Lawyers, academics and journalists raised fresh doubts this week about federal government plans to encourage people to use a statutory privacy tort for lawsuits.
The government’s plans to encourage people to sue each other using a statutory privacy tort have been denounced by The Rule of Law Institute as so uncertain as to undermine the rule of law. The scheme being considered by the government is so subjective it would leave ordinary people in doubt about what they could say to each other with incurring liability.
Every public sector agency, federal and state, could be sued under the proposed privacy tort. Fairfax Media columnist Richard Ackland said that statutory tort would have an adverse impact on standards because fear of attracting an injunction would encourage reporters not to seek a response from people named in news reports. However, he was “inwardly struggling” on the issue because “there are some shocking things that journalists do, and I would like to see them ground into the dust”.
But a statutory tort would have an adverse impact on standards because fear of attracting an injunction would encourage reporters not to seek a response from people named in news reports, he said.
If the scheme goes ahead, federal legislation will create a statutory cause of action under which people can sue for “serious invasions of privacy”. Rule of Law Institute Chairman, Robin Speed, said it was inappropriate to design a cause of action using the emotive and undefined term “invasion of privacy”.
Everyone has different opinions on the meaning of the word “private”, and the subjectivity of the proposal has been described as “dangerous”.
Lawyers and legal academics have advocated that the law is best-developed through the courts and the government should abandon a statutory privacy tort.