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Oh no, not again – another heckler’s veto in Trinity

TCD Campanile, via WikipediaThe following headlines have caught my eye:

After Protest, Society for International Affairs Cancel Event with Israeli Ambassador (from the University Times)

and

Trinity College Dublin event involving Israeli ambassador cancelled (from the Irish Times)

Update (21 Feb 2017): Planned talk by Israeli Ambassador at Trinity College is cancelled after protests (from theJournal.ie)

I don’t have time to write a considered post about this right now, but I could not let it pass unremarked, so I will content myself for the time being with noting: oh no, not again.

Update (23 Feb 2017): The protest and cancellation garnered headlines in Israel (Algemeiner | Jerusalem Post | Jewish Press | Times of Israel here and here) and further afield (Yahoo! news – even Breibart, with typical hyperbolic misrepresentation)

The University Times updated their piece and headline: After Event with Israeli Ambassador Cancelled, Trinity Criticises “Unacceptable Attack on Free Speech”; the Irish Times ran a follow up: Trinity condemns ‘unacceptable attack’ on free speech; and the Hearld also ran a story: Anti-Israel protest is ‘antithesis of what Trinity stands for’. These pieces refer to a statement from the Provost:

Trinity College Dublin regrets attack on free speech

Dublin, Tuesday February 21st 2017 – Trinity College Dublin regrets that Israel’s ambassador to Ireland, HE Ze’ev Boker, was unable to take part in a question and answer session on Monday evening after protesters from inside and outside the university threatened to disrupt the event. The university regards what happened as an unacceptable attack on free speech.

Ambassador Boker had been due to address a student society on Monday but the event was cancelled before he arrived at the proposed venue amid security concerns. University officials had unsuccessfully tried to get the protesters to leave an area surrounding the door to a lecture theatre. The ambassador has been a regular and welcome visitor to Trinity since his appointment. He had dinner in the university earlier in the same evening and attended another event in Trinity last week.

Trinity’s Provost Patrick Prendergast criticised the protesters for preventing a guest from expressing his opinions. “This was most unfortunate and represents the antithesis of what Trinity stands for. Universities should be able to facilitate the exchange of ideas. The protesters have violated that fundamental belief. Trinity will remain a home for debate and we will do everything possible to make sure that efforts to suppress the free exchange of ideas do not succeed. I look forward to welcoming Ambassador Boker back to Trinity to speak again in the near future.

Hear! Hear!

Free Speech University Rankings

Spiked FSUR

I have written on this blog in the past about university free speech rankings in the UK and the US. The online current affairs magazine, spiked, has published its third annual Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) of the UK’s universities (THE | The Tab | The Times here and here):

… it paints a grim picture. Our survey, ranking 115 UK universities using our traffic-light system, shows that 63.5 per cent of universities now actively censor speech, and 30.5 per cent stifle speech through excessive regulation. This marks a steady rise in censorship over the past three years. Now only six per cent of UK universities are truly free, open places.

Tom Slate, Deputy Editor of spiked, and co-ordinator of the survey, comments:

For anyone who’s been anywhere near a campus recently, this will come as no surprise. Students’ unions no longer just No Platform the odd edgy speaker – they ban ‘tarts and vicars’ parties and ‘offensive hand gestures’. But what’s perhaps most striking in this year’s findings is how fast universities are catching up. Though SUs are still far more censorious than universities, 23.5 per cent of university administrations are now ranked Red, compared with 15 per cent just last year.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) maintain an equivalent survey of US universities; and the Institute of Public ­Affairs do the same in Australia. These assessments are not the only sources of such dispiriting information. Direct surveys of students on campus in the US (pdf) and the UK (pdf) found that, while students support free speech in principle, many are willing to entertain significant restrictions. In any event, and whatever about Trinity’s return to the Times Higher Education‘s World University Rankings, in my view a green light on these free speech rankings would be a university ranking worthy of the name. If any benefactor out there wants to support similar research for higher education institutions in Ireland, I would be happy to co-ordinate it. Roll up; roll up!

Litigating against Mass Surveillance in the US

ACLUThere will be a public lecture by Ashley Gorski on

Litigating against Mass Surveillance in the US – The National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union

in the Swift Lecture Theatre, Room 2041A Arts Block, Trinity College Dublin (map here), next Friday 10 February 2017 from 6:00pm to 7:00pm. All are welcome to attend, and booking is not required.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was founded in 1920 to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States. Whether it’s achieving full equality for LGBT people, establishing new privacy protections for our digital age of widespread government surveillance, ending mass incarceration, or preserving the right to vote or the right to have an abortion, the ACLU takes up the toughest civil liberties cases and issues to defend all people from government abuse and overreach.

The ACLU National Security Project advocates for national security policies that are consistent with the Constitution, the rule of law, and fundamental human rights. The project litigates cases relating to detention, torture, discrimination, surveillance, censorship, and secrecy. Originally created as an informal working group after the September 2001 attacks, the National Security Project is now at the forefront of virtually every major legal battle relating to national security, civil liberties, and human rights.

Ashley Gorski, via ACLUAshley Gorski (pictured, left) is a staff attorney at the National Security Project, where she works on issues related to post-9/11 racial and religious discrimination, torture, detention, and religious freedom. She is a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School. Prior to joining the ACLU, she worked at a New York law firm and served as a law clerk to the Hon Jon O. Newman, United States circuit judge for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and to the Hon Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, United States district judge for the Southern District of New York. She is in Dublin to give evidence, about Mass Surveillance in the US, in the case currently before the High Court between the Data Protection Commissioner and Facebook, about current rules by which data is shared between the EU to the US.

You can’t keep the proceeds of a bank error in your favour; and, if you do, you probably won’t be able to get out of jail free

Get Out of Jail Free cardIn the board-game Monopoly, one of the cards that you can get by landing on ‘Chance’ is ‘Get out of jail free‘. If you are sent to jail during the game, you can use the card to ‘escape’ immediately, without having to cool your heels for the three turns otherwise mandated by the rules. It is as about a useful guide for life as the its fellow Monopoly ‘Community Chest’ card, which tells you that you can keep the proceeds of a bank error in your favour. Unfortunately, you can’t; and spending it is straightforward theft, as is well illustrated by a story in today’s Irish Independent:

Jail for ‘flabbergasted’ teen who succumbed to temptation after €20k was mistakenly lodged in his account

Karl Smith was due €200

A teenager who had “an incredible temptation presented to him” two days after his 19th birthday when his former employer mistakenly lodged almost €20,000 into account has been jailed for theft.

There is more on this case here, here, here and here. This is not the only time this kind of thing has happened. Here’s a spectacular example from Australia:

Australian student Christine Jiaxin Lee withdraws $4.3 million after bank makes overdraft error

About $1 million has been recovered but the rest was spent on luxury items, police say

A Malaysian student has been charged in a Sydney court with dishonesty offenses after a bank accidentally gave her a $4.6 million Australian ($4.3 million Cdn) overdraft four years ago.

The matter came to light last Summer; Lee appeared in court last month; and the case is still ongoing. Nor is today’s case the only Irish example; here’s another:

Mum went on €25,000 spending spree with the bank’s money, court told

A mum-of-two accused of going on a €25,000 spending spree after a sum of money was mistakenly lodged in her bank account has been sent for trial

The accused … is facing more than 50 charges of theft, relating to stealing in excess of €25,000 in cash belonging to Bank of Ireland, which had been mistakenly lodged to her account. … The thefts are all alleged to have taken place over a two-week period in March 2013. … The money was allegedly withdrawn … from a number of ATMs across west Dublin.

There are earlier stages of this case here, here, here and here, and the case is still ongoing. [Update (29 Jan 2017): she has pleaded guilty to theft, and the matter has been put back for sentencing in April; see here, here, here and here].

All of these defendants would doubtless wish for a “get out of jail free” card, but it is likely to be as useful as the card that says to keep the proceeds of a bank error in your favour. When the Australian student was asked why she thought she had access to that much money, she said: “My parents give me lots of money”. The Dublin single mum made no such claims, but the satirical site Waterford Whispers has her say that she thought that Bank Of Ireland were finally paying her back for the Bailout. As for the flabbergasted teen in today’s story, he considered the windfall to be the answer to his prayers and “a gift from God”.

As I have said on this site, a bank error in your favour is not a gift from God; an overactive ATM is not santa, and the scrooge bank will have to be repaid; bank errors are not a licence to gamble; and keeping the proceeds of a bank error in your favour can amount to theft, whether the error is from overpayments or overactive ATMs. The moral is clear – Chance and Community Chest cards are not a useful guide to life, however much fun they are when playing Monopoly.

Reform of the law of defamation – the defence of fair and reasonable publication

Hurdles via flickrSection 26 of the Defamation Act 2009 (also here) introduced a new defence of fair and reasonable publication into Irish defamation law. In Meegan v Times Newspapers Ltd [2016] IECA 327 (09 November 2016) Hogan J for the Court of Appeal (Finlay Geoghegan and Peart JJ concurring) explained that the

section is clearly designed to provide a defence for publishers who show that they acted bona fide and that the publication was fair and reasonable having regard, in particular, to the matters set out in section 26(2) of the 2009 Act. Section 26 may be regarded as an endeavour by the Oireachtas to move away in some respects from the strict liability nature of the common law tort of libel and to introduce – in, admittedly, some specific and limited respects – a negligence based standard in actions for defamation under the 2009 Act. ([2016] IECA 327 (09 November 2016) [10])

For all that section 26 is a centre-piece of the reforms worked by the 2009 Act, it is, in my view, a legislative dead letter. It is over-complex, placing far too many hurdles in the way of a successful invocation. Meegan illustrates the point. The plaintiff garda claimed that she had been defamed by the defendant’s allegations that she had supplied sensitive information to a paramilitary group. The defendant pleaded the defence of fair and reasonable publication; and the High Court ordered discovery of the journalist’s notes and other background material relevant to article ([2015] IEHC 696 (06 November 2015)). The Court of Appeal reversed, on the grounds that it was

premature to assess whether the discovery sought is genuinely necessary for the proper conduct of this litigation, at least until the scope and extent of the section 26 defence is clarified and particulars of the facts proposed to be relied upon by the defendant in support of that defence are duly ascertained, whether by further pleading or by particulars. ([2016] IECA 327 (09 November 2016) [18] (Hogan J) (emphasis added)).

Although from the context, it is clear that Hogan J meant that the scope and extent of the section 26 defence that needed to clarified were the scope and extent of the defence as pleaded on the facts, such that clarification could be forthcoming following delivery of particulars, in my view the lack of clarity as to the scope and extent of the defence must have been contributed to in no small part by the complexity and opacity of the terms of section 26 itself. A simpler, clear, statutory statement of the defence would have made for less ambiguity in what the defendant was relying upon and what the plaintiff could seek by way of discovery. There are so many hurdles in section 26 that it was not clear what the defendant was relying on. This raises very serious questions about the workability of the defence.

By way of contrast, in England and Wales, section 4 of the Defamation Act 2013 introduced a similar defence of publication on matter of public interest; it is in much simpler terms; and it was successfully invoked for the first time in Economou v de Freitas [2016] EWHC 1853 (QB) (27 July 2016). In this post, I want to discuss that case, and to present that defence as a template for the reform of the defence of fair and reasonable publication in the 2009 Act.

Read more

The IUA (and THEA) should follow the lead of their Dutch and German counterparts in their negotiations with large publishers

A little while ago, I argued on this blog that Irish competition and copyright law should be amended to enable open access to universities’ research. In particular, the Irish Universities Association (the IUA), the representative body of the universities which employ academics whose research is published by the large publishers should negotiate the terms on which their employees will transfer copyright in their research and content to the publishers. They could this, either on their own, or jointly with the Technological Higher Education Association (the THEA), the representative body for Institutes of Technology in Ireland. This co-ordination and collaboration could improve the terms offered by publishers both to individual academics when submitting their research for publication, and to institutions for subscriptions to research resources – and it could in particular pave the way to ensuring greater open access to research. Because such co-operation could amount to an anti-competitive agreement, decision or concerted practice in breach of section 4 of the Competition Act, 2002, I suggested in that post an amendment to that section. I now learn that similar joint-action has been taken in the Netherlands and Germany, and without such legislative cover.

The deal between the Association of Universities in the Netherlands and Elsevier (joint press release) was concluded at the end of November:

In unique deal, Elsevier agrees to make some papers by Dutch authors free

A standoff between Dutch universities and publishing giant Elsevier is finally over. After more than a year of negotiations—and a threat to boycott Elsevier’s 2500 journals—a deal has been struck: For no additional charge beyond subscription fees, 30% of research published by Dutch researchers in Elsevier journals will be open access by 2018.

“It’s not the 100% that I hoped for,” says Gerard Meijer, the president of Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and the lead negotiator on the Dutch side. “But this is the future. No one can stop this anymore.” …

The German action, taken by the Alliance of German Science Organisations, represented by the German Rectors’ Conference, is similar:

No full-text access to Elsevier journals to be expected from 1 January 2017

From 1 January 2017 on, Göttingen University — as well as more than 60 other major German research institutions — is to be expected to have no access to the full texts of journals by the publisher Elsevier. …

The DEAL project, headed by HRK (German Rectors’ Conference) President Prof Hippler, is negotiating a nationwide license agreement for the entire electronic Elsevier journal portfolio with Elsevier. Its objective is to significantly improve the status quo regarding the provision of and access to content (Open Access) as well as pricing. It aims at relieving the institutions’ acquisition budgets and at improving access to scientific literature in a broad and sustainable way. …

Given that the Netherlands and Germany have competition laws similar to section 4, I find it interesting that the publishers came to an agreement in the former and are continuing to negotiate in the latter, in both cases without recourse to the powerful Dutch or German competition authorities. I hope that the Germans are as successful as the Dutch were, and that the IUA (perhaps jointly with the THEA) will soon follow suit.

Reform of the law of defamation – damages

IPI-flag-eurosThe Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality is conducting a review of the operation of the Defamation Act 2009 (also here). No doubt the focus of media submissions will be the level of damages, and exhibit A in those submissions will unquestionably be the decision of the Supreme Court in Leech v Independent Newspapers [2014] IESC 79 (19 December 2014). A report published today by the International Press Institute provides an excellent statement of the argument. In this post, I want to summarize and respond to some of the issues in the Report, and make three practical suggestions for reform of the law of defamation relating to damages.

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Government may find Collins judgment an unwelcome Christmas present

Double lock (via Flickr)I have an OpEd in today’s Irish Times about the decision just before Christmas of the Supreme Court in Collins v Minister for Finance [2016] IESC 73 (16 December 2016). In holding against the challenge by Joan Collins TD to the constitutionality of the 2008 legislation under which the Minister for Finance issued more than €30 billion worth of promissory notes to the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation and the Educational Business Society (EBS), the Supreme Court provided the Government with what was, no doubt, a very welcome Christmas present.

In the OpEd, I make two points about the decision. First, the Court described the separate roles of the Government and the Oireachtas relating to approving the expenditure of public finances as locks, and held that, if the Oireachtas cannot or will not turn its key in its lock, the government cannot ignore or avoid the Oireachtas, or seek to pick the latter’s lock. Second, on the facts, the Court held that the Government, in enacting and implementing the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Act 2008 (also here), did not pick any lock on public expenditure for which the Oireachtas had the key. However, this emphasis on the Oireachtas’s lock has the capacity to constrain Government in the future, and the Christmas present in the Collins judgment would not then be quite so welcome to Government after all.

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Welcome

Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I'm Eoin O'Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie - the Irish for rights.

"Cearta" really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

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