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‘Privacy rights have developed massively today’: lawyers react as court rules on ‘PJS’ celebrity injunction

Privacy and media lawyers have given their take after the Supreme Court ruled this morning (19 May) that an injunction banning the naming of a celebrity involved in a privacy case over an alleged extra-marital affair should remain in place.

The public figure, who can only be named by the initials ‘PJS’, took his case to the Supreme Court and successfully appealed against a ruling lifting the ban on media in England and Wales publishing his name. The Sun on Sunday argued it should be able to publish the story as their name had already been published elsewhere.

PJS asked the court to consider the issue after the Court of Appeal last month ruled the injunction should be lifted.

In a decision handed down today by Lord Neuberger, Lady Hale, Lord Mance, Lord Reed and Lord Toulson, four out of the five lords agreed that it was not in the public interest as neither of the couple held public office.

This is the latest ruling as part of a series of court cases involving allegations that the celebrity, who is part of a high-profile couple with two children, had an extra-marital affair.

The injunction bans the media in England and Wales from naming the person except by initials. It will now remain in place until there is a full trial for breach of privacy.

5RB’s Desmond Browne QC was instructed by Carter-Ruck for the appellant while Matrix Chambers’ Gavin Millar QC was instructed by Simons Muirhead & Burton Solicitors for the respondent.

Commenting on the case, Macfarlanes intellectual property head Geoff Steward told Legal Business: ‘With my litigator’s hat, damages simply aren’t good enough. We all know who the celebrity is but if you find yourself in a position where social media is driving a coach and horses through a court injunction, that’s very dangerous. Should it be removed because of the social media chat? You can’t have social media driving a coach through legal rights.’

Stewart Room, global head of cyber security and data protection at PwC Legal, said: ‘What we now know is that while information may lose confidentiality through publication, it does not lose its private nature. Privacy rights cannot be negated though rendering private information public. This will require significant adjustments to how publishers operate, not just in the traditional media space, but also online. Bloggers and tweeters need to take note -privacy rights have developed massively today.’

Withers media and reputation head Amber Melville-Brown added: ‘The Supreme Court would have been damned if it did and damned if it didn’t. Had it overturned the injunction it would have been criticised for condoning that pressure from the press, foreign publications and some social media should weigh more in the balance than a properly considered judicial view. Those of us who look to the courts to protect our rights would rightly have been up in arms.’