Attorney General v MGN Ltd

Reference: [2003] EWHC 3201 (Ch); [2004] EMLR 223

Court: Chancery Division

Judge: Lewison J

Date of judgment: 20 Nov 2003

Summary: Confidential information - breach of confidence - Human Rights - employment contract - whether a contractual duty of confidence should be given more weight than an implied duty- interim injunction

Instructing Solicitors: Herbert Smith for the Claimant; Marcus Partington for the Defendant


The Attorney-General applied on behalf of the Queen for an interim injunction to restrain the further publication by The Mirror of material obtained by a former employee of the Royal household during his employment as a footman. The former employee had signed a confidentiality agreement when he had been employed by the Royal household.


Whether the applicant would succeed at trial in establishing that publication ought not to be allowed, (taking into consideration the interpretation of the Court of Appeal of Art 12(3) HRA in Cream Holdings Ltd v Banerjee (2003) EWCA Civ 103).


(1) The Applicant was likely to establish at trial that publication ought not to be allowed. There was a real prospect of success at trial. (2) It was ‘well arguable’ a contractual duty of confidence should be given greater weight than an implied duty arising under the general principles of equity. (3) To assert that public interest represented a complete defence to a contractual claim and invalidated the contract was unlikely to succeed. (4) In the absence of evidence that material was in the public domain, the court was not deflected from making an order for a short time, until such evidence might be prepared by the defendant.


What the butler saw (Part 2). Interestingly, a few months earlier the palace did not move against Paul Burrell for his disclosures about life as a butler, despite the fact that he was arguably in precisely the same position and had much more damaging information. In this case, the dispute was over quite quickly. The parties agreed to make the temporary injunction permament some days later.