Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Gresham Lecture on Leveson: Prof. George Brock

"The heart ofLeveson is privacy versus free expression, and it is important to remember that this is a clash of rights. You cannot solve a clash of rights. You cannot settle it definitively. You can only manage it, and the search is for the best balance.
As a background to Leveson, there were two important decisions in the recent past which are part of the story. There was the Data Protection Act in 1998, which controlled how information could be retrieved from databases. There were no prison penalties for journalists, there was a public interest defence, and the Act set up the office of something called the Information Commissioner. 
Before that, strictly on the privacy track, there had been in Inquiry in 1990 by a distinguished lawyer called Sir David Calcutt. He was very scathing about the self-regulation system for the press, considering it not in order. He gave them a short number of years to improve things, held a second, brief re-visiting Inquiry in 1992, reported back in 1993 and said there should be a privacy law – this just is not good enough, you are going to have to do much better. One way or another, by combination of the fact that this was the John Major Government in the midst of European crises (and a good many others), and the fact that there was very powerful lobbying by the press groups, Calcutt’s proposals were derailed. 
They were brought back in some form in the Human Rights Act, which incorporated the European Convention of Human Rights into British law in 1998. However, that created a privacy law by simply saying there is a right to the freedom of expression and there is a right to privacy. It made those two flat statements and then left the judges in the courts to sort out everything after that. It did not work perfectly.
Please note that both of these laws, the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act, have public interest tests of sorts built into them. Public interest tests come in various forms. They are essentially grounds on which an apparent breach of the law may be justified. They are a way of testing ends against means."

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