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Parliament probes privacy law

Could give it legislative 'nudge'

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Parliament will investigate privacy law in the UK and may give the law a 'nudge', Justice Minister Jack Straw has said. A select committee of MPs will look into how the law has developed and how it is being implemented by courts, he said.

Historically, the UK has not had a law of privacy, but one has emerged in recent years that has combined confidentiality laws covering the exchange of information with human rights laws protecting the right to a private life.

Courts have ruled in several cases that the publication of information violates these laws, and these judgments will form the basis of future rulings.

That case law was ferociously attacked last year by powerful Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, who condemned the fact that it had developed through the courts and not through Parliament.

Straw has told Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights, though, that a committee of MPs will look into the development of the law.

"I suggested [to the Daily Mail] that the time had come for a select committee of MPs to study the issue. I understand that is exactly what is going to happen," he told the Committee.

"What my intention is, which is now actually happening, is that there should be a select committee of MPs to look at the law on privacy," he said.

Straw hinted that the review could lead to a change in the law. "Legal systems in common law countries above all are living systems. Sometimes they require a nudge one way or the other by statute. There is nothing wrong with that," he said.

Last summer the High Court awarded £60,000 in damages to motor racing administrator Max Mosley over a video of him engaged in sexual activity which was posted online and formed the basis of an article by the News of the World.

"The Claimant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to sexual activities (albeit unconventional) carried on between consenting adults on private property," said Mr Justice Eady in his High Court judgment. "There was no public interest or other justification for the clandestine recording, for the publication of the resulting information and still photographs, or for the placing of the video extracts on the News of the World website – all of this on a massive scale."

Other judgments in recent years have protected the privacy of JK Rowling's then-infant son, model Naomi Campbell and singer Loreena McKennit.

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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