The princess, the public and the paparazzi

Extreme invasion of privacy by the media has driven some to desperate measures. Paul Kaufman speaks out for those who lack the resources to protect themselves. Paul Kaufman is a partner at Wiseman Lee. The extraordinary coverage of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, prompts a number of observations.

Like most in my field, I regularly act for single parents who, unlike Princess Diana, have no choice but to rely on the state for support. They frequently receive less than sympathetic treatment in court and by the media. If they take holidays with their latest boyfriend, leaving their children behind, they can expect to be demonised and risk their children being taken into care.

This would be especially so if they were to get into a car, without putting on a seatbelt, which is driven by someone possibly under the influence of drink and drugs, and who drives with disregard for other road users. One hopes that the compassion aroused by the death of Princess Diana will generate more compassion for the millions born into less fortunate circumstances.

Clients are also often troubled by intrusion from photographers and the media although, unlike Princess Diana, they have never courted the attention of the press or sought publicity.

One distraught couple consulted me after a police video showing them arguing in public was put on general release as part of a compilation tape and shown on national television. They had no right of redress for being made the object of ridicule for no reason other than the entertainment of the public.

However, this is nothing compared with the damage and distress caused to defendants who unwittingly find themselves in the limelight.

A recent example was the teacher found dead off Beachy Head within days of being featured on the national news after being charged with possession of indecent photographs.

The acres of coverage devoted to it by the paparazzi, generally only of practical concern to celebrities, contrasts with the lack of serious debate around the completely uncontrolled proliferation of closed circuit television.

This affects all ordinary citizens who, without their permission, are photographed 24 hours a day and have little, if any, effective control over who is watching them or the use to which the videos are put. For example, there is little doubt that CCTV is used to gather information about political activists engaged in lawful activity, and there is certainly nothing to prevent this happening now or in the future.

Many will feel that CCTV has become a valuable tool in keeping our public spaces free from crime. However, the value it has for deterring and solving crime is likely to diminish. Those involved in this area will be aware that it is often only the "amateur" criminals who are caught. Even the less sophisticated are likely to be more wary when they know they are under surveillance, and the professional criminal has become increasingly adept at using disguise, finding "blind" spots or disabling cameras.

There are situations where videos could assist citizens who have themselves been the victim of authority. Recent involvement in such cases highlights the lack of regulation. For example, where a client charged with assault in the stairwell of a council block claimed that he had actually been assaulted by the police, the local authority did not respond to an immediate request to preserve and hand over its only videotape. It was only with the greatest reluctance that the CPS eventually agreed to discontinue the proceedings on "abuse of process" grounds.

While so much space has been devoted to discussing the paparazzi, it has been difficult to find coverage of the implications of the decision by the Attorney General to obtain an injunction preventing publication by a former MI5 officer of matters which many believe to be in the public interest. This should have been a major news item, bearing in mind the stated policy of the Labour Party before coming into office, and of particular relevance in the context of a discussion on the freedom of the press.

It is with some trepidation that one now states in public views such as those expressed above. However, this perhaps makes it more important than ever that those with alternative views are prepared to air them.