12 July 2011
2011 may be remembered as the year of Article 8. The public may not realise it, but the two major news stories of this year have had at their core the 8th article of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to privacy and family life. And without this controversial law, the phone-hacking scandal may never have been exposed.
First came the super-injunctions scandal, in which the public, egged on by the popular press, became enraged at sportsmen using expensive privacy injunctions to keep details of their alleged bad behaviour out of the news. That scandal has now been replaced by a much bigger one, relating to illegal phone hacking. The affair has already led to the demise of the News of the World.
As the human rights organisation Liberty have pointed out, the newspaper was never a fan of New Labour’s Human Rights Act. Amongst other things, it fought an expensive and partially successful privacy battle against Max Mosley over claims that he slept with prostitutes in a “sick Nazi orgy“. It has always been suspected that the tabloid press’s almost universal antipathy towards the 1998 Act, which in theory at least should be popular as it protects citizens against nasty state intrusion, was inspired by the fear that the privacy rights it bolstered, despite the competing right to freedom of expression, would prevent them doing their jobs. And now, with some irony, it is a tabloid newspaper and not a public authority which may represent the 1998 Act’s most high-profile scalp.