Paul Dacre accused Mr Justice Eady of eroding newspapers' freedom
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.
Former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer said the judge did the right thing.
The paper had correctly reported that Mr Mosley, the head of world motorsport's governing body, had taken part in a sado-masochistic sex session with five prostitutes, but falsely claimed that it had had a Nazi theme.
Mr Justice Eady ruled in July that the paper had breached Mr Mosley's privacy, saying he could expect privacy for consensual "sexual activities (albeit unconventional)".
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.
It is the others I care about - the crooks, the liars, the cheats, the rich and the corrupt sheltering behind a law of privacy being created by an unaccountable judge
"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."
Mr Dacre said this had huge implications for newspapers and for society.
Public shaming had always been a vital element in defending the parameters of what are considered acceptable standards of social behaviour, he said.
Without the freedom to write about scandal, newspaper sales would fall, creating "worrying implications" for the democratic process, he said.
"Now, some revile a moralising media. Others, such as myself, believe it is the duty of the media to take an ethical stand.
"Either way, it is a choice but Justice Eady - with his awesome powers - has taken away our freedom of expression to make that choice."
Mr Justice Eady, a specialist in defamation and libel, has presided over a number of high-profile newspaper cases.
In 2003 he awarded John Cleese £13,500 after the London Evening Standard wrote a disparaging story about the comedian's move to the United States.
In 2005 he ruled that parts of a book written about the singer Loreena McKennit had to be removed because author Niema Ash, her former best friend, had breached a duty of confidence.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Lord Falconer defended Mr Justice Eady's role.
He said it was not necessarily acceptable for public figures to have aspects of their private lives, such as abortions and other medical treatments, reported in the newspapers.
"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, then 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."
He stressed that the Human Rights Act had been introduced and debated by elected MPs and Mr Justice Eady had interpreted the parliamentary legislation correctly.
However, Graham Dudman, managing editor of The Sun, said: "The issue here is that Justice Eady is unelected and unaccountable.
"Parliament has not made these decisions, one man has."
A spokesman for Gordon Brown said the prime minister viewed Mr Dacre's speech as "an interesting and useful contribution to the debate".
The spokesman said the ruling had been made by an independent judge.
But he added: "There is a balance that needs to be struck between the right to privacy and the right to expression."
The Judicial Communications Office, which assists senior judges with their roles, said: "Judges determine privacy cases in accordance with the law, and the particular evidence presented by both parties.
"Any High Court judgment can be appealed to the Court of Appeal."
Mr Dacre, who has a reputation for avoiding publicity, also turned his attention to the BBC, saying "we are witnessing the seemingly inexorable growth of what is effectively a dominant state-sponsored news service".
He accused the corporation of seeing off rival TV stations, crippling commercial radio and "distorting the free market for internet newspapers".
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