Privacy and injunctions |
CHAPTER 1: Introduction
1. In spring 2011, privacy injunctions were the
focus of widespread, contentious media coverage. Tabloid newspapers,
looking to publish stories about the alleged sexual behaviour
of various celebrities, claimed that they had been "gagged"
by "super-injunctions" obtained under privacy law, often
referred to as "judge-made law". At the same time, the
privacy injunctions in question were being breached on social
networking websites. Media coverage highlighted the apparent inequity
of laws being applied to print and broadcast media which, it was
suggested, could not be enforced in the same way against those
2. It was against this backdrop that, on 23 May
2011, the Attorney General announced to the House of Commons that
a joint committee would be established to consider the operation
of the law concerning privacy and injunctions.
Our Committee was appointed in July 2011.
3. In this report we first briefly consider the
evolution of the law on privacy, which has developed particularly
since the Human Rights Act 1998. We then, in Chapter 3, examine
whether the current laws on privacy and injunctions are working.
In Chapter 4, we consider some specific issues relating to online
enforcement, prior notification, damages and access to justice.
4. Our terms of reference required us to consider
issues relating to media regulation. Since our committee was established,
the phone hacking scandal has risen to the top of the media and
political agenda, with the Leveson Inquiry starting its widespread
examination of the culture, practice and ethics of the press in
autumn 2011. Its work will continue after we have reported. We
believe that the balance between privacy and freedom of expression
goes to the heart of the current debates about journalism. In
Chapter 5, we recommend changes to provide for a new system of
media regulation which is better placed to strike this balance.
5. Finally, in Chapter 6, we look at the use
of parliamentary privilege to reveal information subject to injunctions,
and the reporting by the media of such revelations in Parliament.
6. In forming conclusions on these issues, we
have been guided by the following
- The fundamental right to freedom
of expression lies at the heart of this debate.
- The right to privacy is equally important. It
is universal and can only be breached if there is a public interest
in doing so.
- Although definitions of public interest change
from time to time, an over-arching definition of public interest
is the people's general welfare and well being; something in which
the populace as a whole has a stake. It is not the same as that
which is of interest to the public.
- We support the freedom of the press. The vitality
of national and local media, in all its forms, is essential to
the good operation of democracy.
- The rule of law in protecting the right to privacy
should be upheld by all. If a judge has made a decision, based
on hearing the full evidence in a case, that decision should be
respected by those who have not heard all the evidence.
- Justice should be accessible to all. Protection
of the right to privacy should not be available only to the wealthy
- The Press Complaints Commission was not equipped
to deal with systemic and illegal invasions of privacy. A strong,
independent form of media regulation is essential to balance the
competing rights of privacy and freedom of expression.
- The law must apply equally to all forms of media:
print, broadcast and online.
7. We took evidence from a wide range of witnesses
between October 2011 and February 2012, including editors, proprietors,
regulators, broadcasters, privacy complainants, bloggers and social
media organisations. We are grateful to all our witnesses. We
have also been much assisted in our work by our specialist advisers:
Professor Eric Barendt, Emeritus Professor of Media Law at University
College London; Sir Charles Gray, former High Court judge who
specialised in media work; and Paul Potts CBE, Visiting Professor
of Journalism at Sheffield University and former chief executive
of the Press Association. We thank them.
1 HC Deb, 23 May 2011, cols 633-4. Back