Lord Lester today urged the newly-formed joint committee on the draft defamation bill not to try to tackle a privacy law within the legislation.
Giving oral evidence before the committee, where he praised the government’s draft bill, he said he was “not enthusiastic” about privacy law.
The one thing I would say to this committee is that if you want to kill defamation law reform you will start by going into privacy and saying that needs to be tackled in the same bill. Because I promise you the plan to have an actual bill come out next May and be enacted next year will not happen if you get involved in the thickets of privacy at the same time.
In a following discussion on the power to make decisions on a day-to-day basis on what becomes public knowledge, he added that he “strongly believed” in self-regulation.
That is why I continue notwithstanding in the Ministry of Justice’s draft that having regard to adherence to professional codes needs to be written into the responsible journalism defence to emphasise that the judgements are for the editor or reporter, not for the court … Judges are not editors, reporters and are not competent to act in place of editors and reporters.
The law therefore needs to encourage self regulation. The Press Complaints Commission needs to be able to give effective remedies to keep the courts away.
Ultimately I think that a free press is obviously essential to democracy and the judgements have to be made by the profession … you will notice that in all the fuss about injunctions, super injunctions and privacy, that is a fuss which is made very often by newspapers that earn a living by trading in publishing private information to the public and good luck to them, but if you take a newspaper which does serious investigative reporting … if you are a responsible profession and you then take advantage for example of my Reynolds defence you’ll be able to tackle that.