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Judgment awaited in Trimingham harassment case

29 April 2012. Published by Keith Mathieson, Partner

Carina Trimingham's privacy and harassment case against Associated Newspapers was heard by Mr Justice Tugendhat in the High Court last week. Judgment has been reserved.

Ms Trimingham is the partner of the former cabinet minister Chris Huhne.  The two began a relationship in 2008 at a time when Mr Huhne was still married to his wife of some 25 years and Ms Trimingham was in a civil partnership with a woman.  Ms Trimingham had previously been married to a man. 

Ms Trimingham was and is herself involved in politics.  She was Chris Huhne's press officer in the 2007 LibDem leadership campaign and in the 2010 general election campaign; Brian Paddick's press manager in the 2008 campaign for London mayor; campaigns director of the Electoral Reform Society in 2010; and has held various other political posts.

Ms Trimingham's relationship with Mr Huhne has been the subject of extensive media coverage.

Ms Trimingham gave evidence last week that she had been greatly offended by references to her, and in particular to her sexuality and physical appearance, in the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday.  She alleged that her privacy had been infringed and that the newspaper group's conduct towards her amounted to harassment contrary to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.  She also alleged that certain photographs infringed her statutory right to privacy in respect of commissioned photographs under s 85 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Associated Newspapers contested the case and called a number of witnesses, including two of its best-known columnists and its deputy editor. 

Contested privacy claims are still uncommon, so Tugendhat J's judgment is awaited with interest for that reason (and also because of the rarity of claims under s 85 of the CDPA).  But the most interesting aspect of the judgment is likely to be the judge's findings on the claim for harassment, which, in the words of Ms Trimingham's counsel, became "the principal focus of the evidence at trial".

Ms Trimingham's case is the first case to reach trial at which allegations of harassment by a newspaper have been pursued.  Her claim covers not just publication of material by the newspapers' reporters and commentators, but also readers' comments published online.  The judgment therefore concerns the boundaries of journalistic freedom and has potentially significant implications beyond the comparatively narrow interests of the parties in question.

RPC is representing Associatd Newspapers in the Trimingham case.