Daily Mail Attacks ‘Activist Judge’

Sound familiar? It seems we’re even importing this from the US.

Daily Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre has launched an attack on a High Court judge, accusing him of bringing in a privacy law by the back door.

He said Mr Justice Eady had used the Human Rights Act against the age-old freedom of newspapers to expose moral shortcomings of people in high places.

Mr Justice Eady ruled in favour of motorsport boss Max Mosley in his legal action against the News of the World.

It’s an eerily similar refrain to that of Bush-style right-wingers in the US who spit, whinge and turn activist themselves when judges interpret laws in ways they simply don’t like and call them anti-democratic and ‘activist’ to demean them. It’s an awful thing in the US and it’s alarming to see Dacre trying the same tactic here.

Mr Dacre told the audience at Society of Editors’ annual conference in Bristol that the judge’s “amoral” judgements, in this and other defamation and libel cases, were “inexorably and insidiously” imposing a privacy law on the press.”If Gordon Brown wanted to force a privacy law, he would have to set out a bill, arguing his case in both Houses of Parliament, withstand public scrutiny and win a series of votes,” he said.

“Now, thanks to the wretched Human Rights Act, one judge with a subjective and highly relativist moral sense can do the same with a stroke of his pen.”

Absolute baloney. The wretched Human Rights Act was argued in both Houses of Parliament, has withstood public scrutiny and has been correctly interpreted by Justice Eady. The ruling meant that Dacre was no longer allowed his free rein to attack public people’s private lives on a whim, and it’s no wonder he’s angry – he stands to lose money at a time when newspaper circulations are in freefall. But let’s also remember that this is the Daily HateMail, the worst offending newspaper in the country at attempting to impose its morality on everyone else. Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor addressed that point:

“society now puts a value on privacy …There are certain things in life that should be private. Of course, if I’m acting hypocritically or I’m accountable, or there’s something that may affect what I do in my public life which emerges from my private life, that should be published. But there are things which are private and just as we don’t want the state to know everything about us, do we want things that are legitimately private to be made public? I don’t think we do.”

I couldn’t agree with him more. It doesn’t matter at all whether you think Max Mosley’s behaviour was immoral or unacceptable – his sex life was private, consensual and legal, hadn’t interfered with his job, and had no bearing on it. That makes it noone else’s business but his own. Dacre disagrees:

Mr Dacre said that in supporting Mr Mosley, the judge had “effectively ruled that it was perfectly acceptable for the multi-millionaire head of a multi-billion sport that is followed by countless young people to pay five women £2,500 to take part in acts of unimaginable sexual depravity with him”.

Mr Dacre said: “Most people would consider such activities to be perverted, depraved, the very abrogation of civilised behaviour of which the law is supposed to be the safeguard. Not Justice Eady. To him such behaviour was merely ‘unconventional’.

And that’s the Daily HateMail in a nutshell folks: a tool for its editor-in-chief to play moral Big Brother, to decide what’s morally acceptable behaviour and what is not, regardless of what the law says. Polly Toynbee is right when she says:

Dacre – along with Rupert Murdoch in his different way – probably does more damage to the nation’s happiness and wellbeing than any other single person, stirring up hatred, anger, fear, paranoia and cynicism with his daily images of a nation going to hell in a downward spiral of crime and depravity.

Paul Dacre calls Justice Eady ‘amoral’. Yet all he did was correctly interpret article 12 of the Human Rights Act, which Lord Lester reminds us was included to guarantee press freedom. Eady had to balance the importance of the freedom of expression for the press, against whether revealing Max Mosley’s sex life was in the public interest. The judge didn’t rule on morality – that wasn’t in his remit. In acknowledging that Mosley’s behaviour was legal and consensual and had no bearing on such a high profile job, he simply ruled that it wasn’t in the public interest, based on article 12 (4) (a) (ii). How typical of Dacre to resort to a straw man argument of morality to try to retrospectively win an argument he’s already lost, in dealing with a case founded on human rights. Polly Toynbee’s words seem rather apt:

Dacre, the nation’s bully-in-chief is, like all bullies, a coward: he refused to go on the Today programme yesterday to argue his case. He never dares face his critics, happy to fry alive all and sundry, never apologising, never explaining. There is a good reason for this: the stance his paper takes on just about everything is so internally contradictory and inconsistent that he could never survive even minimal scrutiny. The Mail’s mishmash of lurid scandal, bitching about women and random moralising zigzags all over the place, dishing out pain and praise often according to who it has succeeded in buying with its limitless chequebook, or who has infuriated it by selling their wares to another bidder.

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