Power, Privacy and Freedom of the Press; COMMENT,LEADER

Article excerpt

WITH gusto Lord Irvine wields his power as Blair's baronial enforcer.

But, on the very morn when it emerged that the Lord and very High Chancellor of this realm had incautiously compared himself to his overmighty predecessor, Cardinal Wolsey, he also had to admit that on an issue crucial to the future freedom of the press he has got it wrong.

Contrary to the advice Lord Irvine has been giving those ministerial heads he so delights to bang together, he now concedes that this country's press watchdog could be made to come to heel by the courts when the European Convention of Human Rights is incorporated into British law.

What this means is that, despite all Lord Irvine's soothing reassurance, a new right of privacy will be insinuated into our common law. And both newspapers and their - at present self-regulatory Press Complaints Commission will be expected to bow to it.

If the PCC won't punish investigative journalists for disclosing the private failings of public figures, these powerful people will ask the courts to gag the press under this privacy law that dare not speak its name.

Although Lord Irvine has been caught out, he is aggressively unapologetic, shifting his ground to argue that subjecting the PCC to the Convention on Human Rights can only 'strengthen' it.

How so? Why, by obliging the press watchdog to act like a court itself in imposing compensation orders on newspapers according to a privacy law which no democratic parliament has ever enacted!

In one respect, Lord Irvine is not wrong.

He does indeed finger this newly forged legal instrument with an anticipatory hint of menace that would not have been out of place in the notorious Star Chamber of Tudor England. …