Posted by: secretperson | November 10, 2008

Judges, Government and the Media

A quick tour of three stories I read today, starting with a Telegraph opinion piece from Phillip Johnston attacking the Human Rights Act. He concludes that, rather than enforcing human rights which were already long recognised in this country, it has empowered criminals and reduced our ability to deport foreign criminals and punish appropriately our own. From the piece is one telling quote from Lord McCluskey as the bill was being passed:

By incorporating into our domestic law vague, imprecise and high-sounding statements of legal rights, we hand what is truly legislative power away from a democratic and accountable Parliament to an appointed, unelected and unaccountable judiciary.

The “unelected and unaccountable judiciary” theme is taken up by Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre who complains about a privacy law being introduced by the back door following the Max Mosley case. The decision of a judge, rather than parliament has set the standard, Dacre claims, and will in effect stop mass circulation newspapers reporting on scandals. I am torn on the issue of a privacy law, balancing a free press which is essential for holding government to account, with the freedom of individuals to avoid harrassment. But I can definitely agree that these issues are those for parliament as law-maker rather than the judiciary who interpret and apply the already made law.

And further on the subject of a free press, there are reports that new national security censorship laws could be introduced. A voluntary code already exists, which seems to me to work well, but there are calls from the Intelligence and Security Committee, a cross-party group reporting to the Prime Minister, to make these voluntary arrangements complusory and legally binding.

While I believe national security is one of the most important things governments can do, and one of the few things governments should do, I see no problems with the current approach. There seems more risk in giving the government more power to define stories as banned ‘in the interests of national security’ than the current arrangement in which the media act as a check and balance on the arbitrary excise of censorship. If the government is being reasonable in asking for things not to be published the media will on the whole agree, but would, I hope risk the anger of the government if they judged a story to be under attack in the government’s and not the nations’ interest.

We seem to be giving more power away without there really being a problem to solve, and it is a risky approach.

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