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24 May 2011

The legal consequences of Mr Giggs

Is there now any point to privacy law?

By David Allen Green

The tabloid press, which casually disregarded phone hacking and data protection law for nearly a decade, appears to have now won a skirmish in the on-going “privacy wars”.

The publication of the name of Ryan Giggs seems to be a victory, though the injunction that prevents further intrusion is still in place and, as with Max Mosley, it is still perfectly open for Mr Giggs to make a damages claim. It may well be that the court will award exemplary damages. Discrediting a particular privacy injunction, or the notion of privacy injunctions generally, does not mean that the law of privacy has gone away. It is just that one particular remedy may need to be re-assessed.

But the interim injunction was an important remedy in privacy law. It supposedly prevented the private information being disclosed in the first place, and so sought to ensure that the genie was kept in its bottle. Private information, once made public, cannot be made private again. The interim privacy injunction gave real effect to the right to privacy, which every person has under the Human Rights Act.

Against this, the tabloids want to be able to publish just what they want, regardless of the laws on phone hacking, data protection, contempt of court, and personal privacy. The tabloids, in effect, want no law to apply to them that would fetter their absolute freedom to publish.

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The question is whether this should now be the case. Should the law just give up in respect of tabloids?

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman