Mosley case on privacy laws 'is being fast-tracked'

European Court set to give public figures chance to gag press on damaging stories

It could spell the end of the kiss and tell: public figures might, within 18 months, have the power to stifle bad news stories before they are published, a senior lawyer has warned.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is currently fast-tracking a landmark case, brought by Max Mosley, to tighten UK privacy laws. Mark Stephens, a lawyer acting for a group of media and free speech organisations opposing Mr Mosley in court, believes that the extraordinary pace with which it is proceeding suggests that the judges are about to rule in the former Formula One boss's favour.

That would mean a change in the law that would force the press to contact anyone that they are intending to run a story about to warn them if it could potentially breach their privacy, giving public figures a chance to gag newspapers before publication.

With rules like those, readers may never have learnt about Sven-Goran Eriksson and his then-boss Mark Palios having affairs with Faria Alam, an FA secretary; or Rebecca Loos' alleged fling with David Beckham.

Mr Stephens said: "These cases generally take three or four years to reach a conclusion but this one seems to be moving much more quickly than that.

"I have been asked to provide my response to one set of documents sent to me by the court within a matter of days, where normally I would have weeks. It is also my professional judgement that this case was admitted on a surprisingly fast timetable. It looks like it could be over in 18 months or so.

Mr Stephens, a partner with the London-based law firm Finers Stephens Innocent, pointed out that normally, relatively few cases are admitted to court. When they are, he said, it is usually on the basis that the judges believe there is something to be debated. "However, this case is proceeding more quickly, which suggests that they accept most of Mosley's points. It is on a fast track," he insisted.

Mr Mosley brought the case against the UK last year, claiming the country's privacy laws were out of step with the European Convention on Human Rights. The High Court awarded him £60,000 in damages in July 2008, ruling that stories about his sex life, published in a Sunday newspaper, invaded his privacy. Mr Mosley believed the damages did not go far enough and took his case to the ECHR demanding that, since Article 8 of the Convention protects the right to privacy and family life, the UK be forced to amend its laws.

The ruling, if delivered in Mr Mosley's favour, could herald one of the most fundamental changes to the freedom afforded journalists who have long operated according to the maxim: "publish and be damned" – a phrase coined by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington in the 19th century.

The principle allows newspapers to publish the stories they choose, and challenges them to defend themselves against claims of defamation or invasion of privacy later. However, some believe that, by the time the court reaches a judgment, the damage has already been done.

Mr Stephens argued that the revelations about Mr Mosley's sex life, published in the News of the World, are not covered by Article 8. He added: "There should be no injunction preventing publication. What Mosley is doing is trying to drive a coach and horses through the rules and get injunctions against newspapers prior to publication. This could be the end of 'publish and be damned'. Are we really saying that next time we want to write a story about a public figure, we should give them 48 hours' notice?"

John Kampfner, the chief executive of the press freedom group Index on Censorship and author of Freedom for Sale, said the organisation viewed Mr Mosley's fight as "extremely dangerous". He added: "There are some legitimate concerns around intrusions on people's privacy, particularly that of people who have never invited publicity, and they need to, and are, being looked at. However, these privacy concerns are being used as a battering ram against good and legitimate investigative journalism. And if Max Mosley succeeds, it will produce a licence to stifle that good investigative journalism."

Suggested Topics
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Sport
Harry Redknapp. Mark Hughes and Ryan Shawcross
footballNews and updates as Queens Park Rangers host the Potters
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
i100... with this review
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
i100
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam