Max Mosley, the former head of Formula One, will hear this morning whether he has been successful in changing the law to ensure that British newspapers are forced to give prior notification to the subjects of stories they intend to publish.
Judges at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg will rule on Mr Mosley's action against the British state, in which he claimed his right to privacy had been breached because the News of the World had not informed him that it was going to publish an article exposing his involvement in an orgy with prostitutes. Mr Mosley was awarded damages of £60,000 by a British court in 2008 after the newspaper failed to produce evidence that the orgy had a Nazi theme, and that its report was therefore in the public interest.
Mr Mosley later complained that his victory had been pyrrhic because the matter should never have become public knowledge but would always remain in the public memory. He explained the purpose of his legal action in an article written for The Guardian last year: "As the law stands, tabloid editors can quite deliberately stop an individual going to court by keeping their intention to publish secret," he wrote. "They have a particularly strong incentive to this when they know they are breaking the law and an injunction would be granted if the victim knew. Once they get the story out, they know they won't be called to account. It follows that prior notification has to be a legal requirement if the Human Rights Act is to be enforced."
But campaigners for freedom of expression view with dread the prospect of Mr Mosley being successful. Padraig Reidy, news editor of Index on Censorship, said: "It would be a disaster for investigative journalism. There will be cases that are far more serious than what Max Mosley gets up to in his own time."
The media lawyer Mark Stephens said the subjects of many serious stories would immediately seek an injunction. "If a Sunday newspaper has to effectively give notice by Wednesday and an injunction is granted, the reality is that newspapers would grind to a halt because they could not afford the costs of fighting all those privacy cases."Reuse content