Paedophile loses case to ban Facebook from publishing his criminal past

Belfast High Court

Belfast High Court Pic Credit: BBC

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An important judicial decision came out over the Christmas recess in a highly controversial case in Northern Ireland which has led a paedophile to claim £20,000 for harassment because of a blog revealing his criminal past.

The ruling is particularly significant as more people get their news from Facebook and Google rather than traditional mainstream media.

The case has been featured on this blog before. It arose after  Joseph McCloskey set up a Facebook profile page called ” Keep Our Kids Safe from Predators 2 ” which posted information about a convicted sex offender called CG.

CG was released from jail in 2012 after serving a sentence for gross indecency and indecent assault offences against a young girl and a teenage boy.

He is now over 40 and he remains under supervision by the authorities.He has been assessed as posing no significant risk to the public.

His lawyers argued that an online campaign after his details appeared on the page had reached the level of dangerous vigilantism..One user called for him to be hung while others endorsed shooting or castrating him.

CG also claimed he has been threatened with being thrown off a pier during a fishing trip, hounded out of a cinema and had to use a supermarket trolley to fight off another tormentor.

None of the information published  by McCloskey was private. It was all in the public domain at the time of CG’s conviction. CG’s solicitors complained to Mr McCloskey  who removed the posting. He later put two posts disclosing CG’s criminal record and his picture.

The lawyers weren’t satisfied and went to court claiming the sex offender had been harassed on Facebook and his human rights breached by the publication on Facebook misusing private information.

The judge found against the campaigner and Facebook and awarded the sex offender £20,000 damages for harassment.Facebook decided to appeal as it thought the ruling was excessive.

Now the Court of Appeal has decided that Facebook should have taken down the post earlier because it was leading to the harassment of the paedophile.

But very significantly the court ruled that the two other posts which dealt with his criminal record and showed his picture can remain.

The decision by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan means that the compensation awarded to CG – which has not be paid because of legal proceedings – will be cut.

But it is also establishing a ruling that contradicts Google’s ” right to be forgotten” procedures saying that public information involving court proceedings can remain on line and cannot be construed as private information.

It was  critical of suggestions that re-publication of conviction information was relevantly private information because in principle “the public has a right to know about such convictions. Information about what has happened in open court can be freely communicated by members of the public”. This was an important aspect of the open justice principle “of very significant weight which can only be outweighed by the interest of the individual in freedom from intrusion in the most compelling circumstances”:

It also rejected the idea that because t some information is covered by the Data Protection Act is it automatically private.

considerable caution should be exercised before reading across  those matters, because the “fact that information is regulated for that [data protection] purpose does not necessarily make it private”.,said the ruling.

For those who want to follow the finer legal detail there is an interesting report by lawyer Christopher Knight, of 11KBW in London here  and a report in the Irish News which dwells on the part of the the Court of Appeal  judgement that was upheld.

 

 

 

 

Facebook to challenge sex offender’s right to privacy and excessive damages in Northern Ireland test case

Belfast High Court

Belfast High Court Pic Credit: BBC

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An extraordinary judgement which I reported last year  banning a Facebook page about a convicted paedophile and awarding  him £20,000 damages for harassment is to be challenged in the courts next week.

Facebook is challenging  this decision in the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal claiming the damages awarded to the  sex offender were excessive and he could not reasonably expect privacy following his conviction for offences in the courts.

The case arose after  Joseph McCloskey set up a Facebook profile page called ” Keep Our Kids Safe from Predators 2 ” which posted information about a convicted sex offender called CG.

None of the information published  by McCloskey was private. It was all in the public domain at the time of CG’s conviction. CG’s solicitors complained to Mr McCloskey  who immediately removed all postings relating to CG.

The posts are said to contain threats of violence against the paedophile which judge took particular exception.

But the lawyers weren’t satisfied and went to court claiming the sex offender had been harassed on Facebook and his human rights breached by the publication on Facebook.

The judge found against the campaigner and Facebook and awarded the sex offender £20,000 damages for harassment.

Facebook is now challenging this judgement. There is an  excellent report on the Inforrm blog by trainee barrister Aiden Wills which goes into the legal details of Facebook’s challenge.

Facebook is particularly challenging the judge’s ruling that it should have had detailed knowledge and awareness of what Mr McCloskey wrote -pointing out that such a ruling would mean they would have to have detailed knowledge of every article put up on a Facebook site and whether it could be considered illegal. The case promises to be an interesting one.

UPDATE: The judge has reserved judgement on the case after a two day hearing. Joseph McCloskey did not attend the court as there was a dispute as to whether he was entitled to legal aid.

 

Judge bans a Facebook page exposing paedophiles and awards £20,000 damages to convicted sex offender

An extraordinary ruling by a Northern Ireland judge will lead to a chilling effect on people using the internet to expose convicted paedophiles and give hope to sex offenders that they can make money from people and organisations attacking them for their crimes.

The  Belfast case has been picked up by the excellent Inforrm blog which gives a detailed legal analysis of what happened from Lorna Skinner ,a barrister at Matrix Chambers.

The facts appear to be these. Joseph McCloskey set up a Facebook profile page called ” Keep Our Kids Safe from Predators 2 ” which posted information about a convicted sex offender called CG. A similar page was set up by RS the father of one  of CG’s victims.

CG’s lawyers complained about the postings on both sites.

Inforrm says: ” Broadly speaking, each consisted of the publication of a photograph of CG together with information identifying him as a sex offender. This was followed by further posts and/or comments from viewers of the material consisting of verbal abuse, threats, and information as to identification and location.”

None of the information published  by McCloskey was private, It was all in the public domain at the time of CG’s conviction. CG’s solicitors complained to Mr McCloskey  who immediately removed all postings relating to CG. The postings on RS’s page were removed by Facebook, in each case some time after receipt of a complaint. The posts are said to contain threats of violence against the paedophile which judge took particular exception.

But the lawyers weren’t satisfied and went to court claiming the sex offender had been harassed on Facebook and his human rights breached by the publication on Facebook.

As Inforrm reports his lawyers said” the material posted amounted to a misuse of private information, was in breach of Articles 2, 3 and 8 of the ECHR, amounted to harassment of him contrary to the Protection from Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 and that each of them were guilty of actionable negligence. For good measure he also asserted that Facebook was in breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.”

What is extraordinary is the ruling from Mr Justice Stephens, the judge. Even though the site had been taken down the judge approved an injunction against to protect the privacy of other sex offenders and paedophiles who had been named by contributors to the page.

As Inforrm reports ( my emphasis): “The Judge found that Mr McCloskey’s purpose in setting up the profile/page, which on his evidence had 25,000 friends, was to destroy the family life of sex offenders, to expose them to total humiliation and vilification, to drive them from their homes and expose them to the risk of serious harm.”

Inforrm adds: “As a result, CG was awarded damages totalling £20,000. An anti-harassment injunction was made against Mr McCloskey and a mandatory injunction was made against Facebook requiring it to terminate the entirety of the “Keeping our Kids Safe from Predators 2” profile/page including all material referring to other sex offenders as it “is doing damage to other individuals and is clearly unlawful”.

The full judgement is here for those who want to read it.

Quite rightly the wide terms of such a ban – particularly in relation to the Data Protection Act – is questioned by the Matrix barrister. She points out : “The obvious fallacy of this approach is that sensitive personal data covers areas where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, for example: “David Cameron is the Conservative Prime Minister, who comes from a traditional English background”. Similarly, it is difficult to see how, absent the application of a DPA-style [data protection act] analysis, CG could sensibly have argued that his image, or the fact of his conviction for sex offences was, or had become, private information.”

I regard this ruling as excessive and dangerous. While the threats of violence against the paedophile seem to have contributed to the judge’s findings, a complete  ban on the site is out of proportion. Also the judgement reveals that Mr McCloskey’s own mother was the subject of repeated child sexual abuse, which led him to set up the site. The site was  comprehensive in tracing all N Ireland paedophiles.

Suppose for example, to take a current case, Tony McSweeney, just convicted  for indecent assault, is sent to prison and subsequently let out on licence. Should the Roman Catholic Church have the right to remove everything from websites about him which was revealed at the time of his conviction? And should he get damages if people reveal this information, I think not.