MoS demands repeal of Human Rights Act

Peter Wright

The Mail on Sunday has dramatically called for a repeal of the Human Rights Act after it was gagged at the weekend from naming an NHS specialist who is HIV positive.

The newspaper knows an increasing number of editors are furious at being prevented from publishing stories by individuals taking action under the act to protect their privacy. They feel article eight of the act, a right to a private life, is winning out over article 10, freedom of expression.

The MoS said the act was "a foolish document ... rapidly turning out to be an instrument of censorship and the enemy of the real rights of a free people in an open society".

Editor Peter Wright said: "Two things concern me. Despite all promises to the opposite, judges seem to be setting about creating the privacy law under which the interests of private individuals seem to be put before the interests of the public at large - clearly the case in this particular incident.

"And secondly, the judge granted the injunction without giving us the opportunity to contest it, which again seems to me not a proper way to be going about ruling on these matters.

"I do think papers have got to be vigilant against gagging orders. If you have bad law, you get bad judgments."

The industry consensus was that repeal of the law will not happen. In practical terms, newspapers are going to have to fight gagging injunctions case by case.

Wright said his paper was preparing to get the injunction overturned, adding: "We would like to get a hearing as soon as possible because the health care worker in this case was diagnosed in January and 11 months later, the people he was treating still don't know they were treated by someone who was HIV positive."

Bob Satchwell, Society of Editors' executive director, said: "We have to encourage Government ministers and, hopefully, senior judges to make it clear the Human Rights Act was never intended to be the backdoor privacy law some judges seem intent on achieving."

Secretary of the Fleet Street Lawyers Society, Alastair Brett, said: "It is absolutely essential that the law of confidence and privacy becomes a good deal clearer than it is at the moment on a public interest defence."

By Jean Morgan

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