No headlong rush for a privacy law

There will be no headlong rush to introduce a new privacy law, Downing Street suggested yesterday, writes Patricia Wynn Davies, Legal Affairs Correspondent.

Laws on intimidation, intrusion and the wrongful use of confidential information exist and the impact of these, such as the recent Protection from Harassment Act, need to be tested before more regulation is contemplated.

There are strong public-interest arguments for seeking to ensure that last weekend's tragedy does not result in unjustified restrictions on freedom of expression. There are fears that the Protection from Harassment Act - the "stalking" law introduced in June - is too heavy-handed and could be used to hamper investigative journalism and legitimate protests. The first injunctions granted under the act concerned not sex pests, but animal-rights activists.

Before that, Diana, Princess of Wales, secured an injunction, under existing laws on intimidation and harassment, against a freelance photographer, Martin Stenning. The Queen also issued lawyers' letters to four photographers warning of legal action if they infringed the Royal Family's privacy during last year's summer holiday at Balmoral.

Moves towards some sort of distinct new right of privacy are inevitable, however, because of the Government's commitment to make the European Convention on Human Rights part of UK law.