19 May 2016
Olivia O’Kane, a media lawyer at Carson McDowell Solicitors, comments on the recent series of celebrity injunctions which have made headlines in the UK and today’s decision of PJS v NGN Ltd, which can be found here https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2016-0080-judgment.pdf:
“The use of privacy injunctions is becoming much more common. In Carson McDowell’s Media Team we have found that using this type of court order to prevent the disclosure of certain private matters has been on an upward and dominant trajectory.
“There will always be certain factual circumstances which involve matters that are so inherently private that it is almost obvious that there should be no disclosure to the public. However, in this global village that we now find ourselves living in, combined with the impact of the digital age, preventing disclosure of certain private facts can be extremely difficult.
“A few years ago Ryan Giggs experienced this very difficult issue when the fact of an extra marital affair that had been prevented by a court order from being disclosed by a newspaper was eventually revealed on Twitter.
“Several countries have much wider freedom of expression laws which would not permit these types of court orders that restrain certain types of private information for a set category of public individuals whereas the UK courts may grant such orders.
“The consequences of our global village and the digital age combined, mean that a foreign country’s news media might disclose the information, that is not permitted to be revealed in the UK, and might do so abroad lawfully online from their own country but the UK media cannot republish the same information online or in print.
“As a result of these global and online difficulties in preserving the integrity of UK court orders many high profile individuals who did not wish to bring more attention to the private information they wished to protect from being disclosed might have avoided obtaining such court orders in the past.
“The UK Supreme Court today concerned what has become termed a ‘celebrity privacy injunction’, as was coined in this case of PJS v NGN Ltd, and this decision shall undoubtedly lead to more privacy injunction applications being advanced. The media will have considered today’s decision as a difficult pill to swallow, when their media relations can reveal the information abroad but they cannot.
“However, considering the judgement as a whole the Supreme Court held that on the particular facts of that case there was no public interest in the disclosure of private sexual encounters, however famous the individuals. This decision is no different to any other cases involving similar types of applications, it simply endorses the fact that to disclose private information requires an identifiable public interest that necessitates disclosure. All is certainly not bad for the media and whilst the decision may bolster confidence in applicants, it is not new law, and as such there will still be many occasions that even if an application is made the media can defend it and justify certain matters being disclosed in the public interest.“