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Vow to stop un-British ‘drift’ to a privacy law as Dominic Raab eyes overhaul of Human Rights Act

Vow to stop un-British ‘drift’ to a privacy law as Dominic Raab eyes overhaul of Human Rights Act to ‘correct’ freedom of speech imbalance

  • Dominic Raab said he wanted overhaul of Human Rights Act 
  • He wants to include ‘correcting’ the balance between freedom of speech and privacy
  • Legal experts have warned that the Duchess of Sussex’s court case against the Mail’s sister title could have a chilling effect on free speech 
  • Appeal Court ruled last week that Meghan had ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ over letter written to her father Thomas Markle  


Dominic Raab vowed yesterday to stop Britain’s ‘drift’ towards continental-style privacy laws.

The Justice Secretary said he wanted an overhaul of the Human Rights Act to include ‘correcting’ the balance between freedom of speech and privacy.

His comments come after criticism of the result of a legal case between the Duchess of Sussex and The Mail on Sunday.

The Appeal Court ruled last week that Meghan had a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ over a letter written to her estranged father Thomas Markle.

Although the planned changes are not a response to that case, Mr Raab said proposals will be brought forward within weeks to renew the focus on freedom of expression, which is traditionally prioritised in British law over privacy.

Dominic Raab said he wanted an overhaul of the Human Rights Act to include ‘correcting’ the balance between freedom of speech and privacy

‘We’re finalising the consultation on that. We want to overhaul the Human Rights Act,’ he told Times Radio.

‘There’s been lots of discussion in the Sunday papers about free speech and privacy and the judge-made privacy laws that we’ve seen develop in this country over recent years.

The Appeal Court ruled last week that Meghan had a 'reasonable expectation of privacy' over a letter written to her estranged father Thomas Markle

The Appeal Court ruled last week that Meghan had a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ over a letter written to her estranged father Thomas Markle

‘Part of that’s been the EU – the right to be forgotten. Part of it is Strasbourg case law. I think we do in this country have a tradition which emphasises and prioritises free speech and open debate. I think that’s something which is pro-freedom that we’ll look at.’

At present, under the Human Rights Act, judges have to abide by rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France – and Mr Raab said that had contributed to a drift towards a privacy law. He said if such a law is brought in, it should be decided by MPs and not judges on a case-by-case basis.

The Justice Secretary added: ‘The British tradition, if you look back from John Locke, John Stuart Mill to Isaiah Berlin, the politics of this country, we’ve had a heavier emphasis on free speech, transparency, accountability for politicians, for people in positions of influence.

‘We don’t have the continental-style privacy law protections. And I think, if we were going to go down that route, it should have been decided by elected politicians.

‘And I think that’s a good example of the kind of balance that we can strike with our own homegrown approach to this rather than the over reliance on a continental model, which is effectively what the Human Rights Act has left us with.

‘Of course, at the same time, what I want to see is stronger respect for the democratic prerogatives of Parliament to legislate in those areas.’

Mr Raab said the Government wanted to get the balance right, to ensure that people could be protected from paedophiles, scammers and radicalisers.

Legal experts have warned that the Duchess of Sussex's court case against the Mail's sister title could have a chilling effect on free speech (file image)

 Legal experts have warned that the Duchess of Sussex’s court case against the Mail’s sister title could have a chilling effect on free speech (file image)

‘But certainly, I think the drift towards continental-style privacy laws, innovated in the courtroom, not by elected lawmakers in the House of Commons, is something that we can and should correct,’ he said.

Legal experts have warned that the Duchess of Sussex’s court case against the Mail’s sister title could have a chilling effect on free speech.

Downing Street has also hinted at action. Asked whether Boris Johnson believed judges were getting the balance right between privacy and free speech, a Number 10 spokesman told reporters last week: ‘We will study the implications of the judgment carefully. You have heard the Prime Minister say before that a free Press is one of the cornerstones of any democracy, and this Government recognises the vital role that newspapers and the media play in holding people to account and shining a light on the issues which matter.’

Last week Tory MP Damian Green, a member of the Commons culture committee, said: ‘If we want privacy laws, they need to go through Parliament and not be decided on a case-by-case basis in the courts.’ 

Asked whether Boris Johnson believed judges were getting the balance right between privacy and free speech, a Number 10 spokesman told reporters last week: 'We will study the implications of the judgment carefully'

Asked whether Boris Johnson believed judges were getting the balance right between privacy and free speech, a Number 10 spokesman told reporters last week: ‘We will study the implications of the judgment carefully’

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