Mosley Europe win could end 'publish and be damned'

A group of media organisations have been given permission to challenge former Formula One boss Max Mosley’s European Court bid to toughen up UK privacy laws.

Mosley is going to Strasbourg to seek a new ruling forcing UK journalists to notify individuals in advance if they are planning to publish private information about them.

Mosley’s European legal challenge follows his victory last year at High Court trial in which he was awarded £60,000 in privacy damages after the News of the World publish details of his involvement in an orgy with five dominatrices.

Eight media and free speech organisations have been given permission by the Court to intervene in the case.

The organisations, being represented by solicitor Mark Stephens of law firm Finers Stephens Innocent and Geoffrey Robertson QC are: the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI), Index on Censorship, the International Media Lawyers Association, the European Publishers’ Council, the Mass Media Defence Centre, the Romanian Helsinki Committee, the Bulgarian Access to Information Programme Foundation, and Global Witness.

Stephens warned that the fact the Strasbourg court had fast-tracked Mosley’s application could mean its judges are set to rule in his favour.

He said: ‘It is a frightening prospect for lovers of free speech that this crucial case has been abandoned by the News of the World and will be defended only by the British Government, which has no concept of what free speech means.

“It is very worrying that a court which has not been favourable to free speech recently has fast tracked this particular application and this may well be an indication that the judges are preparing to mount another attack on the media.

“If they uphold Mosley’s complaint, this will be further evidence of a need for a British Bill of Rights that protects our fundamental press freedoms.”

Robertson said: ‘Mr Mosley’s argument that the law should require prior notification before publication is a fundamental breach of the rule against prior restraint, first stated by Blackstone and famously embodied in the Duke of Wellington’s challenge, ‘publish and be damned’.

‘It is a rule which has been enshrined in US law by the Pentagon Papers case and Lord Denning always insisted it should apply in libel – you cannot get a pre-publication injunction where the press is prepared to defend.

“Now, the Mosley team is attempting to persuade European Judges, who are not alert to this free speech tradition, to circumvent it by reference to Article 8 and privacy.”

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