MPs and the courts play catch with privacy

Keeping a watchful eye? The press claim public interest but some people claim breach of privacy
Keeping a watchful eye? The press claim public interest but some people claim breach of privacy

By Ian Dunt

Journalists' rights to intrude on people's private lives are at the centre of political debate today.

MPs and the courts are trying to decide who bears responsibility in the wake of several highly-charged cases.

This morning, Max Mosley lost his test case in Europe, a Press Complaints Commission (PCC) report rapped the Telegraph for its sting operation against Vince Cable and an ongoing Twitter-superinjunction row continued to blaze online.

David Cameron made clear that it was MPs' fault that courts were essentially creating privacy policy on the hoof.

"I think judges are saying, look there is a European Convention of Human Rights which we can use," the prime minister said.

"And because parliament has not discussed this enough, they feel they are filling a gap."

Speaking to journalists this lunchtime, media secretary Jeremy Hunt had a similar message, admitting that Twitter was "makinga mockery of privacy laws" and saying parliamentarians, not judges, should decide privacy law.

Before the European Convention, Britain had almost nothing on the statute book for those who felt their privacy had been invaded to fall back on.

But once the legislation was passed, British courts started feeling their way around cases with reference to the European law.

The UK high court awarded Formula One boss Mr Mosley £60,000 in 2008 after deciding a front-page article and pictures in the News of the World about his visit with five prostitutes was not justified as being in the national interest.

But his campaign to enshrine in law newspaper's duty to warn people of stories concerning them before publication came to nothing when the European court of human rights in Strasbourg said it could have a "chilling" effect on the press.

European court ends Mosley privacy battle

Meanwhile, legal experts are still trying to establish exactly what weight super-injunctions have given the ease with which they were ignored on Twitter.

A user of the social networking site publicised several alleged super-injunctions - most of them concerning the extra-marital affairs of celebrities - on Sunday night.

Lawyers warned many of the people commenting on the tweets that they too could face legal action for doing so, but without reliable case law in the area no-one was really sure whether the development signalled the uselessness of the orders or simply a mass act of law-breaking.

Twitter user leaves super-injunctions in tatters

Meanwhile, business secretary Mr Cable won a rare PCC case, when it ruled that the Daily Telegraph had used "disproportionately intrusive attention" to gain stories about the minister.

The paper used secret recording devices to listen in on conversations between a journalist it sent to his constituency office to act as constituents.

Telegraph rapped for spying on Cable

The PCC found that the content of the stories was not sufficient to justify the methods.


Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.