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United Kingdom

In the North of England, “South Tyneside Council has abandoned its hunt for notorious blogger Mr Monkey after spending more than £200,000 of taxpayers’ cash.” [Chronicle] The widely read blog had made scurrilous charges against council members and others. “The authority said it had a ‘duty’ to protect staff and councillors against” what it called “cyber-bullying and harassment.” “Councils cannot sue for libel. Any action against the ‘Mr Monkey’ blogger could only be taken by named individuals.” [BBC] More: Daily Mail, Taxpayers Alliance.

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The government-backed, lottery-funded British Film Institute, which backs a substantial portion of film production in Britain, “announced a ‘Three Ticks’ scheme to ensure diversity in films and behind the scenes as it set out new rules for funding. Under the system, to be implemented in September, films must ‘tick’ at least two of three criteria: on-screen diversity; off-screen diversity and ‘creating opportunities and social mobility’.” [Telegraph]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on July 7, 2014

  • Why are PEN and Index on Censorship luminaries supporting Hacked Off press control campaign in UK? [Brendan O'Neill]
  • Religious offense, hate speech and blasphemy: meet India’s self-appointed “Ban Man” [WaPo]
  • “Like a free press? Thank corporate personhood.” [Dylan Matthews, Vox]
  • Participant’s memoir: “spontaneous” mob violence against Danish cartoons was anything but [Lars Hvidberg, Freedom House]
  • Floyd Abrams testifies at Senate hearing on proposed constitutional amendments to curtail First Amendment for purposes of limiting campaign speech [Volokh]
  • Ruling: Pennsylvania high court judge can proceed with libel suit against Philadelphia newspapers [Philadelphia mag, Inquirer]
  • Missouri gun activist ordered to remove material from internet about police encounter wins settlement [Volokh, earlier]

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June 19 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 19, 2014

  • Heeding union and legacy air carriers, Congress nixes cheap flights to Europe [W.R. Mead/American Interest, Marc Scribner/CEI]
  • Kneecapping the opposition: lawprof wants to yank trade associations’ tax exemption [CL&P]
  • “Connecticut Supreme Court rules against man who got drunk and fell in bonfire” [Legal NewsLine]
  • Making reform of big-city government a conservative cause [Scott Beyer]
  • Judge: Pipe maker can sue qui tam law firm over press release calling products defective [Daniel Fisher, Forbes]
  • British insurer group calls for action, says fraudulent accident claims up 18% in year [Insurance Journal]
  • Long, detailed look at forces behind the madness that is the San Francisco housing market [Kim-Mai Cutler, TechCrunch in April]

So far as I can tell, this insurance page from Great Britain is entirely in earnest:

Public Liability Insurance for Morris Dance Troupes

We provide instant, on-line morris dance troupe public liability insurance quotes and cover from our panel of specialist liability insurers and our own unique underwriting facilities in the United Kingdom….

Why does a morris dance troupe need public liability insurance?

Every day morris dance troupes face the risk of legal action being taken against them in respect of their liability for personal injury or property damage arising in the course of their business activities. The awards that may be made as a result of a successful claim can be catastrophic but even the legal costs of defending the most spurious claim can cause severe financial hardship.

On the other hand, this page from the plaintiff’s side appears to have been written at least with a bit of tongue-in-cheek:

The no win no fee Elstow Morris dancing accident injury claim specialist

A little bit of Morris-dancing never hurt anybody; or did it? You might need the services of a specialist no win no fee Elstow Morris dancing accident injury claim solicitor, if, whilst strutting your stuff, you’re struck in the face by a Morris stick, or even a handkerchief, and break a bone, or sustain an eye injury. …

Launching a no win no fee Elstow Morris-dancing accident injury claim

Sometimes, shards of wood can splinter off the Morris-sticks and strike someone causing an injury, and sometimes small children can inadvertently get in the way, and sustain an injury. In cases like these, be it a Morris-dancer, or a spectator, or a child that is injured, AAH, the specialist no win no fee Elstow injury claim lawyer, can be called on to help to launch a personal injury claim. All troupes of public performers, be they acrobats or Morris-dancers, must have public liability insurance.

The Wall Street Journal last month (paywalled, no link) reported on how the long-moribund British auto industry now has a striking success, BMW’s Mini plant in Oxford, along with a hopeful sign for the future, Tata Motors Ltd.’s plans to invest $2.5 billion in its Jaguar plant in Solihull:

Workplace flexibility is a big factor behind the success of the U.K.’s auto industry, experts say. The Mini plant operates under the “working time account” model, which lets employees build up extra working hours that they can then draw on in downtime. …

“This is impossible in the rest of Europe on any relevant scale because of local legislation that protects workers’ rights and pay,” said John Leech, head of the U.K. automotive section at consultancy KPMG.

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PeakGuardian

“The cup­cake has al­ways been a gentri­fying force … you could get a huge mass of people to par­ti­cipate in a re­ac­tionary endeavour if you dressed it up in nice, twee, cup­cakey im­agery, and per­suaded everyone that the bru­tality of your ideo­logy was in fact a form of nice­ness.” — Tom Whyman for Critical Legal Thinking, Guardian “Comment Is Free”, my Tweet h/t @Ben_McGinnis.

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Socialism_Inspectors
I’ve been blogging about a different political poster each day this week at Cato:

* Monday, “Socialism Would Mean Inspectors All Round,” 1929 British Conservative Party poster;

* Tuesday, “Come on, Dad! We’re going to vote Liberal,” 1929 British Liberal Party poster;

* Wednesday, “I Need Smokes,” World War One American poster;

* Thursday, Art Deco Prohibitionist traffic safety poster.

Update: and here’s Friday’s final installment, a contemporary freedom-of-the-press poster from Jordan.

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“A police officer branded a ‘laughing stock’ for using a truncheon to smash a pensioner’s car window was awarded more than £400,000 compensation from his former force on Wednesday.” Mike Baillon, 42, says colleagues at Gwent Police teased and hazed him after a YouTube video went viral showing him battering a 74-year-old driver’s Range Rover, amounting to “constructive dismissal.” [Telegraph]

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“A British woman attempted to sue her former lawyers for professional negligence, claiming that, alongside a number of other allegations, they failed to advise that finalizing divorce proceedings would inevitably cause her marriage to end.” [Independent, U.K.]

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London real estate values have soared, and a furor has broken out on the Left over one large landlord’s announcement that it no longer welcomes government-assisted tenants (related story on U.S. Section 8). According to at least one professor of law, international human rights treaties require the United Kingdom to take affordable housing steps [Aoife Nolan, HuffPo U.K.] Good to be aware of these things before we start ratifying any more of them…

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From Britain: “Domestic abuse involving “emotional blackmail” – but no violence – could become a criminal offense carrying a heavy jail term under tough new measures published for the first time.” [David Barrett, Telegraph]:

“Critically, its [the draft's] definition of abuse includes “controlling or coercive behavior” which would “encompass but is not limited to physical, financial, sexual, psychological or emotional abuse”.

“Controlling behavior” would also lead to criminal charges, including when a partner makes another person “subordinate”, “exploits their resources” or “deprives them of the means needed for independence”.

The offense would apply to abuse committed against any spouse, partner or former partner, regardless of gender.

As Pamela Stubbart notes at the Daily Caller, when based on purely psychological and emotional interactions and states of dependence, concepts like “control” and “coercion” are at best highly subjective affairs, inviting unpredictable legal application as well as he-said-she-said legal battles in the wake of breakups or other relationship failures. The measure would also threaten criminal liability for some speech (e.g., emotionally hurtful insults not involving threats of violence) that would often be included in definitions of free speech. Meanwhile, a ban on exploiting partners’ resources or denying partners financial independence threatens to throw a shadow of criminal liability over many marital and romantic arrangements long deemed unproblematic, whether or not egalitarian.

Barrett in the Telegraph notes that while the cross-party group of Members of Parliament who are introducing the bill do not speak for the Cameron administration, they have a record of some success at getting their ideas on domestic violence enacted into legislation. Offenses will carry a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.

Related: periodic proposals in state legislatures and elsewhere to ban “workplace bullying” (more) raise some of the same issues, as do enactments (like “Grace’s Law” in Maryland) endeavoring to ban “cyber-bullying.”

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The country’s notoriously plaintiff-friendly law of defamation will be a tad less so under legislated reforms now taking effect. Under the Defamation Act 2013, complainants will need to show “serious harm,” peer-reviewed scientific publications and material published in the public interest will gain a new defense, a single-publication rule will be introduced, and new rules intended to combat libel tourism will exclude cases with little connection to England or Wales. [BBC]

Authorities in Rugeley, Staffordshire, England, detained sandwich shop owner Neil Phillips for eight hours, searched his computer, fingerprinted him and swabbed him for DNA after a local elected official complained that Phillips had engaged in online jokes and comments on Facebook, including jokes about Nelson Mandela. [Birmingham Mail, The Star] Afterward, Phillips complained that the constabulary had “over-reacted massively”: “There was no hatred. What happened to freedom of speech?” Charles Cooke explains at NRO:

Well, the Public Order Act of 1986 happened to freedom of speech – in particular, Section 5, which makes it a crime in England for anyone ”with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress” to

(a) [use] threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) [display] any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.

In other words, Section 5 allows anybody to have anybody else investigated for speaking. And they have. The arrests have run the gamut: from Muslims criticizing atheists to atheists criticizing Muslims….

Is it still legal for Britons to laugh at this Mark Steyn column?

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Organizers at a church in Neath, Wales don’t mind rules requiring the donkey-riding Mary in a childrens’ Nativity play to be wearing a crash helmet, or as the case may be “riding hat.” They say the eight-year-old’s costuming can readily be arranged to conceal the anachronistic headgear during the Christmas procession. No word on whether, as at petting zoos, participants coming in contact with the animal will need to apply hand sanitizer before proceeding. Critics term the rule “‘elf – ‘n’ – safety.” [BBC, Telegraph]

An “international legal fantasy,” as one observer puts it. [New York Times; earlier on Haiti and France; more on reparations]

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  • Golden Age of libel tourism in UK coming to an end? [Media Law Prof]
  • Tactical use of defamation suits not just a US/UK concern [Bangkok Post, Thailand]
  • “So you’ve been threatened with a defamation suit” [Ken at Popehat]
  • Federal judge tosses casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s libel suit against National Jewish Democratic Council [JTA, Las Vegas Review-Journal; earlier on Adelson]
  • “‘Federal Verification Company’ Seeks to Shut Down Online Criticism” [Paul Alan Levy] Defending rights of anonymous reviewers in Virginia Yelp case [Public Citizen]

Unthinkable here, one presumes. But the United Kingdom has no First Amendment, and a noisy lobby has been demanding press regulation to curb the periodic misconduct of the tabloids, made worse by what is perceived as the irresponsible and, well, unreliable (cf.: Rupert Murdoch) political stands and cultural practices of those papers. [Daily Telegraph and editorial ("unacceptable"), Andrew Gilligan ("Hacked Off is a campaign not just to tame the press, but to claim the country for the authoritarian Left.") and followup]

More: “NO” [The Spectator]