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

There were several difficulties with the tort of privacy. One of the difficulties was that it was very easy to portray a tort of privacy as being a piece of legislation that favoured people who were relatively well off and relatively well organised but without complete access to legal aid for everyone would not be available to be used by the vast majority of people.

So it was -- in the words one of my private secretaries put to me, it could be portrayed as being a piece of legislation for you and your pals but not for the public as a whole, and that was a real concern that we were very wary of with the tort of privacy.

The other point about the tort of privacy that became apparent in the deliberations of the Cabinet subcommittee was that there was a very substantial philosophical difference within the Conservative Party, within ministers, as to the desirability of a tort of privacy. Some thought it would be very difficult to frame and might only be unfairly framed, and that would be unfair on the media. Others thought it would provoke such hostility that it would dwarf everything else that the government were doing. To that extent, some of them were very wary. Others were simply philosophically unsure that it was the right time and right place to actually go down that route. So people fell into quite different groups about the tort. There were several different reasons why people were opposed to it.

Curiously, some of the lawyers were much more attracted to a tort of privacy than to the criminal offences. Our information was that the press were not relaxed but not very concerned about the risk of the criminal offences for things like intrusion, but they were very concerned about the tort of privacy, presumably because it could bring a huge raft of civil actions against them on a regular basis.

I asked the then Secretary of State why he felt that the press weren't very concerned about the criminal clauses and he said that was what they had told him in discussion. I don't suggest they were enthusiastic; I suggest that there wasn't a last-ditch determination by the media to have fought against that.

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