new Brexit laws. That had 35,554 hits.

Byline Times

This year there has been a subtle change in coverage on my blog of stories I write for Byline Times. Last year I tended to provide a short summary of the story on my blog. This year most of my Byline Times stories appear by themselves and are not automatically repeated on my blog. They get even wider coverage on Byline Times so those who want to see them and follow me on Twitter do get tweets telling them about the story. Or you could take out a subscription to Byline Times and get a monthly print newspaper.

Ending discrimination against women

There will be new developments next year. I will be blogging about the People’s Tribunal run by John Cooper, QC, the human rights lawyer, to end all forms of discrimination against women. This is a movement which wants to get the UK Parliament to put into domestic law the UN Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women. The UK ratified it under Margaret Thatcher but nothing has been done since.

It comes as Elizabeth Truss, the equalities minister, appears to want to reverse progress what she calls “identity politics” so I foresee fresh battles over this issue. And I am curious to see how the Equality and Human Rights Commission is going to handle this.

Dr Usha Prasad

I shall also be taking up some individual cases of injustice. The recent blog on the plight of Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust’s only woman cardiologist just one example – where a health trust is pursuing an individual and where they are whistleblowing issues.

I shall continue to keep an eye on political issues -particularly as incompetence, the chumocracy and corruption are on the rise in the UK and plan to write about it on Byline Times and this blog.

I have started again reporting on child sexual abuse again and plan more articles.

2021 promises to be a challenging year – the first post Brexit year- and I feel more than ready to meet it.

New Year fireworks in Dubai where my daughter and grandchildren are living. She is a science teacher there.

My views on the US election on The Greatest Music of All Time podcast

This is a podcast I was invited to do today for Tom Cridland on the Greatest Music of All Time podcast site. I am expecting Joe Biden to win despite Trump’s flaying all over the place. I also talked to one of the Democrat insiders about the present impasse and situation.

A Joe Biden win is likely to be bad for both Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings as they are seen by the Democrats to be too aligned to Donald Trump and his advisers. I was told Biden’s advisers are still not very happy about Johnson’s description of Barack Obama being a Kenyan at the time Obama’s birthright was being falsely questioned by the American far right.

I am told that Biden is likely to want to be closer to France and Germany than the UK – as Britain is no longer a member of the EU and therefore is not the gateway for US influence in Europe. He is not keen on rushing through a UK/US trade deal either.

So there will be consequences for the UK and we could end up being more isolated rather than a world leader. Interesting times ahead.

House of Lords approve new compulsory training on behaviour for all peers

Former judge Lord Mance, chair of the Lords Conduct Committee, which proposed the changes Pic credit; June Buck

The House of Lords approved without a vote new rules which will mean that all 798 peers will have to attend behaviour training course or face being reported to the Lords Commissioner for Standards for breaching their code of conduct.

two public dissenters

The scheme had only two public dissenters – both Conservative peers – who claimed it was unnecessary. The move followed a couple of cases in the last year where two former Labour peers were found to have bullied and harassed Parliamentary staff. See my last blog here.

Lord Cormack, a former Tory MP who had a junior job in the Thatcher government said; “Speaking as one who has served in Parliament for over 50 years now, it is a very ​sad day when I am told that I have to be trained on how to behave. That is extremely unfortunate, and I believe that it is unnecessary. “

 … “I regret and deplore it. After all, it is right that people accused of any offence should be appropriately dealt with, but I do not suppose that it would be thought appropriate for your Lordships to be given a course in how not to burgle.”

Lord Balfe, who as Richard Balfe was a former London Labour councillor and a Labour MEP until he switched to the Tories in 2002, called for the House of Lords Conduct committee to reconsider the move.

“I regret the compulsion attached to this training. I have done the training. It was largely irrelevant; most of it was about the House of Commons, or appeared to be.”

Lord Mance, a former judge and deputy president of the Supreme Court, chairs the Lords conduct committee which proposed the compulsory training, received support from a number of other peers who welcomed the move.

He said: “There is, unfortunately, a clear problem, even in this House. People sometimes behave in ways that one may not conceive of oneself, but that are recorded in great detail in the press and in the reports issued by the commissioner. Unconscious attitudes, and lack of consciousness of a problem, are real issues that the Valuing Everyone training is designed to address.”

All peers will have to either have attended or booked a training course by next April. Half of them have already attended one.

Updated: Judgement on Smith v Baker: A long running dispute still unresolved

Royal Courts of Justice

Judge warns she will block senders who flooded her office with 50 emails before hearing

Some readers of this blog will know that until two years ago I did report in a number of blogs the allegations of Esther Baker against former Liberal Democrat MP, John Hemming. Since then a judge has ruled against Esther Baker’s allegations and banned her from making them again and I have had an agreed settlement with Mr Hemming not to mention them.

There has been a sequel to this story culminating in Mr Hemming’s friend, Sam Collingwood Smith and Esther Baker being involved in a protracted dispute in the courts over tweets and forums on the Internet. The case culminated ( so far) in two judgements on the Queen’s Bench Division list at the Royal Court of Justice.

Today a woman judge used her discretion to refuse Mr Smith’s application to strike out her response and told Esther Baker to re-present her claim to the court within a proper legal framework.

Neither litigant is represented by lawyers. The pleadings and annexes according to the judge ran to 293 pages which shows how comments on Twitter and blogs can escalate into an extraordinary expensive dispute if they ever get into the courts.

The judge also issued an unusual statement at the end of her judgement warning she would block the email accounts of senders if they continued to flood her office over the dispute.

She said : “In the 10 days leading up to the hearing, I received well over 50 emails on this matter, not all from the parties. Some were properly alerting me to documents or issues I needed to decide or consider. Many
were not. The majority of those were copied to my listing clerk had to consider them to see if there was anything she was required to do. I received a further 15 emails after the hearing and before handing down this judgment, again some of which were properly sent; others were not.”

She concluded: “If I continue to receive unnecessary emails I will block the sender and all correspondence will have to be done through the post, the court’s generic email or CE file.”

The full judgement is here-

It is a long read. I will not comment but leave you to make up your mind. The ruling has absolute privilege.

Update

After further hearings in November and February Master Sullivan, the judge has issued a second judgement in this long saga. She had asked Esther Baker to resubmit her arguments against Mr Smith’s claim.

This time she rejected a substantial section of her arguments of harrassment and truth in her amended defence and counterclaim but also rejected Mr Smith’s attempt to have her case completely struck out.

The judgement is here. Make up your mind if you want to read it.

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2021/348.html

At the end of the judgement she says:
“Although longwinded and at times difficult to follow, there is an understandable claim. [By Esther Baker] That remains once the matters set out above have been struck out in my judgment.  I am also asked to strike the defamation claim out on the basis that the defendant’s reputation is so damaged already by the judgments against her (in the Lavery and Hemming cases) that there can be no serious harm. 

“That judgment would require an investigation into the facts it would be inappropriate for me to do.  I am also of the view that is it realistically arguable that there is a difference between the matters alleged against her which would arguably cause serious harm even against the backdrop of those judgments.

” The claimant also submits that given the way the defendant has conducted the litigation and the limited nature of any possible remedy, it is not proportionate to allow the counterclaim to continue.  Whilst there may be triable issues on some issues such as the difference between stalking and harassment, is it not proportionate in the circumstances of an impecunious defendant with adverse findings against her and who has already caused the cost and time a number of procedural hearings, to allow the claim to continue.  I do not accept that submission. 

“There are triable issues and the litigation so far has not been conducted in such a way as to make it appropriate to strike out the claim.  The remedies sought, if granted, would include injunctive relief and that is a matter of value as well as any damages that might be awarded.  “

A further hearing is expected later.

Search for Justice: New Podcast on the 50s women struggle for their delayed pensions

BackTo60 at the Royal Courts of Justice before the pandemic set in. They are now applying to appeal to the Supreme Court after losing their judicial review

I have given a long interview to Dave Niven, one of the country’s leading figures on the safeguarding of children, for socialworldpodcast on the issue of justice for the 50swomen. This podcast is aimed at the social work and caring professions and is watched by 2000 people in the field.

Dave contacted me after a gap of over 20 years because he had seen my writing on the plight of the 50s born women and wanted me to do an interview for his podcast. We last collaborated on a story in the 1990s when I was on The Guardian though both of us can’t remember what the story was exactly about.

He now runs his own consultancy, David Niven Associates (info@dnivenassociates.co.uk) which provides media training, and consultancy on child protection and safeguarding.

The podcast can be listened to here. That is the link to his site where you will also find other podcasts.

regular series of podcasts

It is part of a regular series of weekly podcasts on Thoughts on the Social World. Previous people who have been interviewed include Jim Gamble, a former national policing lead for child protection and the architect and CEO of the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre. He is now  CEO of the INEQE Safeguarding Group. http://www.ineqe.com

He also recently interviewed Christopher Lamb, a former Australian ambassador and chief diplomat with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Geneva. He is now an adviser.to IFRC and the Australian Red Cross.

My own interview covers the case I have made on my blog for justice and proper equality for the 50swomen. I also talk about the exposures I did on The Guardian which led to the resignation of Tory ministers Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith over the “cash for questions” scandal in the 1990s and the first resignation of Peter Mandelson from the Labour government over his hidden ” home loan” to buy a posh pad in Notting Hill. And also my award winning story on how the former head of the Student Loans Company devised a scheme for legitimate tax avoidance which led to the government discovering that they had 2500 civil servants doing the same thing.

Former Minister X v. Ryan Giggs and Sir Philip Green : Parliamentary hypocrisy or protecting a complainant?

Parliamentary Privilege: All right for some

Today I am reproducing a blog by Alistair Parker, a solicitor, with the firm, Brett Wilson LLP, a specialist media and professional litigation solicitors, on the issue surrounding the former Tory minister under police investigation for the alleged rape and sexual assault of one of his female staff.

My position has been that he should not be named – solely to protect the claimant who requested anonymity not to spare him embarrassment. But what this article highlights is the hypocrisy over the use of Parliamentary privilege by MPs – they use Parliamentary Privilege to name other prominent people, whether it is a famous footballer or a well known businessman, knowing they cannot be sued. But when it is one of their own the shutters come down and Parliament protects them as they are supposed to be honourable members.

The irony is that probably every MP and every lobby journalist knows his name but keeps quiet – perhaps only telling curious close friends. Thanks to Brett Wilson LLP for giving me permission to reproduce the blog. The link to their media blog is here.

Suspect anonymity: The hypocrisy of parliamentary privilege – Alistair Parker

1 August 2020 marked the parliamentary revelation that a sitting MP had been arrested by police on suspicion of rape, sexual assault and controlling and coercive behaviour. All offences were alleged to have taken between July 2019 and January 2020 against the MP’s former staffer. Police confirmed the suspect was a male Tory in his 50s, and a former minister. Subject to police guidance, the name of the man was not revealed. This is because he has not been charged and is still under investigation, with a police bail date now extended until early November 2020. 

A man suspected of a serious sexual offence therefore remains a serving MP. He has not had the Tory whip removed or been sanctioned at all, (apparently) for fear that this would identify him. Indeed, his anonymity has been carefully guarded by all sides of the House. Is this a proper observance of the right to pre-charge anonymity, or can we detect a whiff of hypocrisy?

Parliamentary privilege, which by Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689 guarantees that “the freedom of speech and debates of proceedings in parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of parliament”, has long allowed members of Parliament, be they in the Commons or the Lords, to name criminal suspects in these situations.

Both peer and MPs have on occasion exploited this privilege, even identifying individuals who were protected by court injunctions:-

In 2011, then Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming named Ryan Giggs as the footballer who secured an anonymised injunction to prevent publication of allegations he had an affair with a former reality TV star.

Also in 2011, Mr Hemming revealed that the banker Sir (as he then was) Fred Goodwin had obtained a super-injunction protecting his identity in relation to an alleged extra-marital affair. The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Stoneham poured oil on the fire adding “How can it be right for a super-injunction to hide the alleged relationship between Sir Fred Goodwin and a senior colleague?” he asked. “If true it would be a serious breach of corporate governance and not even the Financial Services Authority would know about it.”

In October 2014, Labour MP Jimmy Hood used parliamentary privilege to make serious accusations against Sir Leon Brittan (both have since passed away). Mr Hood said “By the way, the current expose of Sir Leon Brittan, the then home secretary, with accusations of improper conduct with children will not come as a surprise to striking minors of 1984”. Sir Leon was posthumously cleared of any wrongdoing once it was finally established these allegations were among the prolific lies of Carl Beech. 

In November 2018, Labour peer Lord Hain used Parliamentary privilege to name Sir Philip Green as the ‘anonymous businessman’ who had used Non-Disclosure Agreements in settling numerous claims of bullying and sexual harassment with five complainants. This was despite the fact the High Court had maintained the injunction preventing publication of Sir Philip’s name and also that two of the five complainants supported this. We wrote about this matter at the time

The past decade therefore shows that UK politicians, in both houses, have been prepared to use Parliamentary privilege even when it:-

– Breaches civil court orders with impunity,
– Reveals personal details such as extra-marital affairs of high profile individuals, and
– Names a suspect in a serious criminal investigation, where the allegation turned out to be provably false.

Fast forward to the present day: The complainant of ‘Former Minister X’ has apparently been lobbying for his identification by urging MPs and peers to use parliamentary privilege to put his name into the public domain. If this is true, she is doing so despite the strong chance it will result in her own identification.

However, this led to an unprecedented response last week, when the Speaker of the House stepped in to urge MPs not to do so. Sir Lindsay Hoyle warned MPs that “while the investigation is ongoing, I believe that it would be wholly inappropriate for any further reference to be made to this matter in the House, including an attempt to name the member concerned.”

Sir Charles Walker MP: Former chair of the procedure committee which ruled MPs who are arrested should not be named Pic credit: Twitter

Indeed, back in February 2016, the cross-party Procedure Committee voted to end the tradition of the automatic naming of any MP who had been arrested. Its Chairman at the time, Tory MP Charles Walker said that MPs “should have the same rights to privacy as any other citizen, and in future their names should not be put in the public domain if they were arrested, unless this was directly connected to their role as an MP”. It seems Mr Walker had not considered the irony that the right to privacy of “any other citizen” can be trampled on via the use of parliamentary privilege. 

The conclusions we can draw are that, in the last decade, various parliamentarians have been happy to use parliamentary privilege to name and shame those being investigated for crimes and those embroiled in personal civil proceedings – even where they have court orders protecting their anonymity. However, when the ‘shoe is on the other foot’ and the accused party is himself a parliamentarian, it seems the House of Commons is a zealous believer in the right of pre-charge anonymity.

In simple terms, if you are being investigated of a crime, then any parliamentarian can publicly name you without any consequence to themselves. But if you name a parliamentarian who is in a similar predicament, get ready for formal legal consequences.

Although the identity of “Former Minister X” remains a mystery, surely the pattern of politicians protecting themselves could not be any clearer.