Tuesday 23 May 2017

Ruling a balance of contrasting rights

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

FREEDOM of expression and the right to privacy are crucial rights enshrined in the Irish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Yesterday's dismissal by High Court President Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns of former musician Ruth Hickey's defamation and breach of privacy action against the 'Sunday World' strikes a sensible balance between the two.

The action by Ms Hickey, the partner of former panto star Twink's husband, David Agnew, had been keenly watched by media and politicians alike.

This is because the courts have become home to sustained efforts to introduce a privacy law by stealth.

Ms Hickey, Mr Agnew and their son were pictured on the street after registering the child's birth. Their son's image was pixellated as he is a minor. Ms Hickey sought to claim it was a private family event.

The photos were not taken amid continual harassment. And, as Judge Kearns noted, Ms Hickey actively sought publicity from the media, co-operating with articles that affirmed her relationship with Mr Agnew and their pregnancy.

Ms Hickey was regrettably described as a "whore" in a voicemail that came into the public domain.

Judge Kearns criticised the Sunday World, stating that the articles about Ms Hickey "represented the lowest standards of journalism imaginable" and lamented that such material sells newspapers.

But freedom of speech involves public interest as well as stories in bad taste that the public are merely interested in.

Irish Independent

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