Full case report

Howlett v Holding (No. 4)

Reference [2006] EWHC 41 (QB); The Times, 8 February 2006
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Eady J

Date of Judgment 25 Jan 2006


Summary

Harassment – Protection from Harassment Act 1997 – Injunction – Interim injunction – Permanent injunction – Private life – Freedom of expression – Articles 8 & 10 ECHR – Defamatory allegations on banners and leaflets – Covert surveillance


Facts

The Claimant was a former Labour councillor in Essex. The Defendant had, over some years, flown banners behind his aircraft that were directed at the Claimant and/or referred to her in derogatory terms. He had also dropped leaflets with a similar content from time to time. The Claimant twice brought actions for libel, in both of which the jury found in her favour. The Defendant continued to fly banners about the Claimant and she sought an injunction to restrain further banners and leaflets as constituting harassment of her under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. In the course of the harassment claim, the Defendant disclosed that he had also put the Claimant under surveillance, ostensibly to look for evidence that she was a ‘benefits cheat’. The Claimant obtained an interim injunction under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to restrain further banners and leaflets as well as further surveillance of her. She sought to have it made permanent.


Issue

Whether the interim injunction should be made permanent in relation to:
(1) the Defendant’s flying of banners from his aircraft and dropping of leaflets; and
(2) his surveillance of the Claimant;
given that the Defendant’s right to freedom of expression and the Claimant’s right to respect for her private life under Articles 10 and 8 of the European Convention Human Rights were engaged.


Held

Granting the permanent injunction in both respects;
(1) Following Thomas v NGN, the exercise of the right of free speech can constitute harassment. D’s exercise of his right to freedom of expression was objectionable because of the impact it had on C’s privacy and psychological well-being. Applying Re S, Convention rights must be balanced against each other. Assessed using the principle of proportionality, C’s rights took precedence over D’s. (2) That C did not know when she was being watched did not prevent D’s actions constituting harassment. For Art 8 purposes there is no rigid distinction between activities in private and public places. Interpreting the exceptions in the 1997 Act in light of Art 8(2), there was no exception permitting the unreasonable harassment of fellow citizens by means of surveillance.


Comment

The use of the Part 8 procedure coupled with robust directions by the trial Judge, dispensing with disclosure and cross-examination, enabled this claim to be processed from Claim Form to final judgment (with reasons to follow) in the space of just 4.5 months.


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Instructing Solicitors

Carter Ruck for the Claimant; Jennings, Son & Ash for the Defendant.