A High Court judge accused by Paul Dacre of bringing in a privacy law by the back door was defended today by Lord Falconer, the former constitutional affairs secretary.
Daily Mail editor Dacre has accused Mr Justice Eady of using the Human Rights Act to curb the Press’s freedom to expose the moral shortcomings of those in high places.
In a scathing attack, he said the “arrogant and amoral” judgments of the judge were “inexorably and insidiously” imposing a privacy law on British newspapers.
But Lord Falconer, one of the New Labour architects of human rights protections in the UK, said the judge was legitimately interpreting a law which had been passed by Parliament.
Dacre, who is also editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers, lambasted the “wretched” Human Rights Act in a speech to the Society of Editors annual conference in Bristol last night.
Eady has presided over a string of high-profile newspaper cases, including this year’s High Court action by Formula One boss Max Mosley against the News of the World.
Dacre said that in supporting Mosley the judge had “effectively ruled that it was perfectly acceptable for the multi-millionaire head of a multi-billion sport that is followed by countless young people to pay five women £2,500 to take part in acts of unimaginable sexual depravity with him”.
Dacre said: “Most people would consider such activities to be perverted, depraved, the very abrogation of civilised behaviour of which the law is supposed to be the safeguard. Not Justice Eady. To him such behaviour was merely ‘unconventional’.
“Nor in his mind was there anything wrong in a man of such wealth using his money to exploit women in this way. Would he feel the same way, I wonder, if one of those women had been his wife or daughter?”
He added: “But what is most worrying about Justice Eady’s decisions is that he is ruling that – when it comes to morality – the law in Britain is now effectively neutral, which is why I accuse him, in his judgments, of being ‘amoral’.”
Dacre said that the “greatest scandal” was that Mr Justice Eady was given a “virtual monopoly of all cases against the media enabling him to bring in a privacy law by the back door”.
The Daily Mail editor said this had huge implications for newspapers, whose “public shaming” of individuals had been a “vital element in defending the parameters of what are considered acceptable standards of social behaviour”.
Dacre added: “If mass-circulation newspapers, which, of course, also devote considerable space to reporting and analysis of public affairs, don’t have the freedom to write about scandal, I doubt whether they will retain their mass circulations with the obvious worrying implications for the democratic process.”
Dacre was backed today by Graham Dudman, managing editor of The Sun.
“The issue here is that Justice Eady is unelected and unaccountable. Parliament has not made these decisions, one man has,” Dudman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“There is no doubt that Justice Eady is a very talented and clever and able lawyer, but surely the public has a right to make these decisions and not least a jury should be there.”
Dudman added: “You have one man setting the law in relation to newspapers, which cannot be right.”
But Lord Falconer, who left the Cabinet when Gordon Brown took over as prime minister, said: “I think society now puts a value on privacy. There are certain things in life that should be private,” he told Today.
“For example, if I am a singer or an actor and I have a miscarriage, is that something that people should know about in the world?
“Of course, if I’m acting hypocritically or I’m accountable, or there’s something that may affect what I do in my public life which emerges from my private life, that should be published.
“But there are things which are private and just as we don’t want the state to know everything about us, do we want things that are legitimately private to be made public? I don’t think we do.”
Lord Falconer said the Mosley case brought the debate into “sharp relief”.
“What the court is saying there is ‘that’s private, it’s nothing to do with the public, there was nothing hypocritical about it’.
“The judge did say if it had involved anything to do with Nazi behaviour or anything wholly inappropriate in relation to the Holocaust, he would have not said it was something that was legitimately private.
“But the human rights convention does say we’ve got a legitimate entitlement to privacy. It gives way to the public interest, but if there is no public interest then you should keep it private.”
Lord Falconer stressed that the Human Rights Act had been introduced by elected MPs and pointed out that any decisions could be taken to the Court of Appeal.
But he added: “The judge is unquestionably applying the law as it comes from Parliament, as interpreted by the senior courts, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords.”
Prime Minister Gordon Brown viewed Mr Dacre’s speech as “an interesting and useful contribution to the debate”, his spokesman said today.
The ruling has been made by an independent judge, he pointed out.
“But there is a balance that needs to be struck between on the one hand the right to privacy and on the other the right to expression.”
A spokesman for the Judicial Communications Office said: “Judges determine privacy cases in accordance with the law and the particular evidence presented by both parties.
“Any High Court judgment can be appealed to the Court of Appeal.”