Excellent speech by Eady J

I know I am starting to sound like Mr Justice Eady’s biggest fan (just to be clear, I don’t know him at all whether professionally or personally).  But this really is a very good speech.  You’ll find it on Index on Censorship’s site here.  IoC are, in my opinion, less than clear about the true position of English libel law in their campaign, but all credit to them for publishing detailed, knowledgeable, accurate commentary such as this – which does make absolutely clear that things are nowhere near as black and white as the libel reform campaign presents them.

Eady J is discussing in this speech the problem of how you reform libel and (in particular) privacy law should you want to do it.  He is explaining why it is more complicated than simply pointing to unmeritorious libel or privacy actions and shouting that this ought not to be allowed.  It is really my point made in previous posts that you cannot legislate for individuals.  You have to legislate by making general statements of principle, which are in principle fair to both sides.  This is because you cannot tell in advance who is going to be in the right.

There is saying among lawyers:  hard cases make bad law.  This is a neat version of saying the same thing.  Take (as my first pupilmaster used to say) a silly example.  It is obviously a terrible thing that some paedophiles reoffend when released from prison.  But this doesn’t mean that we should introduce capital punishment for paedophilia.  A reoffending paedophile is a hard case.  Capital punishment is a bad law.*

Eady J also refers to an interesting report (by two journalists) about the chilling effect or otherwise on journalism of the current privacy laws.  I have copied his link here (you have to register on the site but the report is free).

In summary:  coming soon to a blog near you, I ♥ Eady J t-shirts.

*Unless you are the Sun newspaper, obviously.  I don’t know whether this page is more sickening for its violence or for its spelling.

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6 Responses

  1. Can I have a ” I ♥ Eady” t-shirt, but limited to privacy law?

  2. […] On 10 March 2010 Mr Justice Eady delivered the inaugural lecture for the new City University Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism under the title “Protecting Free Speech in the Context of the European Convention on Human Rights”, see our post on the lecture here.  The You Tube footage of part of the question and answer session is here.  A copy of the speech is now available here on the “Judiciary” website.  There is an interesting post about this lecture on “Two Cultures” blog under the headline “Excellent Speech by Eady J”. […]

  3. @ Alex Thank you – v interesting. And report agrees with me, so obv must be right. But seriously, it is particularly interesting that the LSE also think that the current campaign is based on inaccurate statements as to what the current libel laws are, so that the debate is skewed.

  4. @ Prateek It is true that a lot of people in the UK complain about libel tourism, but they are only repeating what the Americans say – there is no actual evidence that libel tourism exists in this country to any material degree – see previous posts (NB that references to individual cases do not prove this – this is evidence by anecdote only, like the alt med people do).

    He doesn’t mix up libel tourism with libel terrorism. The Americans are calling their anti-libel tourism bill the Libel Terrorism Bill. Nothing like an understatement, is there?

    Lastly re our libel laws being more oppressive than other EU countries – not so. Long, detailed, anal post coming up on this point.

  5. You may be interested in this report by the LSE, if you haven’t already seen it:

    http://www2.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/news/archives/2010/01/libellaw.aspx

  6. Interesting, but perhaps a rather generous interpretation of Eady’s words.

    He says,’ the complaints about libel tourism come entirely from the Americans and are based upon a belief that the whole world should share their view…’ which is patently untrue – much has been written by British commentators and others about the phenomenon of libel tourism (which at one point Eady mixes up with ‘libel terrorism’).

    For me, Eady makes solid arguments in favour of some libel legislation (i.e. for not abolishing libel altogether, which nobody is really arguing for), but in blaming Strasbourg for our ‘uncertain’ laws strikes me as somewhat off the mark, given that no other country under the EU’s jurisdiction has such oppressive libel laws. He fails in my view to make the case for not reforming the libel laws to permit the free exchange of ideas and information without fear of persecution – the freedoms so undermined in cases such as Singh vs. BCA and so on.

    Having said that his remarks on privacy (a separate issue) appear to me to be more sensible – but then, *I am not a lawyer* 🙂

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