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 some information is covered by the Data Protection Act it is 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 Newswhich dwells on the part of the the Court of Appeal judgement that was upheld.