The Sun has been left red-faced after calling for the abolition of the Human Rights Act – only to have to rely on it just days later to protect its journalists.
The tabloid has launched legal action against the Metropolitan Police after officers seized the phone records of political editor Tom Newton Dunn to identify his anonymous police source who tipped him off about the Plebgate scandal.
Britain’s biggest selling daily will take the force to the Investigative Powers Tribunal to challenge the seizure and will use the Human Rights Act (HRA) to argue its case.
This is at odds with the position the paper took last week, when it rapturously applauded David Cameron, who said a Tory majority government would ditch the act, which was described by the paper “hated” and is enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights and used in UK courts.
The Sun’s headline last week, in which it referred to the HRA as ‘hated’
A spokesman for the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper confirmed to The Huffington Post UK that The Sun would use the HRA in its case before the Investigative Powers Tribunal. The appeals body monitors the use of the Regulatory Investigative Powers Act (Ripa) which police used to seize the records.
He said: “The Sun is using the Human Rights Act in our submission to the Investigative Powers Tribunal as it is the primary source on which to base our petition under the law as it is now.
“However, it is notable that the use of covert powers to access The Sun’s phone records occurred despite the existence of the HRA, and we therefore continue to support its replacement with a British Bill of Rights that would enshrine proper protections for journalistic sources.”
The paper did not state which part of the HRA it would use, though it would likely be Article Eight, which protects the right to privacy.
Ironically, The Sun’s stories about the abolition of the HRA were written by Mr Newton Dunn, whose phone records were seized by the Met.
One described the act as “deeply discredited” and said The Tories’ plans would “end decades of human rights laws abuse once and for all”.
The Sun ran this graphic showing its support for putting the HRA in ‘the dustbin of history’
After the paper reported it was taking the legal action, many on Twitter noticed the irony of opposing the HRA one week and using it defend itself the next.
Barrister Harriet Johnson tweeted: “The Sun complains about its calls being tapped by police; simultaneously supports end to #HumanRights Act #Facepalm”.
Media law analyst David Banks told HuffPost UK that the Sun’s claim that the HRA’s failure to prevent the seizure of phone records demonstrated the need to abolish it “defied logic”.
“The HRA is a law that can be broken like any other, and the cops might have broken it here,” he said.
Charon QC, the legal blogger who writes under psuedonym, tweeted: “One can only marvel at The Sun… I am marvelling away!”
Ms Johnson, who practices with Doughty Street chambers, wrote that binning the HRA could have consequences for everyone.
“Repealing the Human Rights Act is being sold as a common sense thing to do, as if we were giving up something we never used anyway,” she wrote after the Tories made their announcement.
“The Conservative Party are not saying to white, middle-class, educated voters: ‘we want to tap your phones’.
“They have couched their policy in terms designed to make the country think this only applies to Other People, to those who are damaging ‘society as a whole’.
“But repealing the Human Rights Act, and withdrawing from the (European Human Rights) Convention, doesn’t happen one right at a time, or on a person-by-person basis. If it happens, it happens to us all.”
Speaking about The Sun’s Ripa case, she told HuffPost UK: “It is interesting to note their argument that because this alleged breach has happened while the HRA was in force, it somehow supports the argument for repealing it – rather than the argument for keeping it.
“That’s like having your wallet stolen and saying ‘criminal laws are clearly useless, let’s repeal them…’.
“Some might argue the answer isn’t to repeal the law, it’s to enforce it – as The Sun is doing by relying on HRA as part of their complaint against the police.”