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Good news for free speech, bad news for Carter-Ruck and their clients
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Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive
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Lifted from an analysis of the case:
The case involves a Motown music group called the The Gillettes or Saturday Night at the Movies, whose members sued their former agent Jason Spiller, after a notice was pasted on his entertainment company’s website.
The original defences used by the defendants (the appellants in the Supreme Court case), of justification and fair comment, were struck out in the High Court. In the subsequent Court of Appeal hearing, the defence of justification was reinstated, but the fair comment striking out was upheld.
However, the Supreme Court today allowed the appeal and said that the defence of fair comment should be open to the appellants, Spiller and another.
The judges decided that the “comment must explicitly or implicitly indicate, at least in general terms, the facts on which it is based.”
In their summary of the judgment, the judges acknowledged the digital age: “Today many people take advantage of the internet to make public comments and the [fair comment] defence would be robbed of much of its efficacy if readers had to be given detailed information to enable evaluation of the comment (…)
“The Supreme Court agreed that there was a case for reform of a number of aspects of the defence of fair comment which did not arise directly in this case (…)
“The whole area merited consideration by the Law Commission or an expert committee,” the ruling said.
The judges explained that the defence had been renamed from ‘fair comment’ to ‘honest comment’.
What is certain is that since the start of the investigation there were incongruent and even contradictory situations concerning the witness statements; the telephone records of calls that were made and received on mobile phones that belonged to the couple and to the group of friends that were on holidays with them; the movements of people right after the disappearance of the little girl was noticed, concerning the state in which the bedroom from where the child disappeared from was found (closed window? open window? partially open window?) etc., and the mystery would only become even thicker due to the clues that were left by the already mentioned sniffer dogs. - The Words of a JUDGE in relation to the McCanns
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