Politics: Straw focuses on press freedom

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JACK STRAW tilted the balance of power in the Human Rights Bill in favour of press freedom yesterday and away from a back-door privacy clause.

The Home Secretary announced an amendment to the Bill, currently at its committee stage in the House of Commons, which would require courts acting on clause eight of the European Convention on Human Rights to have "particular regard" to the importance of the right of freedom of expression.

The Bill, which brings the convention into British law, contains two clauses that seemed to be at odds: the article 10 right to freedom of expression, and the article eight right to respect for private and family life.

Many in the media had feared that article eight could have been used to prevent investigations by journalists into public figures' private and financial affairs.

The amendment to the Bill also raises the threshold of difficulty for those trying to prevent publication. Judges will only be able to grant an injunction stopping publication if they are satisfied that the applicant could get it stopped successfully at trial.

Mr Straw said: "The amendment emphasises the importance of the convention right to freedom of expression and requires courts to take account of any relevant privacy code, such as that operated by the Press Complaints Commission. At the same time people deserve protection from unjustified interference in their private life ..."