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Last Updated:  Friday, 11 April, 2003, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Why privacy is still an issue

By Nick Higham
BBC media correspondent

When Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas arrived at the High Court in February to give evidence in their case against Hello! magazine, the predictable media frenzy awaited them.

The intense interest was a reminder of just how fascinating we find celebrity - and how difficult it can be for celebrities themselves to cope with the intrusive interest.

The question that has hung in the air throughout this trial was whether it might establish a new privacy law which people like the Douglases - not to mention dodgy businessmen and bent politicians - might on occasion be able to hide behind.
Catherine Zeta Jones and Douglas
Zeta Jones and Douglas married in 2000

In the event it hasn't - to the relief of news organisations, including OK! itself and its sister publications, the Daily and Sunday Express and the Daily Star.

But it came very close, and the judge in the case, Mr Justice Lindsay, made clear he thinks a privacy law of some sort is inevitable.

'Inadequate'

"That parliament has so far failed to grasp the nettle does not prove that it will not have to be grasped in the future," he said at one point in his 90 page judgement.

Existing law was inadequate, he said.

Hello! was "not acting in good faith nor by way of fair dealing"
Mr Justice Lindsay
"That inadequacy will have to be made good and if Parliament does not step in then the courts will be obliged to."

Mr Justice Lindsay didn't start the process only because he didn't have to.

He had decided that the existing law of confidence gave the Douglases protection.

The authorised photographs of the couple's wedding were a kind of trade secret, he said.

The fact that Hello! and OK! had competed to buy the exclusive rights to publish them showed the "commercial confidentiality" of coverage of the event.

Sneaked

"The claimants had here a valuable trade asset, a commodity the value of which depended, in part at least, upon its content first being kept secret and then of its being made public in ways controlled by Miss Zeta-Jones and Mr Douglas."

Catherine Zeta Jones
Zeta Jones won an Oscar last month for her part in Chicago
Hello! should have known that and so should the photographer, Rupert Thorpe, who sneaked into the wedding reception to take the snatched pictures Hello! later published.

Hello! was "not acting in good faith nor by way of fair dealing," the judge decided.

The judge's decision that the contract between OK! and the Douglases amounted to a trade secret which Hello! had breached is itself controversial.

Hello! maintains it is a new concept in English law and says it will seek leave to appeal.




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