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Angus McBride calls privacy laws campaign 'misleading'

Original Source: GUARDIAN: 16 MAY 2011
Nick Hopkins
Monday 16 May 2011 23.14 BST

Leading criminal defence lawyer says media has not 'earned the right to unfettered freedom of expression' 

Angus McBride questioned whether the media had any right to vilify John Terry over an alleged relationship. Photograph: Tom Jenkins


One of the country's leading criminal defence lawyers has accused sections of the media of waging a "misleading and self-interested" campaign over the UK's privacy laws, and questioned whether there is any public interest in exposing the private lives of footballers and celebrities.

Angus McBride, whose clients have included Kate and Gerry McCann and the England football captain, John Terry, says that he does not believe that the media in this country has "earned the right to unfettered freedom of expression".

Drawing on his own experiences working for the McCann family in the months after Madeleine was abducted, he recalls visiting a number of Fleet Street editors to ask them to show restraint in their reporting, particularly over some of the wilder uncorroborated claims that were being circulated by the Portuguese press.

"It is fair to say that a number of the editors listened carefully and their subsequent reporting reflected ' the fact that they understood that to report the allegations would be immoral, scurrilous and damaging to the efforts of many to find Madeleine McCann," says McBride, a partner in the firm Kingsley Napley.

"Others, however, listened coldly and made it quite clear that commercial pressures trumped completely the rights of these two tragic parents and their daughter.

"I was told this 'whodunnit' mystery was one of the biggest stories in many years ' and that the truth of what had taken place was not going to get in the way of that line of reporting because that is what the public wanted as evidenced by the increase in sales.

"Bile-infested internet comment on the McCanns was fuelled by this early reporting and continues to this day."

He also questions whether the media had any right to vilify Chelsea defender Terry over an alleged relationship with a friend's wife. It was, he says, "no one's business".

McBride, who still acts for a number of Premiership players, has spoken out as the debate over the state of the UK's privacy laws has intensified in recent weeks.

There has been widespread criticism of the use of superinjunctions, which prevent the press from reporting details of the private lives of a number of public figures.

Judges have been criticised for granting the injunctions, and the laws they have interpreted have been condemned too.

The courts have been additionally ridiculed because social media tools such as Twitter have attempted to get round the orders by publishing details of the parties involved. Some of those details have been incorrect.

The prime minister, David Cameron, admitted that the use of superinjunctions made him feel uneasy, and has hinted that parliament needed to give the courts better guidance on the issue.

"The law is a complete mess in this area," Lord Inglewood, the chairman of the Lords Communications Committee, said last week.

McBride says, however, that the press campaign against privacy laws "is a campaign for power without responsibility, and to publish on the basis that the public interest is what the public are interested in. If the campaign succeeds then all our lives are fair game."

He said that last week some papers complained vociferously at the use of superinjunctions by celebrities, while at the same time publishing papparazi photos of Kate and Pippa Middleton, taken without their consent several years ago while they were on holiday.

Angus McBride

Courts, he argues, have used the European Convention on Human Rights to reach "the sensible conclusion that a breach of an individual's right to privacy by publication of private information is acceptable where there is a public interest. It is difficult to argue that this is not a good test."

He adds: "Is there really a public interest in the private lives of footballers or entertainers'"

A more pressing issue is that ordinary members of the public cannot afford to go to court to seek protection, and that legal aid "should be available to those without the means to hire expensive lawyers".


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