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Privacy in the UK

Written by Michael J Coyle on 22 December 2003

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Privacy law

It can be  reasonably argued  that over 12 years ago that there was no law of privacy in this country. What little we had in terms of privacy law could be argued to be unreasonable press intrusions and excesses, and this only came in promience particularly in the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana, even then the courts restrained by precedent, could do little in prevent this.

In 1998 everything changed with the introduction of the Human Rights Act which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law, and which included the right to privacy.

Quickly, a number of cases were brought to utilise this right: most noteably  Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones sued over the publication of unauthorised pictures of their wedding; the killers of Jamie Bulger obtained an order protecting their anonymity after their release from prison; and Naomi Campbell succeeded in her privacy action against the Daily Mirror over revelations that she was attending Narcotics Anonymous. Soon the parameters of an effective privacy law emerged.

Two key tests of privacy law

There are two key aspects to this. The most important question a judge will ask is whether  the information in question could be said to be private. Some information concerning individuals are so trivial or so lacking in intimacy that no privacy could be said to attach to it at all. One key issue that has come before court in recent years have been whether photographs of individuals taken in a public place engage a right to privacy. JK Rowling has brought an action against a picture agency over photographs of her young son taken in a public place. Initially the case was struck out on the basis that they were not private. However, this was reversed on appeal and the case is continuing.

The second issue is, where the information is ostensibly private, whether there is a public interest in its dissemination. Here the courts have been keen to draw a distinction between matters which interest the public and matters which are in the public interest. For example it maybe in the public interest to know whether there is a killer in their neighbourhood so they avoid him, however it may interest the public that Simon Cowell enjoys ready break in the morning, but they don’t need necessary need it.

Conclusion

One can categorically say is that we do have privacy law in the UK and it is likely to stay. However it a working progress and is ever changing and is likely to be tested in the future with the growth of celebrity culture.

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