LAW IN ACTION
BBC Radio 4's Law In Action
Tuesday 17 February 1600 GMT
On Radio 4 and online
Privacy - who has a right to it and in what circumstances - has become one of the most contentious legal issues of our times.
In an in-depth interview with Law In Action, Max Mosley - Formula 1 supremo - talks about his determination to see a radical overhaul of privacy laws in the UK.
The editor of Private Eye, Ian Hislop, is appalled, and tells Clive Coleman this is very bad news for journalism.
Last July Mr Mosley won a legal action against the News of the World newspaper over claims he took part in an orgy that had Nazi overtones.
At the moment you have a tabloid 'judge' taking the decision as to whether he's going to ruin someone's life
The court found no evidence of a Nazi theme, and ruled that Mr Mosley's privacy had been breached. He was awarded £60,000 in damages.
But Max Mosley's fight to clear his name has not ended there. There are on-going cases in a number of European countries where the story was published.
The law, as everyone expected, supported him. He won. He now wants to change the law to make it more punitive
And crucially, the Formula 1 boss is taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights.
In Strasbourg, he is asking the court to rule on 'prior notification'. This would mean that in a case like Mr Mosley's, journalists would be obliged to approach the subject of any investigation ahead of publication and inform them of the details of any allegations.
The subject would then be able to apply for a legal injunction to stop publication. Max Mosley wants journalists who publish without giving prior notification to face prison.
If the European court rules in favour of Mr Mosley, the British government could be obliged to implement the ruling in the UK.
In my experience there may well be stories where 5 years ago they may have gone and published and now they're thinking 'Well - I'm not so sure'
So does Max Mosley's quest represent a long-overdue reform of the UK's privacy laws? Or is this a potentially devastating attack on the freedom of the press?
Ian Hislop is unequivocal about where he stands on the issue.
"Bad law is always advanced by cases like Mosley's that seem on the surface to have some merit", he says. "But it would then be extended to people who don't have any merit, and want to cover up what they're doing."
Law In Action also hears from media lawyer, Amali de Silva, who believes parliament may well be forced to legislate if Mr Mosley wins in Strasbourg.
Ian Hislop, the saviour; the defender of other people's morals; the hyprocite; the prude. I've just lost any respect for Mr Hislop.
Why should we not do anything we like however weird so long as it does no harm to any other person? Why should I not drink myself senseless every night? ( I live alone). Take it a stage further, why should I not smoke crack every night? Which other fellow citizen am I hurting? Take it yet a stage further. Why should I not steal a pack of "Post It" notes from my employer ? Show me the fellow citizen who suffers from my action!
Freedom of the press vs privacy of the individual. What is best for the community? Society has moved on.....The former is now on a losing wicket.
Just spent thirty minutes listening to Max Mosley not only trying to justify his filthy activities but attempting to "muzzle" the press. If we adopt Mosley's ideas then right is wrong and wrong is right. 1984 Orwellian "newspeak" will have arrived.
Dr John Livingston
It was wonderful to hear Max Mosley speak today on the show. BDSM people are sick of being demonised in the press just because of their sexuality. Many others have lost jobs and homes because of the undeserved prejudice which is spread by many publications. It's about time someone did something about it.
I have to disagree with Max Mosley that the general public (e.g. the unpaid dominatrix schoolteacher) will be protected if he wins his case regarding prior notification. I expect the press will merely doorstep the individual concerned, put the story to them, and invite comment. The journalist will then consider he has complied with the requirement to notify the subject of an article. The big problem with all such things is that the subject needs to a) know enough about the law to know what to do next and b) know a solicitor who can act quickly and c) pay the solicitor. Sadly, these hurdles are very high for the average person.
The freedom of the press matters because it allows people in power to be held to account. But the media, and members of it in decision-making positions, have enormous power: the power to decide public policy by influencing popular opinion and hence influencing the political process, and the power to ruin people's reputations and/or livelihoods overnight. Who holds the media to account? There is nowhere near enough scrutiny of news journalism and, as Max Mosley points out, you only have even a hope of redress if you are rich.
Contact the programme
If you have thoughts on any of the topics we've covered, or any other legal issues, you can contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by post at Law In Action, BBC White City, Wood Lane, London W12 7TS.
Law In Action is broadcast on Tuesday 17 February 2009 at 1600 GMT on BBC Radio 4.