More on privacy law “threat” to media revelations

I’d written this before seeing Mick’s post with a slightly different take… If the top judiciary want to protect individual judges from growing press attacks they ‘d be well advised to share libel cases more round the bench instead of loftily ignoring the fall-out. And oh, fees of £7,000 a day are obscene. But with Paul Dacre’s unprecedentedly personal attack on Justice Eady, you’ve got to look on in wonder at how parts of the MSM can mix sheer hypocrisy with a dose of brutal frankness at the same time. Dacre the frequently furious editor of the endless outraged Daily Mail has singled out one particular judge for the pillory for allegedly “singlehandedly introducing a privacy law by the back door.” And worse:

What was most worrying, Mr Dacre said, was that the judge was ruling that on morality issues the law was “effectively neutral”, adding: “which is why I accuse him, in his judgments, of being ‘amoral’.”

Not that all the press think alike! From Polly Toynbee scourge of all old fashioned right wing media proprietors, a swift slapdown

“Dacre, the nation’s bully-in-chief is, like all bullies, a coward:”

Toynbee continuing:

” Dacre refused to go on the Today programme yesterday to argue his case. He never dares face his critics, happy to fry alive all and sundry, never apologising, never explaining. There is a good reason for this: the stance his paper takes on just about everything is so internally contradictory and inconsistent that he could never survive even minimal scrutiny. The Mail’s mishmash of lurid scandal, bitching about women and random moralising zigzags all over the place, dishing out pain and praise often according to who it has succeeded in buying with its limitless chequebook, or who has infuriated it by selling their wares to another bidder.”

Phew! But the frankness comes in Dacre’s admission that his main concern is as much newspaper circulation as national morality. He approvingly quotes Baroness Hale in a House of Lords appeal in the Naomi Campbell Law Lords case in 2004 ……

“One reason why freedom of the press is so important is that we need newspapers to sell in order to ensure that we still have newspapers at all. It may be said that newspapers should be allowed considerable latitude in the intrusions into private grief so that they can maintain circulation and the rest of us can continue to enjoy the variety of newspapers and other mass media which are available in this country”

The directness of Dacre’s attack on Justice Eady provoked an equally unusual defence from top libel QCs on the grounds that a judge cannot directly answer. Plus a reasoned refutation from Geoffrey Robertson of Dacres’ case that the Human Rights Act was to blame.

His complaint about the Max Moseley judgment should be directed to the editor of News of the World, who betrayed the cause of press freedom by failing to appeal it. The appeal court could well have held that Justice Eady’s approach was in fact mistaken. He said that Article 8 offers a broad protection to “autonomy, dignity and self-esteem”. But the drafters of this Article decided that it should not protect honour or reputation: it was narrowly defined as a right to “respect for private and family life, home and correspondence” – words that hardly cover Mr Moseley’s pre-occupations.”

A wonderful example that of how a lawyer can have his cake and eat it. Robertson is saying that Dacre was right (to challenge the judgment), but did so on the wrong grounds ( the Human Rights Act).

Behind the flak, is Dacre right to sound an alarm that a privacy law is developing that could threaten disclosure in the public interest? The Independent speaks here for the media in general.

“Mr Dacre is quite right to sound a warning. Any move towards a privacy law would be a thoroughly bad thing.”

  • joeCanuck

    Puts me in mind of the guy who murdered both his parents and then asked the judge for leniency on the grounds that he was an orphan.

  • Ann

    Mr Dacre added: ‘What is most worrying is that Justice Eady is ruling that, when it comes to morality, the law in Britain is effectively neutral.

    He’s got that right. Can we take it then that women can be exploited as long as the person exploiting has the money to do so. Effectively the rich, powerful and celebrities can do what they like, and no one can criticise. We shall not even know about it, because the papers won’t be allowed to print it.

    The [Eds: as he won the case, this word removed] games were hillarious, giving orders in German for depraved sex perverts made a joke out of max, he engaged in the behaviour, why can’t it be judged.

    As for the human rights act…….

    Was it really intended to protect the guilty or sexually preverted from public scrutiny???

    Britain is ballsed up….

  • Rory

    One of Mr. Justice Eady’s decisions at least has prompted the introduction of legislation to clarify matters one at least one aspect of libel law. Alas, not in the UK parliament.

    A recent case where Eady’s decision to let the Saudi banker, Khalid bin Mahfour, sue New York author, Rachel Ehrenfeld, in the London courts has prompted concerned legislators in the US to introduce legislation that would render English libel settlements unenforceable in the US and, according to one Senate amendment, allow US victims of UK libel decisions to claim punitive damages, so outraged are they that the Ehrenfeld case failed to meet even minimum standards of justice.

    Eady’s decision to allow bin Mahfour’s action to proceed is all the more strange when we consider that Ehrenfeld’s book, Finding Evil, of which bin Mahfour complains was neither published nor promoted in the UK. Bin Mahfour was charged with fraud by a New York jury in the BCCI scandal but escaped prosecution on payment of a $225 million in lieu of fines which also allowed him to evade admission of any wrong-doing.

    Then there is the case of US film director, Roman Polanski, who successfully sued Vanity Fair in Eady’s court and received £50,000 damages and £1.5million in costs. Polanski is wanted in the US on an outstanding warrant alleging sexual abuse of a 13 year-old girl and if he appeared in London would leave himself open to extradition to the US to face the charges. The Law Lords however helpfully saved Polanski such embarrassment by allowing him to give testimony via video-tape from his home in extradition-safe France with the magnanimous observation that, “A fugitive from justice is entitled to seek the assistance of the court” (Lord Nicholls). Which is nice.

    None of the above of course touches upon the aspect of privacy that has been raised but it does highlight the whole minefield of UK libel law which for so long has served mainly to protect the rich and powerful from public awareness of their nefariousness while on the other hand deterring the less well off from seeking just redress when they have been libelled. Dacre’s contention that newspapers are now quaking at the prospect of ambulance-chasing lawyers queueing to sue newspapers on behalf of greedy members of the public is a patent nonsense and there is absolutely no indication in the courts that Dacre’s fears have any foundation.

    Meanwhile in September the Daily Mail was busily ignoring the McCann’s distress and attempting to increase circulation with a non-story on “Italy’s Madelaine McCann” concerning a child on the Greek island of Kos who was wrongly identified as Denise Pipitone, an Italian child who had disappeared in 2004 and consequently was never known as the “Italian Madelaine”. The child in Kos was correctly identified by DNA sampling as the natural daughter of the Albanian woman who cared for her. But neither this child’s right to privacy, nor those of the parents of Denise Pipitone nor of Madelaine McCann’s parents really matter a jot when the Daily Mail (editor, Paul Dacre) decides that it is in the public interest (and the Mail’s circulation) that they do not.

  • ulsterfan

    Freedom of the Press is essential but it is only of value if it is prepared to seek out the truth in an unbiased fashion and be prepared to criticise any one regardless of the position they occupy in the Establishment and by definition this does not exclude members of the judiciary.

  • joeCanuck

    Judge Eady should find the scumbag guilty of contempt of court and send him away for a few days.
    Don’t believe this is playing the man since he patently is a scumbag.

    Code word – types.