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.