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Tag Archives: Leveson inquiry

Cameron sacrifices Jeremy Hunt and the British constitution

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The Jeremy Hunt affair in Britain has shown that the problem with being governed by ex-policy wonks and PR men rather than politicians is that they tend not to be imbued with a sense of the great historical struggle for liberty and a Parliament free and independent from the monarchy that has culminated in placing them in the positions of power they enjoy today. As a result they play fast and loose with the British constitution and let those great freedoms drain away for the sake of political expediency.

Take Article 9 of the Bill of Rights of 1689 for example. It says: “That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.”

What Article 9 emphatically does not say is: “If the prime minister is in a tight spot and needs a bit of breathing space, he can pack his Culture Secretary off down the Road to the Royal Courts of Justice, there to hang him out to dry by having him cross-examined by Queen’s Counsel before one of her majesty’s most learned Lord Justices.”

Any such suggestion would be anathema to Prime Minister David Cameron’s forebears and it took several civil wars and the Glorious Revolution to ensure that, constitutionally, there should never be such a suggestion. Oddly, David Cameron himself  is generally rather opposed to “unaccountable judges” second-guessing the decisions of democratically accountable ministers (as pointed out here). He has made a special exception for Hunt.

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Rebekah Brooks can’t get a fair trial? Tell it to the judge

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It would be enough to make a Sun leader writer’s blood boil. If a gang embarked on illegal activities (allegedly); if it had at the centre of it (allegedly) a heartless flame-haired “criminal-in-chief” (as a former associate put it) allegedly linked (according to a deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police no less) to “a network of corrupted officials” within an alleged “culture of illegal payments”; if this happened and they all got off on the basis of a loophole in the law, think how the Currant Bun would fulminate. You couldn’t make it up!

Unfortunately someone has, let’s say, been somewhat free with the legal actualité, throwing into doubt the chances of former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks (for it is she allegedly*) and her colleagues ever receiving a fair trial for their (alleged) misdemeanours in the (so-called) hacking scandal.

The issue is that there has been “huge, dramatic and sensational” press coverage of the hacking story and particularly of the Leveson inquiry at more or less the same time as police have been stumbling towards the conclusion (one hopes) of their investigations into the matter. Anyone reading that coverage will be seriously prejudiced against Brooks et al. There is no jury in the land that would be able to give them a fair trial. This is the argument of Stephen Parkinson, Brooks’s solicitor

There is, of course, one jury that might have missed the “huge, dramatic and sensational” coverage: one made up from the many millions of good men and true (and women too) who read the Sun, since its coverage has been rather modest, restrained and unsensational. But leaving that aside, given the Leveson inquiry, can Rebekah Brooks get a fair trial?

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Leveson inquiry and privacy law: kiss goodbye to kiss-and-tell

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One assumes that, when the Sun or News of the World reporters were gathering material on the peccadillos of X-Factor contestants, football stars and Formula One bosses, Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights was somewhat distant from their minds. This, after all, is the one that says: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”

So when Lord Justice Leveson during his inquiry into phone-hacking and related matters asked of former News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck: “Did anybody or did you give any thought to the Article 8 rights of the women?” meaning those in the Max Mosley affair, the answer was a little slow in coming but predictable: “There was no discussion about that.

Why would there be? After all, why let Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights get in the way of a good story?

But in fact Mr Thurlbeck showed the concept of privacy law was not wholly alien to him: “I would say the ‘kiss and tell’ story is now largely dead as a genre. In the last three years, we’ve taken great note of privacy matters.” There were now two questions asked of a story:  “That was the second question after ‘is it true’: ‘is it intruding into privacy?’”

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