Friday, 27 May 2011

The right to privacy and the newspaper interest

Technical point.

The post below was written several days ago, but for most of this week I have been unable to gain access to my blog because the blue tool bar a the top, with the "sign in" bit, failed to appear. I tried to contact Blogspot about this and was referred to a "self help" site, where lots of people appeared to have signing-in problems, but none was identical to mine and no-one wrote in offering a solution. Whilst I admire the DIY ethos I think it is a shame that Blogspot does not have some method of allowing direct access to an expert.

A very helpful  and knowledgeable friend suggested that if I tried another search engine that might do the trick. So I switched from my default Firefox to Internet Explorer and, hey presoto, here we are. Unfortunately the spellchecker does not seem to work on this search engine so please be tolerant of typos and spelling errors until I work out how to fix that problem

Now to the latest, and I think still relevlent, post.

Which is more important: an individual’s right to privacy or the right of newspapers to make money out of his or her peccadilloes, misdemeanours or misfortunes?

Clearly there are two sides to the question and the balance between the two is a matter for parliament to decide, but I am not proud of the part Liberal Democrats in both the Commons and the Lords have played in the current controversy so far. Petulant cries of “it is we, not the judges, who make the law” do little to enhance either respect for politicians or respect for the constitution.

I’ve never read much law but umpteen years ago did study for what would now be called a module for which the course bible was Wade and Phillips’s “Constitutional Law.” If I remember correctly the relevant theme was that parliament makes the law but it is not always exactly clear what they meant so the judges interpret it in the light of experience. These interpretations become “case law” or “judge-made law” and form precedents for future cases.

So the judges are simply doing their job, in the light of the law as it now stands, by deciding who can or can’t have a super-injunction. If in the world of Twitter the law as it now stands is no longer adequate then it is up to parliament to change it, and David Cameron appears to have set the necessary preparations in progress. All this could and would have happened without parliamentarians misusing parliamentary privilege.

One of the most urgent tasks for the present government is to restore respect for democracy, politicians and the political process. The Rule of Law is an essential pillar of democracy. Ignoring it (as in the case of the assassination of bin Laden), resenting it (as in the case of the ECHR’s condemnation of a blanket ban on prisoners’ rights to vote) or abusing judges when they apply it, as in the current controversy on injunctions, damages both politics and democracy.


  1. nice post ! provides advertising placement in the most far reaching or niche newspapers and magazines available worldwide.

  2. Before focussing on Peter's key topic, I need to say that I agree with him re the assassination of Bin Laden. For why, read the second paragraph in Henry Porter's article in today's Observer.

    But on the issue of law and parliament, I recognise the dangers but I tend to be on the side of the individual MP (or Peer.) Parliamentary privilege exists precisely to enable an individual parliamentarian to exercise his or her judgement, even when flawed, to publicise a matter that would otherwise put him or her in jeopardy vis a vis the law; ie invariably on the wrong side according to Peter.

    I recall in my time in the House a Member being accused of abusing parliamentary privilege; Enoch Powell jumped up to point out that its was always an abuse, otherwise it would not be necessary!

    On the particular Hemming case, John was particularly concerned to protect Giles Coren - or anyone else who has used an internet network to expose Ryan Giggs - from being potentially being charged, heard and convicted in secret. I believe he was right to do what he did, and I'm glad that it was a Liberal Democrat who did it.

    Much of Labour's outrage is no doubt political jealousy.

    John Hemming might well also have made the point that it was typically discriminatory against the woman involved, Imogen Thomas, for her to be named and harrassed whilst the man's identity was protected by the "superinjunction."

    The fact that a judge had said that she "seemed" to be trying to blackmail Giggs, is immaterial. If the evidence is there for a legal case of blackmail against her, let her be charged, rather than be pilloried in the media.

    Michael Meadowcroft