The Government breached Max Mosley’s human rights by allowing a newspaper to publish his sexual secrets without warning him in advance, a court was told yesterday.
The failure of UK law to oblige newspapers to notify their “victims” before exposing their private lives amounted to a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, said Lord Pannick QC, representing the ex-Formula One boss.
In 2008 the High Court awarded Mosley £60,000 damages against the News of the World after ruling that there was no justification for a front-page article and pictures about his meeting with five prostitutes in a London flat.
Yesterday Lord Pannick told human rights judges in Strasbourg that the money could not restore his privacy – but the right of “prior notification” would have give him the chance to seek an injunction preventing publication.
Mosley, who attended the 90-minute human rights hearing, earlier told BBC Radio 4: “It’s really the very simple thing that if a newspaper is going to write something about your private life, or something you might reasonably wish to keep private, they should tell you beforehand.”
Asked if the obligation could hamper press freedom, he said: “I think that’s the great fallacy.
‘The fact of the matter is, in 99 cases out of 100, if they are going to write something about someone of any great interest they will approach the person.
“What we are talking about here is cases where they don’t come to you, they even perhaps publish a spoof first edition, because they know if they did you would seek an injunction.
“I think press freedom is absolutely vital and it has to be protected at all costs. It’s the basis of a modern democracy – but that’s a very different thing from newspapers concealing from you that they are going to publish something that’s illegal.”
Lord Pannick told the European Court of Human Rights: “Why such journalistic intrusion into the sex lives of the victims should be so popular in the UK when it is a phenomenon unknown in its intensity elsewhere in Europe would, I think, require a psychological study.”
He talked about the “uniquely intrusive nature” of the UK tabloid press: “It is a curious paradox that in a society which has become increasingly tolerant, and rightly so, on matters of sexual freedom, a society that has increasingly valued the right to personal privacy on sexual matters, that the News of the World should, like some journalistic Taliban, be able to insist on forcing its way into the bedrooms of consenting adults, and frustrate the rule of law by preventing independent judges from protecting the right to private life.”
Lord Pannick added: “Our case that the UK does have a positive obligation under (the Human Rights Convention) to provide adequate procedures to secure effective remedies by way of injunction for Mr Mosley and other victims of breaches of privacy. The UK has failed in its duty.”
James Eadie QC, representing the UK Government, said there had to be balance between the “right to private life” and the “right of freedom of expression” – both explicitly guaranteed by Articles 8 and 10 respectively of the Human Rights Convention.
He said a wide range of media asserted that imposing a “pre-publication notification” requirement on newspapers as part of Article 8 would not strike a balance but would actually breach Article 10.
National authorities should have a “wide margin of appreciation” in deciding how national laws should be made compatible with human rights rules under the Convention.
“No-one denies the importance of the protection of legitimate privacy interests, but the freedom of the press and the importance of a questioning, strong press in protecting and upholding core (Human Rights) Convention values has frequently been commented on by this Court,” added Eadie.
“The necessity for interference in the freedom of the press needs to be convincingly established.”
The Human Rights judges will deliver their verdict later this year.