Max Mosley loses European court privacy law bid

Max Mosley: "The effect on my family was considerable and a very unpleasant thing to happen"

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Ex-motorsports boss Max Mosley has lost his European Court of Human Rights bid to force newspapers to warn people before exposing their private lives.

He said the Strasbourg verdict was "disappointing" but he may appeal, to keep fighting for tighter privacy laws.

In 2008, the UK High Court awarded him £60,000 damages after ruling the News of the World invaded his right to privacy by reporting on his sex life.

Victory might have led to new privacy laws, which press bosses oppose.

Mr Mosley, 71, said of the judgement: "[I'm] obviously disappointed, but it's satisfying that they've been extremely critical of the News of the World.

"I think they've underestimated the danger from the UK tabloids but obviously they're the judges and one has to respect their decision."

Super-injunctions

Mr Mosley won his 2008 High Court battle after a judge ruled there was no justification for the News of the World's front-page article about him paying five women to take part in a sado-masochistic orgy.

The tabloid reported that the orgy involving Mr Mosley, the son of fascist leader Oswald Mosley, had Nazi overtones, but this was rejected by the judge.

Although he was awarded £60,000 damages, everyone had learned the details of his sexual preferences, and he argued money alone could not restore his reputation.

He said once a story had been published, you could not "un-publish" it, and the damage had been done.

The former president of the International Automobile Federation took his case to the Human Rights Court, challenging UK laws which allow publication without giving targets advanced warning.

Analysis

The court clearly had some sympathy for Mr Mosley's individual case, but said it had to look more broadly and assess the balance between an individual's right to privacy and the media's right to freedom of expression under the UK's legal system.

The UK, along with other contracting states, has a "margin of appreciation" - ie some leeway in the way it protects people's right to privacy.

Taking that into account, the court found that the mix of rights and remedies available to people in the UK - which includes actions for damages, injunctions when the person knows of an imminent story, and regulation of the press through the Press Complaints Commission - sufficiently protected their privacy.

It also feared that a general requirement of prior notification risked having a chilling effect on serious investigative journalism.

He said he had not been made aware of the paper's intention to publish, so never had the chance to apply for an injunction to stop the story.

"This is just about whether the newspapers should have the right to publicise very private aspects of people's lives which there's no public interest in at all - it's just purely for titillation and to sell newspapers," he told the BBC.

Judges in Strasbourg agreed that the publication resulted in "a flagrant and unjustified invasion" of Mosley's private life.

But they ruled that, under the European Convention on Human Rights, the media was not required to give prior notice.

They said in the UK the right to a private life was already protected by self-regulation of the press, access to civil courts to seek damages, and interim injunctions where applicable.

And they said newspapers and reporters already sufficiently understood when publication could infringe the right to respect for private life.

Start Quote

Any pre-notification requirement would only be as strong as the sanctions imposed for failing to observe it”

End Quote European Court of Human Rights ruling

They said if pre-notification was to be made law, it would have to allow for an exception when public interest was at stake.

"Thus, a newspaper could opt not to notify an individual if it believed that it could subsequently defend its decision on the basis of the public interest in the information published," the ruling stated.

The judges said given that the News of the World believed the Nazi overtones reported in their story on Mr Mosley were of public interest, the paper could have chosen not to tell him even if pre-notification had been required by law.

Newspapers could also opt to pay a fine instead of notifying people, if pre-notification became law.

"Any pre-notification requirement would only be as strong as the sanctions imposed for failing to observe it," the ruling stated.

But the judges did acknowledge that the private lives of public figures had become a "highly lucrative commodity" for certain sectors of the media, more for "entertainment than education".

Newspaper bosses say imposing "pre-publication notification" to toughen the "right to private life" would have breached the "right to freedom of expression".

Bob Satchwell, a former News of the World assistant editor and the executive director of the Society of Editors, said a victory for Mr Mosley would have led to "fundamental" changes in laws "accepted across the free world".

'Expensive lawyers'

The chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, Lady Buscombe, said it would be a "diminution of our democracy, never mind our freedom of expression" if injunctions could be gained every time somebody sought to block a story.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "We are pleased with the judgement in this case and believe the court has made the right decision.

"The government recognises the importance of finding the right balance between individual rights to privacy on the one hand, with rights to freedom of expression and transparency of official information on the other."

But publicity agent Max Clifford said a victory for Mr Mosley and a change in the law would have protected people unable to afford to challenge false media reports.

He said: "Ordinary members of the public can't afford to take on expensive lawyers so they've got no protection whatsoever.

"I don't agree with super-injunctions, but the reality of it is there are so many things that come out about so many people, including Max Mosley, which are very, very damaging and totally untrue."

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