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Saturday, 30 March, 2002, 15:54 GMT
Confusion over privacy rulings
The Sunday People on a pile of Sunday newspapers
The Sunday People case lasted almost a year
test hello test
By Torin Douglas
BBC Media Correspondent
line

At the end of a week in which the courts have handed down contrasting judgements to Garry Flitcroft and Naomi Campbell, are we any clearer about where the law stands on privacy?

According to most editors and media lawyers, the picture is, if anything, more confused.

Flitcroft (or Garry Who?, as several papers asked) was finally named as the Premiership footballer whose name had been kept out of the papers for a year.

He had obtained an injunction against the Sunday People to stop it printing interviews with two women who said he'd had affairs with them.

'Interference'

If the name came as an anti-climax to newspapers and their readers, it was largely because they had presumed that only someone extremely well-known would have gone to such lengths to stop his name emerging.

The case has cost 200,000 and lasted almost a year.

But why did the Sunday People fight so hard to publish the conventional kiss-and-tell revelations of a footballer most people had not heard of?

The reason was that the original judgement threatened to put an end to all such stories, because the judge ruled that details of relationships outside marriage were protected by confidentiality laws.
Naomi Campbell
Campbell said the Mirror invaded her privacy

This surprising judgement was criticised by many newspapers - not only the People - who claimed it would mean the British media would not have been able to report President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky or the wrongful relationship of a Cabinet minister.

Earlier this month, the ruling was overturned by three Appeal Court judges, who said the injunction was "an unjustified interference with freedom of the press".

They gave Flitcroft three weeks to appeal to the House of Lords and this week the Lord Chief Justice ruled that he had run out of time.

Meanwhile, in another part of the Law Courts, Mr Justice Moreland had also been considering the laws of confidentiality and privacy, in the case of Naomi Campbell and the Mirror.

Libel risk

He awarded her 3,500 in damages and compensation after the Mirror printed a picture of her leaving a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous.

The judge said details of her therapy were sensitive personal data and publishing them was an unwarranted intrusion into her right of privacy.

As in the Flitcroft case, it was the law of confidentiality - rather than the privacy provisions of the Human Rights Act - that proved crucial.

But the judge confused many lawyers and editors with his other remarks.
Garry Flitcroft
Flitcroft left his appeal too late

Despite awarding Ms Campbell damages, he said the Mirror had been entirely justified in revealing that she had been a drug addict - which she had publicly denied on several occasions - and also the fact that she had been receiving therapy.

He also said the model had lied on oath and he doubted the accuracy of her evidence.

Where the Mirror had overstepped the mark, he implied, was in giving details of her therapy, presumably by naming Narcotics Anonymous.

But a newspaper that cannot back up its assertions with details runs the risk of being sued for libel.

The Mirror is considering an appeal, in the hope not only of overturning the original judgment - as the People did in the Flitcroft case - but of clarifying the law.

Despite this week's court cases, newspapers are still no clearer about where privacy starts and ends.

See also:

30 Mar 02 | Blackburn Rovers
Flitcroft in the spotlight
28 Mar 02 | UK
A user's guide to privacy
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