John Kampfner: Justice Eady is in danger of making an ass of the law

Sunday 23 October 2011 02:20

David Cameron is not the only one who should feel uneasy. Britain is developing an invidious system of secret justice. Coming incrementally it has no democratic legitimacy and no accountability.

The Prime Minister's intervention was prompted by a new spate of judgments that have allowed – even encouraged – the rich and famous to go to court to prevent their extra-marital dalliances being splashed on front pages.

The footballers and entertainers concerned – and it is usually these two types of celebrities – are provided blanket anonymity, whereas the women on the side invariably have their names revealed.

This is but one of many iniquities in a practice bringing British justice into disrepute. Privacy is the law firms new cash cow.

Not even the staunchest advocate of free expression would deny the right to privacy, as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. Whereas previously, however, tabloids enjoyed almost complete freedom to use the long lens to pry, now judges have ushered in the opposite extreme.

Nobody knows how many super-injunctions are in place – the Ministry of Justice, absurdly, says it is unable to count them. They prevent the media from revealing even the existence of a conventional injunction. They should be used only in extremis, such as when the life of a vulnerable individual is in danger, not because the miscreant or his wife might be embarrassed, or their teenage children might be teased in the school yard.

The latest wheeze, issued by Mr Justice Eady, is the contra mundum, effectively a worldwide ban in perpetuity about an individual's private life. Stop and consider how one might respond to an authoritarian regime curtailing free speech in such a way. Eady has considerable form. It took me and colleagues an age to get through to him on our hideous libel laws – and I'm not sure we succeeded.

With each judgment our judiciary is chilling free speech and bringing the profession into disrepute. It may require others to step in.

The writer is Chief Executive of Index on Censorship

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