High Court dismisses claim for harassment and misuse of private photographs and information

The High Court has dismissed a privacy claim brought by the partner of MP Chris Huhne, Carina Trimingham against Associated Newspapers Ltd (the publisher of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday). Ms Trimingham’s claim related to 65 articles that Associated Newspapers Ltd had published about her over the course of 15 months between 2010 and 2011. As there are currently no law of privacy, as such, in the UK, Ms Trimingham brought a claim under section 85 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 which protects the right to privacy of certain photographs; Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects the right to respect for private life; and section 1 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 which prohibits harassment. Mr Justice Tugendhat's decision was based on his finding that Ms Trimingham, a former journalist who began a secret affair with Mr Huhne at a time when he was married and had publicly set store by his family values, and who was professionally responsible for his public relations, was not a purely private figure and had therefore to accept a limited expectation of privacy. The defendant's references in its newspaper articles to the nature of her sexuality were relevant to those stories, and the making of them was in the public interest. Any insulting or offensive aspects of those comments were therefore protected by the defendant's right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and did not in any event amount to harassment, since the defendant was known to be an experienced and tough journalist. This meant that the defendant could reasonably assume that she would be unlikely to be distressed by its comments. Similarly, in respect of photographs of the claimant, it was not reasonable for her to expect these to remain private. The photographs were cropped versions of pictures taken at her civil partnership ceremony and they did not reveal to the public any information other than what was already generally known. This is only the second full trial of a claim of alleged harassment by publication in the media. The findings of the judge as to the threshold of seriousness that has to be reached before harassment is established are significant. It was noted that the test for harassment is an objective one and a claim could not be established merely because a person was offended or insulted by words written about them. Full details of the case can be found at: Trimingham v Associated Newspapers Ltd [2012] EWHC 1296 (QB).  

Published May 29, 2012

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