The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

Yes, I think -- and this was in response to a question that Lord Justice Leveson set before the Christmas break. He asked: should it be a complete or partial defence? I'm being quite specific: it should be a partial defence. It's not an absolute get-out-of-jail card. You can't simply wave the public interest card and that's end of story.

I think, as I say in the submission, the nature of the public interest defence will be different in different areas of law. I'm not convinced that you can have a blanket public interest exemption. But I think if you begin from the starting point that the public interest is something along the lines of a publication that actually enhances the ability of the public, in whole or in part, to play a part in the life of their society, to understand their society -- and that may be slightly different from the PCC code, for instance. I'm not convinced about -- that simply the revelation of hypocrisy is a sufficient definition of "public interest". That seems to open the door to a whole swathe of publications which don't in any way contribute to that public interest in the outcome of a story. The public may be interested as observers, but they don't have an interest in that more narrow sense.

So I think it is possible to define the public interest. I think what you then have to look at in some cases is the good faith of the journalist and whether they acted with the public interest whole-heartedly in mind or are using it as an excuse for something.

I think the nature of public interest in, for instance, a libel publication is very different from the nature of public interest in, for instance, a breach of the Official Secrets Act. It may not be enough for someone to breach the Official Secrets Act in good faith. Their faith may be very, very, very faulty. You may want an objective test. The court may want to come to a decision whether or not it was in the public interest for that particular revelation to come out, but I think in different areas of law such as libel, it may be what's called a subjective test, where the court simply needs to be persuaded that the journalist or other publisher acted really with a conviction that it was in the public interest for that publication to be made. But I think it has to be a narrow definition, and on the basis that it's a defence against, as I said before, a real tort, that real harm has to have been shown.

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