UK Politics

Human Rights Act 'may need amending' in privacy row

Houses of Parliament
Image caption The joint committee will consider the balance between privacy and freedom of expression

The Human Rights Act may need to be amended to resolve the conflict between privacy and freedom of speech in UK law, a senior MP has said.

John Whittingdale said the section on freedom of expression may need to be "strengthened" after the controversy over super-injunctions.

The culture committee chairman is to help set up a committee of MPs and peers to look into privacy issues.

On Tuesday an MP named the footballer at the centre of a privacy row.

The row over court privacy rulings has come to a head in the past few days - as politicians used parliamentary privilege to name Ryan Giggs as the footballer at the centre of one injunction, and to reveal details of another injunction concerning former RBS boss Sir Fred Goodwin.


But the High Court has rejected attempts to overturn the injunction concerning Ryan Giggs - despite his name being published following MP John Hemming's intervention in Parliament.

Prime Minister David Cameron said privacy rulings affecting newspapers were "unsustainable" and unfair on the press and the law had to "catch up with how people consume media today".

He has written to Mr Whittingdale and the chairman of the justice select committee, Lib Dem MP Sir Alan Beith, to ask them to suggest members for a new joint committee of MPs and peers, to consider the issue more carefully.

Mr Whittingdale told the BBC that the remit and membership of the committee had not yet been decided upon.

But he said: "I think probably the challenge goes further than simply tweaking - it may be that we need to look at the way in which the Human Rights Act is working and amend that."

The Human Rights Act introduced into UK law the principles of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.

'Very difficult'

Mr Whittingdale said section 12, covering freedom of expression, "was put in by Parliament to deal with the question of injunctions on privacy grounds".

"It was that which Parliament used to steer the courts to say that freedom of expression should carry a greater weight.

"I think there is a lot of concern that courts are not taking due regard of that, it may be that we need to strengthen Section 12, it might be that we need to amend the Human Rights Act."

While there were "very difficult issues" involved, he added: "That's an option which will need to be considered."

Both politicians who used parliamentary privilege to reveal details of court injunctions were Liberal Democrats - John Hemming MP and Lord Stoneham.

Asked under what circumstances "parliamentarians should be above the rule of law" in the Commons on Tuesday, party leader Nick Clegg told MPs: "I don't think anyone should be above the rule of law, if we don't like the law in this place then we should act as legislators to change the law, not flout it."

Attorney General Dominic Grieve told MPs on Monday that the committee would consider the current balance between privacy and freedom of expression - and examine "how the law can be improved in this area".

He added that while "any change in the law is a matter for Parliament" - interpreting the law was the responsibility of judges - and it was possible to have legislative changes without "a full blown privacy law".

Conservative backbencher Bill Cash suggested that the problem had been that Parliament had not repealed the Human Rights Act - the Conservative manifesto had promised to replace it with a UK Bill of Rights but the coalition instead agreed to establish a commission to look into the issue.

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