Mr Justice Eady “did the press a favour” in the Max Mosley case, a leading litigation lawyer told the Press Gazette media conference this morning.
Caroline Kean, head of media litigation at Wiggin, said the £60,000 privacy damages paid to Mosley by the News of the World were “modest”, and deterred other celebrities from pursuing the media.
If ever there was a case that warranted a large payout, she said, this was it, due to the vast publicity the story received.
“The modest level of the award meant that I was able to get rid of a number of claims from celebrities that were wanting hundreds of thousands,” said Kean.
“They could see the game was up. Whether or not he meant to, Lord Justice Eady did the press a huge favour that day.”
Mosley’s £60,000 was a record award in a British privacy case, dwarfing the £14,600 awarded to Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones from Hello.
Kean’s speech to the Press Gazette media law conference was titled: “Was Paul Dacre right about Mr Justice Eady’s backdoor privacy law?”
In a speech to the Society of Editors last year, the Daily Mail editor said the press was “having a privacy law imposed on it” by Eady.
But Kean said: “Was Dacre right? No, he wasn’t. Let us be clear – I passionately believe in freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.
“I don’t have any cause to celebrate Mr Justice Eady – I’m in front of him too many times.
“But Dacre’s speech seemed to betray our system of law and the real dangers facing the press.”
Kean argued that, in the Mosley case, Eady ruled on fact – as there was no proof of a Nazi link – and, as he didn’t break the law, his behaviour was private and not in the public interest.
She added it would be wrong for judges to rule morally, rather than legally.
“[The majority of judges] are white, male, middle class,” said Kean. ‘”Do we really want a situation where their morality decides what’s right and wrong?”
Kean said “the real danger” was from European law, where “their decisions are reflective of the continent’s historic privacy laws, not our own liberal privacy laws”.