Category Archives: Tommy Sheridan

Andy Coulson “Detained” By Strathclyde Police – A Quick Guide to Detention

Andy Coulson, former “spin doctor” to Prime Minister David Cameron, and former Editor of the News of the World has been detained by officers from Strathclyde Police investigation allegations arising from evidence given at the trial of Tommy Sheridan in 2010 at Glasgow High Court.

Mr Coulson has not been arrested, despite reports stating that he has been.

What is “detention”?

Under Section 14 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, which was amended by the Criminal Procedure (Legal Assistance, Detention and Appeals) (Scotland) Act 2010, police in Scotland have the opower to detain a suspect for questioning. Continue reading

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Filed under Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure (Legal Assistance, Tommy Sheridan

Tom Watson MP Declares Tommy Sheridan’s Conviction for Perjury Unsafe – He is Wrong

 

Yesterday saw publication of the DCMS Report on phone hacking at News International. Tom Watson MP has been a vigorous investigator in these matters for which he deserves credit. However, according to Louise Mensch MP, he managed to break the committee on party lines by inserting a line about Mr Murdoch not being “a fit and proper person”. This was despite the fact that such a conclusion seems to have been outwith the terms of reference of the Committee. However, as Parliament is sovereign, it can reach such a conclusion, if it wishes.

Mr Watson has championed the cause of Tommy Sheridan. The former MSP was gaoled for perjury committed in his successful damages action against News International.

Mr Watson was again manning the ramparts for Mr Sheridan yesterday, declaring that the details uncovered by his Committee made the conviction unsafe. He can be found discussing the matter in detail here.

It might be fair to say that, if the Sheridan Trial took place today, the odious conduct of some of the News of the World staff might persuade a jury to acquit, but, BASED ON THE EVIDENCE given to the trial court, such a verdict would not accord with the evidence.

Mr Sheridan’s appeal against conviction was rejected as unsustainable by the Appeal Court without a full hearing.

I have previously written, at some length, about the Sheridan case, and the potential implications for (a) the trial verdict and (b) possible prosecution of witnesses at the trial itself for alleged perjury.

My “compendium” of pieces can be found here.

I would also heartily recommend the excellent analysis by the Lallands Peat Worrier, which can be found here.

LPW titled his piece, written in August 2011, “A numpty’s guide to appealing Tommy Sheridan’s conviction… “

Read it in detail, but his conclusion makes the position clear.

“In the absence of emails drafted in the hypothetical, fundamentally incriminating terms I describe, I struggle to see that the High Court will be moved to overturn the jury’s decision.  Similarly, if … alleged perjury is limited to the general unlawful practices of employees at the News of the World, and his knowledge of them, how does that impact on the critical issues of the Sheridan trial, concerning swingers clubs, his confessions to his colleagues and his lies about both in Court? These are the questions which Sheridan’s representatives will have to work up persuasive answers to, if their client is to see his conviction quashed on grounds of new evidence. As the Lord Justice General noted, setting aside the verdict of a jury is no light matter. And on these tests, convincing the High Court to overturn Sheridan’s conviction may be a very tall order indeed, despite alleged perjury, despite absent emails, whatever Tom Watson believes.”

As former Law Society of Scotland President Ian Smart, tweeting in his personal rather than ex officio capacity, commented last night, and I paraphrase “How does alleged perjury by defence witnesses help an accused overturn his conviction?”

Mr Sheridan, as detailed in Gregor Gall’s excellent book “Tommy Sheridan: From Hero to Zero” was convicted because of mistakes he made. Even if he became a target for the NotW, this was because of his own actions. Whilst the NotW has died as a result of phone hacking, nothing revealed so far casts, in my view, any doubt upon the jury’s verdict against Mr Sheridan.

It looks as if Mr Watson has not followed LPW’s advice from last August “However, we can be absolutely clear that Tom Watson MP is quite wrong in law to suggest that the absence of these emails by itself makes the case’s outcome fundamentally questionable. Watson may hold that view, but the High Court of Justiciary certainly won’t sympathise.”

 

Posted by Paul McConville

 

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Filed under Criminal Appeals, Criminal Law, Politics, Tommy Sheridan

Frances Curran, Former SSP MSP, Loses Defamation Claim Against Daily Record [2011] CSIH 86 – Court Defends Press Right to “Exaggeration, Provocation and Harshness”

Frances Curran was one of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) MSP’s elected to Holyrood on the coat tails, some would say, of Tommy Sheridan.

However, when the SSP imploded in the aftermath of the News of the World’s allegations of “swinging” against Mr Sheridan, and his successful defamation claim against News International (NI) she, along with all of the other SSP MSP’s, lost her seat.

Ms Curran was not of the group which aligned itself with Mr Sheridan. She was assuredly not one of the “Sheridanistas”.

Ms Curran did not give evidence for NI in the original defamation trial, although the Daily Record suggested she had. She was not called upon to do so. Other SSP members did give evidence but unwillingly, having decided that they could not flout the law by refusing to appear.

In the aftermath of the victory for Mr Sheridan, which has turned out to be a Pyrrhic one in light of his subsequent prison sentence for perjury, three prominent SSP MSP’s, Ms Curran, Rosie Kane and Carolyn Leckie, issued a statement indicating their dis-satisfaction at the behaviour of Mr Sheridan and of the outcome of the trial.

On 5th August 2006 Ms Curran was quoted in the Daily Mail stating that Mr Sheridan had lied in the trial.

Tommy Sheridan replied in the pages of the Daily Record over the next few days. He accused Ms Curran, amongst others, of being a “scab” which is the ultimate insult to left wing politicians. He made it clear that he could see no way of working with the three specific members mentioned above for their “betrayal” of what he and the SSP stood for.

In November 2008, Ms Curran raised an action for defamation against the Record (but not against Mr Sheridan). She claimed that she had been defamed by the articles in the Record. She alleged that “the innuendo contained in the article was that, notwithstanding her professed commitment to socialism and trade unionism, the pursuer had been happy to align herself with, and to assist, the anti-socialist NI, in furtherance of a plot to destroy Mr Sheridan’s political career, and that in consequence she was a “scab” and a “political scab”, failing to act in accordance with her publicly professed principles in a way which was dishonourable, hypocritical and lacking in integrity, all of which was untrue. In particular, the article appeared to suggest that she had given evidence as a witness for NGNL against Mr Sheridan, when she had not.”

The paper defended the action, stating firstly that the articles were not defamatory, but even if they were, which was denied, they were covered by “qualified privilege” and as not motivated by malice, there was no liability.

The action was dismissed by the Temporary Judge at first instance, who upheld the defence propositions.

Ms Curran appealed and the appeal, before Lady Paton, Lord Hardie and Lord Kingarth had its decision issued today.

The court has rejected the appeal and upheld the initial decision.

The court decided that the “rough and tumble” of political discourse was an area where the court, traditionally, had been reluctant to interfere as regards defamation. The court reviewed a number of cases, including those from the European Court of Human Rights, and agreed that public figures, whilst not fair game for the press, ought to be prepared for rigorous analysis and discussion in the political field.

The judges quoted the European Court in Dlugolecki v Poland, 24 May 2009, Application no 23806/03 saying:-

The limits of critical comment are wider if a public figure is involved, as he inevitably and knowingly exposes himself to public scrutiny and therefore must display a particularly high degree of tolerance…. In the context of a public debate the role of the press as a public watchdog allows journalists to have recourse to a certain degree of exaggeration, provocation or harshness.

The court determined:-

“In particular, we are not persuaded that the article would lower the pursuer in the esteem of right-thinking members of the public. The public were well aware of the nature of Mr Sheridan’s dispute with the NGNL. As was noted by Lord Macphail in Macleod v Newsquest (Sunday Herald) Ltd 2007 SCLR 555 (quoting Neill LJ in Gillick v BBC [1996] EMLR 267):

“… (2) The hypothetical reasonable reader (or viewer) is not naïve but he is not unduly suspicious. He can read between the lines. He can read in an implication more readily than a lawyer and may indulge in a certain amount of loose thinking. But he must be treated as a man who is not avid for scandal and someone who does not, and should not, select one bad meaning where other non-defamatory meanings are available …”.

In our view, the readers of the article would appreciate that they were witnessing a political skirmish, with warring factions within the SSP and diametrically opposed views about how the party and its members should conduct themselves, including a characteristically forthright public berating by Mr Sheridan of those who, in his view, had failed to give him the unquestioning public and political support he needed in whatever way he demanded and at whatever personal cost to the individual.”

As far as the question of qualified privilege went, the court stated as follows:-

“In the present case, Mr Sheridan did not respond by calling the pursuer a liar. He focused instead upon the main themes underlying his whole campaign, namely socialism against anti-socialist forces epitomised by NI; his hope and belief that he would be wholly supported by fellow socialists, and in particular by members of the SSP; the fact that the pursuer had (so far as he was concerned) demonstrated political disloyalty both to him and to his socialist cause – which in his eyes qualified her as a “scab”; and his resulting anger and disappointment, with the caveat that he and the pursuer might find it difficult to work together in the SSP in the future. In our view, that retort, in the circumstances, came within the parameters of “fair retort”. Thus the defenders were entitled to qualified privilege on the occasion that they reported that retort.”

Bearing in mind that Mr Sheridan is a convicted perjurer, the words of the court seem almost complimentary to him! The suggestion of the court is that, rather than resort to personal attacks, as Ms Curran had done, he engaged in a political discourse detailing what he perceived to be the faults of the parties.

Finally, Ms Curran had added in a case that the words used were motivated by malice on the part of Mr Sheridan, as he now being a convicted perjurer knew that the foundation of his “attacks” on Ms Curran and others was unsound. By extension, if Mr Sheridan’s words were malicious, then the malice should be attributed to the Daily Record also.

The court rejected this argument too, saying:-

Quite apart from the lack of precedent, we consider that there is no support in principle for the pursuer’s proposition. Malice on the part of an individual is not necessarily easy to detect. Accordingly, to deprive a newspaper or other publishing medium of the defence of qualified privilege because the individual whose views were reported is subsequently proved to have been motivated by malice would, in our view, place too heavy a burden upon the publisher.”

A hearing at a later date will determine liability for costs, but one can only assume that Ms Curran will be found liable for all, or almost all, of them. The financial consequences for her will be grave. Whilst not as drastic a defeat as that of Mr Sheridan, as he ended up in prison, Ms Curran has lost the chance to vindicate her reputation (which I assume was her primary motivation, rather than financial recompense).

It would be ironic, to say the least, to see another former SSP MSP brought down by their voluntary decision to pursue a case through the courts, where in general, the politicians of the Left have been sceptical about achieving justice. Neither Mr Sheridan nor Ms Curran were forced to raise actions – but they both did and have had, or will have, to pay the consequences of their decisions.

For the press too, especially bearing in mind the barrage of negative publicity it has received and is receiving, it might be useful to bear in mind the quote from the European Court mentioned above – “In the context of a public debate the role of the press as a public watchdog allows journalists to have recourse to a certain degree of exaggeration, provocation or harshness“.

When the public perception of the press is that it only deals in exaggeration, provocation or harshness, it is legitimate to point out that, in some cicrumstances, such coverage is justified!

 

 

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Filed under Civil Law, Courts, Curran v Daily Record, Defamation, Press, Tommy Sheridan

The Scotsman – “News of the World has not Appealed Sheridan Verdict” – Shome Mishtake Shurely?

Tommy Sheridan’s case has taken a bit of a back seat as far as press coverage is concerned, having been overwhelmed by the tide of News of the World disgrace over the summer, and following on the rejection of his application for leave to appeal against his criminal conviction for perjury.

The Scotsman today has an article which discusses Mr Sheridan’s appearance at a fund raiser to assist with his civil case.

Tommy Sheridan - in happier times

The article is one which seems to maintain the recent proud tradition of our newspapers, both the Scotsman and elsewhere, having very poor coverage of the meat of legal issues.

David Allen Green, the highly acclaimed lawyer and commentator, has focussed for some time now on “Bad Law” coverage in the media – discussing cases where what is reported bears little or no relation to the issues actually raised, or where the legal understanding of the position in the article goes badly wrong. This piece seems, to me, to fall into that category.

The article states:-

(Sheridan’s) solicitor, Aamer Anwar, is pursuing the cash payment on the basis that News International has yet to lodge an appeal against the initial decision at the Court of Session in Edinburgh to award damages to Sheridan over a series of allegations about the left-winger’s private life in the now-defunct News of the World.

“News International, which has been dogged by allegations of phone-hacking, pledged to appeal against the damages award in the immediate aftermath of Sheridan’s conviction in Glasgow last December.

It goes on to quote Kenny Ross, described as a leading figure in the Fire Brigades Union, and chair of the Defend Tommy Sheridan Campaign. He is quoted as saying:-

Tommy is pursuing News International for the £200,000 he was awarded in 2006. His solicitor is writing to News International to say that Tommy wants the money the court said he should have. News of the World hasn’t lodged an appeal against the original decision, despite saying that it would do that. Tommy’s solicitor will be arguing for the damages to be paid on that basis.

What’s Wrong With The Piece?

It struck me as rather odd that, according to the article, News International (NI) had not appealed against a judgement made by a jury in August 2006.

Generally courts only allow appeals to be lodged in a very short time window after decisions are made. Five years for lodging an appeal doesn’t fit anywhere within the rules in Scotland anyway.

The Rules

Section 29 of the Court of Session Act 1988 deals with applications for review of the verdict of a jury in a civil case in Scotland. It states at subsection 1:-

Any party who is dissatisfied with the verdict of the jury in any jury action may, subject to such conditions and in such manner as may be prescribed, apply to the Inner House for a new trial on the ground—(a) of misdirection by the judge; (b) of the undue admission or rejection of evidence; (c) that the verdict is contrary to the evidence; (d) of excess or inadequacy of damages; or (e) of res noviter veniens ad notitiam; or on such other ground as is essential to the justice of the cause.

Chapter 39 of the Rules of the Court of Session deals with time limits for such an application. Chapter 39.1 (1) states:-

“An application under section 29(1) of the Act of 1988 (application for new trial) (a) shall be made to a procedural judge, by motion, within 7 days after the date on which the verdict of the jury was written on the issue and signed.

Chapter 39.2 (1) states:-

A procedural judge may, on an application made in accordance with paragraph (2), allow an application for a new trial under section 29(1) of the Act of 1988 to be received outwith the period specified in rule 39.1(1) and to proceed out of time on such conditions as to expenses or otherwise as the procedural judge thinks fit.”

Is the Scotsman suggesting that NI missed the seven day window, and indeed has done so by over five years, and nearly a year after Mr Sheridan’s conviction? In such circumstances a late review application would receive very short shrift.

If NI had instructed its solicitors to appeal following the verdict, as was publicised, then they would have a stonewall negligence claim against their lawyers if their failure to appeal resulted in them having to pay Mr Sheridan £200,000.

Has News International Actually Appealed? Yes, of Course

However, 20 seconds on Google (including stopping for a mouthful of tea) shows that the above cannot be the case.

On 11th August 2006 the BBC reported, under the heading “Tabloid launches Sheridan appeal” that:-

“The News of the World has launched an appeal after a jury awarded Tommy Sheridan £200,000 in damages in his defamation case against the tabloid. The appeal was lodged with the Court of Session in Edinburgh but has yet to be formally accepted.”

On 13th February 2007 the BBC reported, under the headline “Newspaper’s Tommy appeal date set”:-

A date has been set for the News of the World’s appeal hearing to overturn a £200,000 damages award for calling Tommy Sheridan MSP “a swinger. Two weeks in December have been pencilled into the Court of Session’s diary for appeal judges to hear the Sunday tabloid’s demand for a re-trial.

“Roisin Higgins, counsel for the Sunday tabloid’s publishers said legal argument about a re-trial was expected to start on 4 December and is expected to last for two weeks.“

Then, on 25th September 2007, the BBC, under the headline “Sheridan court appeal put on hold” reported:-

A News of the World appeal against Tommy Sheridan’s libel victory against the paper has been put on hold. The newspaper is seeking to overturn the verdict, after being ordered to pay Mr Sheridan £200,000. Judges agreed that the proceedings should be suspended at a hearing at the Court of Session in Edinburgh. The decision means the case will now be suspended until the Crown inquiry into perjury allegations resulting from the case is resolved.”

So, from all of that, it appears that (a) an appeal was lodged (b) a date for hearing the appeal was set and (c) the court sat to decide to delay the appeal till after the perjury inquiry!

Either Mr Sheridan has a novel legal argument to the effect that the appeal was not properly lodged, which seems highly unlikely in light of the proceedings following it, or the Scotsman has simply repeated what someone has told it, without any check as to the credibility or reliability of the information.

If there had been no appeal, Mr Sheridan would hold a valid decree and his lawyers would instruct Sheriff Officers to take enforcement action against NI. But the lodging of an appeal prevents a decree being issued, so he has, so far, nothing to enforce.

The Scotsman article today also states:-

“News International, which has been dogged by allegations of phone-hacking, pledged to appeal against the damages award in the immediate aftermath of Sheridan’s conviction in Glasgow last December.”

But, as we have seen, the appeal was lodged in August 2006, long before the guilty verdict.

What Is The Correct Position?

As far as I can see here is where the case stands. The appeal was “sisted” (suspended) pending the criminal case. Once that has been resolved, it is open to either party to ask the court to “recall the sist” and put the appeal back on the court lists.

On the basis that the lodging of the appeal stopped NI having to pay Mr Sheridan, on one view they really have no incentive to get the appeal running soon, although excessive delay in doing so could result in the appeal being thrown out.

But Mr Sheridan’s option, if he wants to pursue the matter is simple. He can, either directly, or through his lawyers, ask the court to recall the sist. Such a motion would undoubtedly be granted and the case would be back on the rails.

If Mr Sheridan desires representation at his civil appeal and cannot find lawyers to represent him on a “no-win, no fee” basis, then the costs of him opposing the NI appeal will be high and funds would need to be raised for that. That however is not the story the Scotsman has elected to print.

 

Conclusion

As seems so common these days the press are not able, for reasons of resources I imagine, to address the legal issues in case thoroughly. The Scotsman at this point in the court proceedings (or indeed at ant time) would be unlikely to want to print a 5,000 word article on the likely outcome of the NI appeal (though such an article should be appearing on this very blog soon!). That is understandable and excusable.

What is far less so is when an article is published which, whilst about the law, is factually incorrect, and which, within seconds, can be shown to be so.

The problem is that most of the public get their knowledge of the law and the courts from the media. Where what they are being told is wrong, then the prospects of sensible and informed debate about the many legal issues which affect our daily lives are greatly reduced.

Click here for David Allen Green's explanation of what "Bad Law" Is

 

 

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Filed under Bad Law, Civil Law, Courts, Damages Claims, News Of The World, Press, Tommy Sheridan