Why privacy injunctions are pointless in the UK

Picture: Daily Mail front page via The Press Gazette

The Sun on Sunday has launched a bid to overturn a privacy injunction preventing the media from reporting on a celebrity’s “extramarital activities”.

It was confirmed on Tuesday by a spokesman for the judiciary that the court of appeal in London has received an application to discharge the order.

The court of appeals original judgment is here

The application is currently being processed by the court and no date has yet been set for a hearing.

But – if you want to know who the celebrity couple are then check the Scottish, USA and Canadian newspapers or simply do a quick goole or twitter search.

The man is “well known” and has children with his partner. Both are in the entertainment business.

The court of appeal’s injunction prevents the UK press revealing the identity of the man, who was said to have been involved in a “three-way sexual encounter” and other extra marital activities.

In the realm of farce Lord Justice Jackson’s judgment referred to the claimant as PJS, and his spouse as YMA. These are not their initials.

Lord Justice Jackson revealed that the man had appealed after a high court judge refused to grant him an injunction against publishers News Group Newspapers.

He said he and Lady Justice King had decided to allow his appeal after balancing the man’s human right to respect for family life and the newspaper’s right to freedom of expression.

The Sun on Sunday had argued that publication of the story would contribute to ongoing debate.

They also said the man and YMA had put “many details of their relationship” into the public domain.

True enough!

The other participants in the alleged ménage à trois are identified as AB and CD…very original!

In this case, holding that the European construct of a right to private and family life outweighs freedom of the press, Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Rupert Jackson ordered that an injunction should stand, gagging the newspaper. One of the questions considered by the court was whether a newspaper is entitled to correct a public image of marital commitment portrayed by a famous couple.

Curiously – and in a rather modern view of marriage – the court noted that “occasional sexual encounters with others do not detract from that (marital) commitment.”

The case is a legal mess. Just as the press in England is not able to publish the names of those involved, it is also not permitted to provide clues or hints that could enable readers to determine their identity. This means that British newspapers cannot even name the Scottish media outlet that has revealed the names.

So the British press has to refer to simply a ‘a Scottish newspaper.’

The Scottish newspaper’s website includes an editorial piece which says:

“As our digital content is read in England we cannot reproduce the story online, tell you who they are or even feature the front page.

But their names are already known in the United States where the stories have been published and their identities are all over social media.

We are publishing the identities today because there is no legal reason not to publish in Scotland what has been banned in England and Wales. Their big secret is no secret at all. America knows. The internet knows. The whole world knows. So now Scotland knows. And so we should.”


The tabloids, however, aren’t heeding the ban without a fight. The Daily Mail has run a multi-part series headlined “why the law is an ass,” while the Sun has vowed to continue fighting against the injunction this week.


The story also allegedly involves a kiddie pool filled with olive oil. And the Sun, while still obeying the ban, did suggestively publish pictures of a small plastic pool and a glass jar of olive oil.

Of course, it takes just a few seconds of your time to discover the people involved if you are interested. But something interesting is happening. While Twitter has been abuzz with speculation about who the celebrity couple might be, there is also an element of self-censorship taking place.


Just to be clear, this website is not naming the people involved or linking to the Scottish newspaper or media.

Why not? Because this has never been a celebrity gossip site and who really cares about their bedroom antics. Secondly, realistically, it is sensible to play safe. The people involved have deep pockets, expensive lawyers and a long reach.

Which is tough – as I do care about free speech, a free press and think the world is a messed up place when very wealthy people are able to hijack the courts and spend huge sums of money stopping stories they do not much like the sound of.

What is troubling is that in 2016 people can seriously believe that  a story can be stopped in its tracks using a court order. If anything it has served only to drag things on for longer than might otherwise have been the case. Left to run its natural course, the story probably would have burned out and been forgotten in a matter of days. As it is, it has been dragged out for weeks, and it has been brought to global attention.

It has also highlighted an important difference between how the law applies to land-based newspapers, and how it applies to the global internet. While newspapers in England may have been effectively censored, the same cannot be said of internet users.

The speed of news dissemination in the digital age, that does not respect geographical boundaries, makes any injunctive victory pyrrhic and the process a monumentally profligate waste of time and judicial reasoning.

There is an important principle at stake: should press freedom be curtailed by the rich and privileged on the grounds that they don’t want their children to be embarrassed?

Basically if you do not want your children to think less of you, then don’t do it.

The only people who have won in this case are the lawyers – wealthier by the minute, Maybe they would be better lawyers if they told their clients that this sort of injunction is counter-productive and pointless.


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