Van Morrison gets privacy injunction

10 January 2011. Published by Keith Mathieson, Partner

The musician Van Morrison has obtained an injunction against the News of the World to prevent the publication of private information apparently disclosed to the newspaper by a tradesman working at the musician's house.

The injunction was ordered by Gillen J in the High Court in Northern Ireland.  An injunction was also granted to Gigi Lee, a business associate of Van Morrison with whom he was alleged to be having a personal relationship, and to "X", the child of Gigi Lee.

The information publication of which was sought to be restrained included details of the following:

    • Van Morrison's home, including its value, layout and furnishings
    • Staff residing there
    • Detailed physical descriptions of X
    • The nature of the relationship between Morrison and Lee
    • Visits to Morrison's home by Lee
    • Visits by Morrison to his wife and child (including photographs)

The proposed newspaper article and photographs formed a confidential annexe to the judgment and were not otherwise published.

The judge had little difficulty in determining that the claimants had a reasonable expectation of privacy.  He took particular account of the following considerations:

    • The activities covered by the article were of a private and personal nature
    • Morrison's home residence was "to the fore and at the centre of much of the information being imparted"
    • The nature of the intrusion was to deal with personal relationships and the birth of a child
    • No consent had been obtained from the parties.

In relation to the balancing exercise, the News of the World argued that much of the information was already in the public domain and it was also necessary in the public interest to put the record straight in the light of a misleading statement about Van Morrison's private life having been previously made by his spokesman.

After conducting a careful analysis in accordance with the English authorities, the judge concluded that the claimants' Article 8 rights clearly outweighed the Article 10 rights of the News of the World.  The judge considered that there was no public interest in the details sought to be published, which were "classic illustrations of intrusions into [the claimants'] private lives which Article 8 is designed to protect".  The article and photographs went "beyond the margin of appreciation allowed to a free press" and constituted "an unacceptable intrusion into the private lives" of the claimants.

In relation to the defendants' public domain argument, the judge was not satisfied that "the information now contained in the impugned articles and photographs had been in the public domain to the extent now proposed or in the sense that publication could have had no significant effect on the lives of the [claimants]".  The judge also rejected the newspaper's argument that it was entitled to publish corrective facts.  In contrast to the Campbell case, it had not been established to the judge's satisfaction that the claimants had provided any misleading information (Van Morrison gave evidence that the statement by his spokesman had been unauthorised).

Finally even though the photographs of X and indeed some of the photographs of the adult claimants had been taken in a public place, the judge still considered they were intrusive and the claimants had a reasonable expectation of privacy such that their publication should not be permitted.

See further sections 3.3.7, 3.4 and 3.5.3 of the Privacy Law Handbook

Van Morrison's injunction

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