UK Supreme Court on Interpretation of Commercial Contracts and Patentability of Gene Sequences

The UK Supreme Court on Nov. 2, 2011 handed down two interesting judgments:

The Court held that when there is an ambiguity in construction of a clause in a commercial contract, the interpretation that would be consistent with business common sense should be given effect to. Also, in the exercise of construction is essentially one unitary exercise in which the court must consider the language used and ascertain what a reasonable person, that is a person who has all the background knowledge which would reasonably have been available to the parties in the situation in which they were at the time of the contract, would have understood the parties to have meant. In doing so, the court must have regard to all the relevant surrounding circumstances.
In holding that gene sequences can have industrial application, reversing the lower courts’ findings, the Supreme Court gave primacy two policy arguments- attracting biosciences investment into the UK and bringing UK interpretations in compliance with the European Patent Convention. See this analysis of the judgment.

Live telecast of proceedings at the UK Supreme Court

It seems Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger’s recommendations on making the justice delivery and administration system more transparent through televised hearings have hit the right chords in the Supreme Court of the UK.

The Supreme Court UK launched a service today where viewers could watch the court hearings for free on the web. Of course, the judges would have the right to determine what should and should not be telecasted.

In Lord Neuberger’s words:

If we wish to increase public confidence in the justice system, transparency and engagement, there is undoubtedly something to be said for televising some hearings, provided that there were proper safeguards to ensure that this increased access did not undermine the proper administration of justice.

Providing fair trials in the public eye bolsters public confidence in the administration of justice, and hence in our democratic form of government. It is therefore a matter of concern if members of the public rarely come into our courts to observe what goes on in them. Stating that our courts, as a general principle, are open to all is one thing. But it must be a reality.

On tweeting from Courts he once remarked:

We should foster the already developing community of active informed court reporting on the internet through blogs and tweeting.

The image of the courts as daunting fortresses inaccessible to public and how the higher judiciary functions in the UK will definitely be overhauled with this initiative.

Across the Atlantic, in the SCOTUS, audio recordings of the proceedings are made available online through The Oyez Project.

Right to Privacy to Max Mosley, former F1 boss, denied by the ECHR

This month at the European Court of Human Rights in Mosley v. United Kingdom, the Court arrived at a decision regarding the sexual videos and reports of Max Mosley, the former F1 boss, that were released by the News of the World and cause much consternation to Mosley.

That there was a breach of the doctrine of “pre-notification” was one of the contentions. This doctrine states that before any disparaging material, that would infringe on the right to privacy of an individual, was published, the publisher had to give a prior notification to the person who would be affected by such a publication.

In UK law, there is no statutory protection for the Right to Privacy and  only Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights protects this right. The ECHR however held that the UK had not violated this Article, ruling that States had a wide margin of appreciation in enforcing this Article. Also that the reconciliation between freedom of expression and right to privacy is very difficult to arrive at.

For an analysis of the judgment and the status of right to privacy in UK, see and the NY Times article here.

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