Sunday, February 05, 2012

"The law should be predictable as to what is mandated and what is forbidden"

One of the strongest arguments against the proposed copyright statutory instrument is that it is so vague as to make it impossible to predict what it might require of internet intermediaries. The proposal is entirely silent in relation to the most basic issues where one might expect clarity. What type of injunction might be granted? Site blocking? Three strikes? Deep packet inspection? Hash value blocking? What types of intermediaries might be affected - ISPs, search engines, hosting providers, cloud computing providers? Who will have to pay the legal costs of applications for injunctions? Who will have to pay the ongoing cost of implementing any injunction?

Crucially, this vagueness is highlighted by comments of Charleton J., the very High Court judge whose ruling in EMI v. UPC has been relied upon by Sean Sherlock as justification for this statutory instrument. However, when examined closely neither his judgment in that case nor his later extrajudicial pronouncements support this claim. In particular, in a recent speech to the Fordham Intellectual Property Conference, he said:
Legislation such as the [UK Digital Economy] Act of 2010, has at least the predictability of express statement as to the objects to be achieved. In respect of each of the possible solutions of diversion, interruption, warning and cut-off, the British have OfCom looking at the appropriate technical machinery with which to achieve these ends. When this machinery is approved, then, in those circumstances, any court faced with these difficult cases will be in a position to fairly, if not precisely, predict what they can use as a technical solution with a view to granting or refusing to grant injunctions.

This strongly accords with the European law principle that the law should be predictable as to what is mandated and what is forbidden and enables a judge to also know what is expected in the judicial sphere in particular circumstances. As I said in another part of the judgment in EMI v. UPC, if any judge were merely to act on the basis of what the Court felt was right, without having a legislative basis, the Court would be putting itself back in the position of judges in the late 19th and 20th century who used the tort of conspiracy and the remedy of an injunction against the trade union movement and thereby caused public controversy, rendered uncertain the concept of the rule of law and undermined their own authority.

It may also be well for the judicial mind to observe that the separation of powers is a definite guiding principle against doing what might seem desirable, but which is not provided for in legislation.
"The law should be predictable as to what is mandated and what is forbidden and enables a judge to also know what is expected in the judicial sphere in particular circumstances". Can the DJEI honestly claim that their proposed statutory instrument meets these criteria?

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