Right to Privacy versus Free Speech and Democracy

In another blow to free speech from the office of the UK Information Commissioner and the courts, we have been forbidden from knowing the names of two Bolton councillors (one Labour and one Conservative) who have not paid their council tax. 

The council sought to conceal the identities of the councillors on data protection grounds and their case was supported by the Information Commissioner. This has been upheld by a tribunal headed by Robin Callender Smith which ruled that the circumstances of their cases 'placed the individuals in a position where they could significantly and legitimately have expected not to be named' and added that “Such publication would be contrary to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.'

This is a serious blow not only to freedom of speech but also to democracy. Who would knowingly vote for a councillor who does not pay his council tax? And yet the electors of Bolton are not allowed to know who they are and cannot, therefore, exercise their democratic right to  remove them from office at the next election. And all this is done in the name of Human Rights. Surely we have a right to informed democracy?

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Dumb and Dumber: the Law of Unintended Consequences

British politicians tend to get worked up about the European Court of Human Rights, and not without reason as it seems to prevent the UK from deporting terrorists, rapists, paedophiles and others because it would infringe on their human rights. Somehow, it never seems to prevent other countries doing the same thing.

However, less attention is given to the European Court of Justice. If the European Court of Human Rights is dumb (and, according the the recently retired Lord Chief Justice, has exceeded its powers and at least one other judge agrees), the European Court of Justice is dumber. The witless office-holders of this intellectually and morally bankrupt organisation have issued a series of judgements which have demonstrated an inability to foresee the consequences of their decisions.

In March 2011, in the Test-Achats case, the ECJ determined that gender-based pricing of annuities was illegal. Because, on average, women live longer than men, men had previously got a rather better annuity than women. Very nice for women, but does it really make sense? On the other hand, the ECJ has also decreed that gender-discrimination is also unacceptable in the insurance industry. Women are safer drivers than men (sorry, guys, it's a fact) so they used to get cheaper insurance. Not any longer, thanks to the ECJ.

The most worrying case I know about is the recent decision by the ECJ to allow individuals to seek the removal of search engine results to pages which embarrass them under a 'right to be forgotten' rule. Google and others are supposed to self-regulate this law, which is possibly the most worrying aspect. Not only does  the law apply to non-libelous statements, but decisions are made behind closed doors. The person whose web page is not longer searchable in the EU does not know why this has happened, has no representation and no way to appeal the decision – except, I suppose, by going to the ECJ! Robert Peston, the respected BBC journalist has recently fallen foul of this ruling as is reported on the BBC website. This is a sinister and pernicious piece of law-making which destroys freedom of speech at one stroke. Many fraudsters, sex offenders, despots and thugs will now be able to sleep easy in their beds.

The Dangers of an Encounter with Danckwerts

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Do We Need Legislation to Regulate the Press?

I have every sympathy with victims of newspaper snooping but do we, as Lord Justice Leveson, J. K. Rowling and others argue, need new legislation to prevent it?

I don't think so. The methods used by the press to which Ms Rowling and others object are largely illegal anyway. Intercepting telephone message, bribing policemen and accessing medical records, to mention just three of the nefarious activities of the Grub Street can and should be punished under existing laws. It is not the laws which are at fault but the exercise of them which has been deficient, largely, one suspects, because too many police officers had their hands in the till. It is essential that all the culprits should be pursued relentlessly.

Any new legislation which handed greater power over the press to politicians or lawyers should worry anyone who is concerned for free flow of information and greater transparency. I don't often agree with David Cameron but in this case I think he is right and his critics are wrong.

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PFI Disaster

Some of us have been warning for years that Public Finance Initiative was little more than a tawdry confidence trick perpetrated on the taxpayer. We have now seen the South London Healthcare NHS Trust go into administration, quite clearly as a result of entering into 2 PFI deals which are costing it £61m p.a. in interest.

It is really time that an offence of recklessly wasting public funds was introduced, allowing politicians, civil servants and administrators in the public sector to face fines, imprisonment and exclusion from office.


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