Jack opens the privacy Pandora box

Jack Straw, the justice minister, has opened up a review of privacy. He wants to “nudge” judges presumably towards restricting the defence of privacy.

As for “judges” read Mr Justice Eady. He heard the Mosley case which prompted this review.

As for the reason for opening up the review, read Paul Dacre, editor in chief of the Daily Mail.

There are so many currents flowing around this issue that it will be confused. Dacre dislikes the European project and most of what it stands for. The Human Rights Act (HRA) is part of that European project – bringing it into UK law was one of the first things the first Blair government did.

But Dacre is also a newspaper editor who wants to defend the press.

Here I leap to the defence of Justice Eady. He is interpreting the law passed by Parliament. It was clear when the HRA was passed that UK privacy would go more in the direction of continental European privacy. That’s explicitly what Parliament told Eady and his fellow judges to do.

Should we be able to know what Mosley does in his spare time? Yes, if it is as described by the original reporting in the News of the World. No, if it was a bit of innocent S&M. (Innocent S&M? Is that an oxymoron?)

Confused? You will be. There are too many side issues on this topic for it to be debated/reviewed without confusion.

Here are some principles by which this review should be conducted:

• Single cases make bad law: don’t change the law because of single prominent cases.
• Distinguish between public and private people: if you head an organisation which seeks privacy you can’t throw the full blanket of privacy over your life.
• Always have juries: involve the public in judicial decision making in all such cases because juries are often, not always, more clued up than judges or editors in chief.
• Look at the motives of all contributors to the review – and think the worst.

Don’t expect this battle to end – it will be a continuous fight. Free speech is never an absolute. Yet the powerful would like the public to know as little as possible about their affairs.

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