Select Committee on Constitution Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360 - 371)



  Q360  Lord Peston: And some of the others have to be put before politicians. I am really going back to Lord Woolf's point. I certainly think the judges ought to communicate better, that is not the problem, but they are not in a position to solve problems. If there are problems, they are not the ones who have the solutions to hand, are they? It is the politicians who have the solutions.

  Mr Dacre: Yes, but in the way of the world it is up to the senior members of the judicial trade to make sure this message is communicated to the politicians.

  Q361  Chairman: I would like to go back to your answer to Lord Lyell, if I may, on the Human Rights Act. You have made it pretty plain that you are not a great enthusiast and in some ways you are critical of the Human Rights Act. Forgive my ignorance, but is that an editorial line of the Daily Mail: we do not like the Human Rights Act?

  Mr Dacre: I think it fair to say that over the last 15 years the Daily Mail has been in the Eurosceptic camp of British journalism. Vast areas of British journalism are not in that camp, mainly the BBC. I think it fair to say that we have been very doubtful about the Human Rights Act from even before it was introduced into British legislation. That is our editorial comment line. If you are asking me if that view is reflected by all our columnists, I would have to answer no. Some of them support it, some of them do not. I think it is a bit of a myth that the Daily Mail has a bit of a line that permeates the whole paper.

  Q362  Chairman: We of course would not know exactly how that works, but if a columnist or reporter came up with a warm endorsement of the way in which the Human Rights Act had helped some oppressed minority or individual, would that be spiked? Would it appear in the paper?

  Mr Dacre: A reporter would not come out with that view. A reporter reports; he does not give views. I have referred to the Sweeney case. If you compare that with The Sun's version, it is, as I say, a model of great classical, fair, objective reporting. To put it another way: I employ some of the best columnists in Fleet Street—I say, modestly. But we do. Great minds. Great original minds. A great ability to communicate. I am thinking of one, who it would not be fair to mention, and I would be surprised to learn that he was not a great supporter of the Human rights Act. He has total freedom to express his views, as do all our columnists. If you think I can control some of the very headstrong and independent-minded individuals I have on my columnists' rota, you are living under a misapprehension. You really are. I repeat, in the editorial line and in terms of the leader column, we are consistently against the Human Rights Act.

  Chairman: Thank you for making that clear.

  Q363  Lord Morris of Aberavon: Mr Dacre, I am sure you would agree with the fundamental importance of judicial independence. There is a cry from some for greater accountability of judges. Can they be reconciled or are they compatible?

  Mr Dacre: It is very difficult, is it not? It is very difficult. They certainly should not be accountable to politicians, that is for sure. I think I would go back to what I said before. If the Human Rights Act has placed judges in the position where they are making more and more contentious decisions, decisions that seem to fly in the face of strongly held views of politicians, of the populace at large, then I think the demands for judges to be accountable is going to grow. As to whether that is a healthy thing or not, I suspect it is not. I repeat, judges have been put in that position, which I think is undesirable.

  Q364  Lord Lyell of Markyate: Perhaps some of the judges' decisions on terrorism may have been criticised by your paper, I am not sure, but if the Government of this country passed laws which locked people up without trial for indefinite periods I would expect the Daily Mail to speak up against it.

  Mr Dacre: I can send them to you. I think we have written a lot of leaders supporting the judiciary and the independence of the judiciary. I passionately believe the free press needs a strong judiciary, I really do. I do worry that the press are not quite getting the support from the judiciary it deserves at the moment. I am sorry, could you repeat your question.

  Q365  Lord Lyell of Markyate: If you take the people who were locked up in Belmarsh for three years without ever being brought to trial and the judges said it would not do—

  Mr Dacre: The Daily Mail did support the judiciary on this and we have been on the side of civil liberties in this. I do fear that the more terrorist bombs which go off, the more these civil liberties are going to be under huge threat. We have not been supportive of judges where they have seemed to take perverse decisions over immigration, asylum, sham weddings and things like that. We have been critical of those. But successive Home Secretaries have tried to get hold of this shambles and at every turn have been overturned by the judges. My own view, for what it is worth—and it is probably worth very little—is that judges make wonderful decisions in isolation, which are intellectually very pure, but they do not have the mindset, because they do not have the knowledge of how ordinary people think, to place them in the large context of national security, immigration and things like that. I do not know what the answer is there but I make it as an observation.

  Q366  Lord Goodlad: Do you think the judges ought to respond to public opinion on that rather than apply the law as it is?

  Mr Dacre: No, obviously not. If judges can keep making decisions that fly in the face of what most people perceive as common sense and common justice then they threaten the justice process itself because people do not trust it.

  Baroness O'Cathain: That is for the politicians.

  Q367  Lord Goodlad: Is that not more for the politicians?

  Mr Dacre: We keep going back to Human Rights. You are making judgments that we feel and a lot of people feel are political.

  Q368  Lord Goodlad: When you say the press are not getting the support of the judiciary, could you give the Committee one or two examples of that?

  Mr Dacre: I think I have already referred to the development and emergence of this judge-driven privacy law. I do not want to go into specifics, but we were simply astonished at the judgment recently which denied a man whose wife had committed adultery with another public figure the right to speak about that. That seemed shattering to me and everything I have understood about newspapers. Injunctions are being handed out with greater and greater frequency, as we have seen over the last few days—a very unedifying spectacle, if I may say. Rightly or wrongly, we feel that one or two judges are very anti-press. Very anti-press. They do not understand newspapers. They do not like newspapers. They do not like popular newspapers, in particular, and they do not quite realise that, in their dislike of popular newspapers, their disdain of popular newspapers, they are disdaining millions of people who read those newspapers. I am afraid that is a feeling very prevalently held by several editors.

  Q369  Lord Lyell of Markyate: I share your view about that judgment but it is worth recording that it was overturned on appeal.

  Mr Dacre: No, I do not think it has been.

  Q370  Lord Lyell of Markyate: It has.

  Mr Dacre: I do apologise.[1]

  Q371  Chairman: Thinking of your last remarks, could it be that the judiciary, rather like Corporal Jones, "don't like it up 'em"?

  Mr Dacre: You said it, sir. I think they like dishing it but not taking it, but that is true of a lot of people. I retract that comment—I really do. One of the things I was going to suggest is that there should be, maybe in the form of forums, opportunities where senior editors and senior members of the judiciary can cross-fertilise their views. Indeed, there have been, on an informal basis, one or two very useful dinners on that basis. I do think judges—and this sounds a little patronising—do need to be a little less sensitive about the media, a little less defensive, maybe a little more magisterial and Olympian and not worry so much about the hurly-burly and cut and thrust of her Majesty's red-tops.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. You have been very generous with your time, and, like every good journalist, you have sensed, I am sure, the blood pressure and adrenalin levels of your audience rising considerably.

1   Mr Dacre was referring to CC v AB [2006] EWHC 3083; [2007] Entertainment & Media Law Reports 11. Lord llyell of Markyate was referring to a different judgement, AVB plc [2003] QB 195. Back

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