Privacy judgment in Northern Ireland

10 January 2011. Published by Keith Mathieson, Partner

In King v Sunday Newspapers (Northern Ireland High Court, WEA7948), following a High Court trial before Weatherup J, the claimant obtained an injunction preventing publication of his home address and certain further information about his family.

He was refused an injunction restraining further publication of his partner's identity, details of their wedding plans and a photograph of him and his partner at her parents' home.   The claimant appears not to have been awarded any damages.   The case is an unusual example of a privacy claim that went all the way to trial, not just to the interim injunction stage.

The facts

The claimant, Drew King, was alleged by Sunday World to be a member of the Loyalist Volunteer Force, a proscribed terrorist organisation.  In 2008 the claimant had been charged with the murder of a former Sunday World journalist.  In 2010 the charge was withdrawn.  Between 2002 and 2009 the Sunday World published numerous articles about the claimant.  These articles were highly defamatory of the claimant, alleging involvement in terrorism, murder and drug-dealing.  The claimant did not, however sue for libel (ostensibly for financial reasons) but he did sue for misuse of private information and harassment.  His claim for an injunction to prevent publication of his address was based on Article 2 of the ECHR (right to life).

The Article 2 claim was based mainly on the claimant having received various messages from the police warning him that his personal safety was under threat.  The claim for misuse of private information related to the following categories of information: (a) the wedding plans of the claimant and his partner; (b) information about his partner, including her identification, workplace and family members; (c) information about their child, including his religion; and (d) a photograph of the claimant and his partner at her parents' house.

The judge's findings

On the Article 2 claim, the judge applied Osman v The United Kingdom [1998] 29 EHRR 245 and found that since there was a real and immediate risk of to the claimant's life arising out of publication of his whereabouts, an injunction should be granted to prevent publication of his current or any future address.

On the misuse of private information claim, the judge refused an injunction in respect of (a) and (d) and granted an injunction in respect of (b) and (c) save as to the identity of the claimant's partner.  Sadly, the basis on which the judge made his rulings are far from easy to follow.  In a criticism of the judgment on the Inforrm blog here, the commentators point out that the judge failed altogether to explain how he had approached the issue of proportionality, it being unclear, for example, how he had reached his conclusion that the published details of the wedding plans were proportionate to the public interest in question.

See further sections 3.3 and 3.4 of the Privacy Law Handbook

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