New post on Liberal Conspiracy: How Judge Eady went from press villain to hero

I’ve got a new post up at Liberal Conspiracy, where I ramble speculatively about the way Mr Justice Eady’s decisions on media law seem to be acting in combination against scrutiny at all levels of reporting: the sex scandal, science coverage, and anonymous whistle-blowing:

It’s not unusual for public figures to experience severe reversals of reputation, and the distance between “nation’s sweetheart” and “national disgrace” can be as short as a few column inches. But Mr Justice Eady’s recent rehabilitation in the eyes of the press is a remarkable one – for the swiftness with which some editors have shifted position, and for what it suggests about the future possibilities for scrutiny in the media.

Read the rest here…

Edit: I accidentally gave Eady a peerage, so I’ve fixed that here.

Naming names

Let’s say you’re a senior public official with a critical role in the judicial system. Someone like a judge. And let’s say you did something really, seriously bad – so bad that you were found guilty of misconduct. You know, misconduct in the administration of law and punishment with the power to demolish lives through one bad decision. You’re this person, but no one will ever find out who you are:

[Leader of the presiding three-member tribunal] Marks and his colleagues said that if barristers had known about the behaviour which had led to the reprimand, they would have used the information to try and get an adjournment of hearings or “in some cases an application that the judge in question not hear the particular case.

“This clearly has adverse implications for the public and for the administration of justice generally,” they said.

Marks also said judges could also experience “intrusive” and overblown reporting by the media of their misconduct. This could “cause an undermining of authority generally and thus prejudice any further employment prospects of whatever sort in the wake of a reprimand”, they added.

They were “impressed” by the Ministry of Justice’s argument that judges were entitled to a “reasonable expectation of privacy”.

The Guardian, 15 June 2009

I am going to stick my neck right out here and say that, whatever implications there are in getting a judge with a proven track record of incompetence thrown off of a case, they’re probably good ones as far as justice is concerned. But, you know, reasonable expectation of privacy, people have a job to do, and it’s hardly fair if they get the press all over them every time they slip up, is it?

Oh…

In the first case dealing with the privacy of internet bloggers, the judge ruled that Mr Horton had no “reasonable expectation” to anonymity because “blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity”.

Coming down in favour of freedom of expression, the judge [Mt Justice Eady] also said that even if the blogger could have claimed he had a right to anonymity, the judge would have ruled against him on public interest grounds.

The police officer, the judge said, had argued that he should not be exposed because it could put him at risk of disciplinary action for breaching regulations with his disclosures.

But Mr Justice Eady criticised that argument as “unattractive to say the least”.

He added: “I do not accept that it is part of the court’s function to protect police officers who are, or think they may be, acting in breach of police discipline regulations from coming to the attention of their superiors.”

The judge added that there was “much force in the argument that any wrongdoing by a public servant, save perhaps in trivial circumstances, is a matter which can legitimately be drawn to the attention of the public by journalists. There is a growing trend towards openness and transparency in such matters.”

The Times, 16 June 2009

Keep up, people: judges are private individuals, bloggers are public, judges serve the public, and wrongdoing by public servants needs to be exposed, except when the wrongs are being done by judges, in which case it’s much better if nobody knows who they are. Sorted? Good, because apparently that head-pounding contradiction is the law now.

More on this from 853, Random Acts Of Reality, Chicken Yoghurt, and Anton Vowl.