Privacy laws in a mess? Don't blame the judges says Shadow Justice Secretary

More from the Society of Editors conference - Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieveclaimed today that the justice system in England and Wales was teetering on the brink of collapse - Grieve said “I don’t want to sound apocalyptic but we are in fact facing a serious crisis in the administration of justice which is teetering on the brink between passable efficiency and collapse" How that's not meant to sound alarmist is one for him but he outlined what he considered to be widespread and necessary reforms to rejuvinate the system. In addition to legal aid and family law reforms he also acknowledged the less than satisfactory state of privacy law which has been left to the courts to sort out and so evolved in a hap-hazard case by case basis.

A Max Mosley's recent success against the News of the World demonstrated, courts will punish papers who expose a person's penchant for getting spanked by ladies in leather and the fact a person is a public figure does not automatically allow papers to examine (or plaster pictures relating to) their private life.

The collective brains of our senior judges, leading counsel and a string of cases have failed to adequately unravel the interplay between the Human Rights Act, European Convention on Human Rights and media regulation when it comes to privacy. The spectre of celebrities and those out to sell themselves and every sordid detail of their lives or the lives of people they know or can leak information about has skewed what should be a straightforward protection granted to people in respect of their privacy. Laws such as the European Convention are however phrased as giving and give protection against the state and not directly the media, so its left to the courts to intervene. Given that politicians in the UK have talked about but not had the apetite to legislate specific privacy laws we have ended up with a series of judgments that don't all make sense when taken together. This was predicted in an early privacy case by one judge, Mr Justice Lindsay who prophetically said “A glance at the crystal ball of, so to speak, only a low wattage, suggests that if parliament does not act soon the less satisfactory course of the courts creating the law bit by bit at the expense of the litigants and with inevitable delays and uncertainty will be thrust upon the judiciary” This is where we're at and what Dominic Grieve alluded to today.

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