Rights Act is boosting privacy, experts warn


The Human Rights Act is having a profound effect on media law by allowing courts to prevent publication of information and boosting a law of privacy, according to the new edition of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists.

Co-authors Tom Welsh and Walter Greenwood note in their preface that lawyers rarely mention the right to freedom of expression, article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, when applying for restrictions on reporting.

Welsh and Greenwood say that in the Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones case, where they sought an injunction to stop photographs of their wedding being published, the Court of Appeal relied upon article 8, the right of privacy, to give a significant boost to the developing law of privacy.

And in the Venables and Thomson case, a judge relied upon article 2, the right to life, when imposing an "unprecedented ban" on publishing the new identities and whereabouts of the killers of James Bulger.

Welsh and Greenwood claim: "The cases appeared to provide a new general-purpose measure allowing courts to prevent publication of information in a wide range of cases where human rights enshrined in the European Convention were involved.

"In the criminal courts defence lawyers began to cite article 6, the right to a fair trial, as well as article 8, the right to privacy, when applying for orders restricting the reporting of cases involving their clients. They rarely mentioned article 10, the right to freedom expression.

"Thus it became necessary for court reporters to acquire a knowledge of the human rights legislation so that they were able to challenge the more bizarre claims."

The 16th edition of Essential Law, to be published on 6 July, has been prompted by the huge amount of new legislation affecting the media over the two years since the book was last updated.

This includes the Human Rights Act; the Freedom of Information Act; the Local Government Act; the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act; the Terrorism Act; the Data Protection Act; the Access to Justice Act; the Representation of the People Act; and the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act.

The new edition covers the extension in the law of qualified privilege resulting from the House of Lords decision in the Reynolds case, which provides a public interest defence in libel. It also contains new guidelines for crown court judges on court reporting restrictions and the revised police guidelines on giving information to the media.

lMcNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, by Tom Welsh and Walter Greenwood, is published by Butterworths at £14.95.

by Jon Slattery

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