November 11, 2008
QCs defend judge in privacy row
Paul Dacre's criticisms do 'not bear proper examination', say leading silks
The heads of the two leading media law chambers today rejected claims that Mr Justice Eady is on a “one-man mission” to introduce a privacy law by the backdoor.
In a joint letter to The Times, Desmond Browne QC and Adrienne Page QC from 5RB and Andrew Caldecott QC and Richard Rampton QC from 1 Brick Court said that the attack, by Paul Dacre, Editor of the Daily Mail, “cannot stand unanswered, not least because the judge is unable to respond publicly to such criticism”.
In a speech to the Society of Editors, Mr Dacre, who currently chairs the Press Complaints Commission’s editors’ code of practice committee, accused Mr Justice Eady of using the “wretched” Human Rights Act to curb press freedom and “inexorably and insidiously” imposing a privacy law on British newspapers.
However, rejecting this, the four QCs said: “The suggestion that Mr Justice Eady is conducting a one-man mission to create a law of privacy, thereby circumventing the function of Parliament, does not bear proper examination.
“The Human Rights Act requires the English courts to recognise European Convention rights, including the right to respect for private and family life. Indeed, Parliament expressly made it unlawful for a court to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right. The task of the Court is to resolve the tension between personal privacy and freedom of expression, an area where there are no absolutes. In weighing these rights the public interest will always ensure that the corrupt and crooked will not “sleep easily in their beds”. Mr Dacre may well prefer an era when freedom of expression did not have to take account of privacy rights, but Parliament has decided the contrary.”
Writing in The Guardian, Geoffrey Robertson QC said: “The Human Rights Act was passed 10 years ago but did not come into operation for 18 months, whilst training courses were held for those who would be involved in its implementation. Unfortunately, there were no courses for tabloid newspaper editors, who ever since have misunderstood it.”
Lord Lester said Dacre’s criticism was “completely misconceived”. Referring to the Mosley judgment, the Liberal Democrat Peer described it as a “sensitive and sensible judgment” which “strikes a fair balance between free speech, personal privacy and reputation.”