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Friday, April 22, 2011

Do we need a privacy law?

The growth of super-injunctions to gag the media about potential scandals has led to some fundamental questions being asked about freedom of speech, Parliamentary privilege and the role of the courts. Now the Prime Minister has joined in by declaring that parliament and not the courts should decide where the right to privacy begins.

The question that David Cameron poses is whether it is right that judges should be acting in this way and, by implications, whether Parliament should step in and pass its own privacy law?

He said: "The judges are creating a sort of privacy law, whereas what ought to happen in a parliamentary democracy is parliament – which you elect and put there – should decide how much protection do we want for individuals and how much freedom of the press and the rest of it. So I am a little uneasy about what is happening."

He added: "It might be odd to hear it, but I don't really have the answer to this one, I need to do some more thinking about it. It is an odd situation if the judges are making the law rather than parliament."

My problem with this is that many of these superinjunctions are being used to protect individual families from prying newspapers. That is a protection that should be enshrined in law and I would certainly agree with Cameron that it should be Parliament that decides how that works, not judges.

However, there are wider policy implications and a real concern that others are using these mechanisms to hide matters of genuine public interest. The Trafigura case is a good example of what I would consider to be an abuse of process.

The Prime Minister says he needs to reflect on the matter. I hope that he does and that some action is taken that protects individuals but ensures that genuine scandals continue to see the light of day.
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