The man who led a major inquiry into the British media says court judgments such as name suppressions should be enforced against individual internet users as well as major media companies, or else the rule of law will be weakened.
Lord Justice Brian Leveson, who last month handed down his landmark report into the ethics and culture of the British press, argued for a "reconsidering" of the enforcement of civil law in a speech at Melbourne University on Wednesday night.
Citing the example of so-called superinjunctions in the United Kingdom, which prevented the publication of details about celebrities' private lives, Lord Leveson said such judgments were not always followed.
"They (journalists) were subject to the injunctions and were liable to the force of the law if they breached them," he said.
"They had, however, to watch the very same injunctions being breached with apparent impunity by many thousands on the internet."
Lord Leveson said such unequal application of the law could have negative effects on the media and upon the entire justice system.
"In a culture which sees some act with impunity in the face of the civil law, and the criminal law, a general decline in standards may arise," he said.
Lord Leveson was asked about the recent case of a London nurse who unwittingly transferred a prank call from Sydney radio station 2DayFM asking to speak to a pregnant Duchess of Cambridge and was found dead in an apparent suicide three days later.
"As I understand it there is a police inquiry into this ... I remain a judge in England and Wales and might be called upon to decide something in the future," he said.
"So I'm sure there are lessons to be learnt but I'm not going to discuss them."
Lord Leveson also declined to comment on the findings of the Finkelstein inquiry into press regulation in Australia.