Cameron 'uneasy' about privacy law

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David Cameron sounded a warning today about the way judges are creating a new law of privacy "rather than Parliament".

The Prime Minister said that in a parliamentary democracy it should be up to Parliament not the courts to decide how much privacy individuals were entitled to.

His intervention came amid growing disquiet at the use by celebrities of injunctions and so-called super-injunctions to prevent media reporting of their private lives.

Speaking on the campaign trail in Luton, Mr Cameron said that there was a need to think about the way the law was developing.

"I think there is a question here about privacy and the way our system works.

"What's happening here is that the judges are using the European Convention on Human rights to deliver a sort of privacy law without Parliament saying so," he said.

"That's what's happening and I think that we do need to have a proper sit back and think: is this right, is this the right thing to happen?

"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."

Mr Cameron's comments came after High Court judge Mr Justice Eady yesterday issued what is thought to be the first order permanently blocking publication of material relating to an individual's private life.

The Prime Minister's concerns were echoed by the Law Society, which represents solicitors. Mark Stobbs, the society's director of legal policy, said: "This is a new development and it is something which needs to be watched very closely.

"There is a huge debate between the right to privacy and the right to public knowledge.

"This is something that we are looking at quite closely."

A working party has been set up to look at defamation laws and related issues, Mr Stobbs said.

"We support open justice and transparency as a basic principle but there must be occasional cases where there is a public interest in privacy," he said.

"You might get it sometimes in the context of terrorist trials where there are real national security implications. There may be some cases of privacy where the damage done by spurious allegations to the individual is substantial - mud sticks."

Law firm Carter Ruck, which has represented a number of figures seeking such injunctions, defended the practice, denying it was just a way for wealthy celebrities to avoid scandal.

Managing partner Cameron Doley said that the majority of those appealing for media blackouts on the subject of their indiscretions were "probably people you and I have never heard of".

He said: "The rich and famous can't pay their way out of scandal. These things are high-risk.

"It's not just the rich and famous and the law shouldn't be for the rich and famous. The protection of privacy is perhaps more important to genuinely private people."

The debate came the day after Mr Justice Eady said he was issuing a final "contra mundum" order - one against "the whole world" - in the case of a man who sought a ban on the publication of what he said was confidential material about his private life.

Giving his reasons yesterday for making the order, sought by the claimant at a hearing on April 6, the judge said the High Court could use its inherent jurisdiction to grant injunctions banning anyone and everyone from publishing material "wherever it is necessary and proportionate" to use it to protect an individual's rights.

It is thought to be the first time such an order has been issued in a privacy case.

The decision marks yet another step in the move by the courts to extend protections for the right to respect for privacy and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

But it also marks a further advance in the steps the courts are prepared to take in restricting the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the Convention.

In another High Court hearing yesterday, a married Premier League footballer who reportedly had an affair with Big Brother's Imogen Thomas won the right to maintain his anonymity.

The hearings were among several held in the High Court yesterday over so-called gagging orders banning reporting of the activities of various public figures.