Reference:  EWCA Civ 1373;  QB 658;  2 WLR 80;  EMLR 39
Court: Court of Appeal
Judge: Phillips MR, Chadwick & Keene LJJ
Date of judgment: 14 Oct 2002
Summary: Breach of Confidence - Privacy - Photographs - Data Protection Act 1998 - Sensitive Personal Data - section 32 exemption - Public interest
Desmond Browne CBE KC - Leading Counsel (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: MGN Legal Dept for the Defendant
Naomi Campbell was photographed coming out of a Narcotics Anonymous (“NA”) meeting on the King’s Road. The “Mirror” published these photographs with the faces of other attendees of the meeting pixelated to protect their identities. The Headline alongside the photograph read “Naomi: I’m a drug addict” and the article contained in very general terms information relating to Ms Campbell’s treatment for drug addiction, including the number of NA meetings she had attended. The Claimant admitted that there was a public interest justifying publication of the fact that she was a drug addict, and was having therapy but claimed damages for breach of confidentiality and compensation under s.13 Data Protection Act 1998. At the trial, Morland J upheld both claims. The Mirror appealed.
(1) Whether the was judge wrong to reject the Mirror’s contention that the details of the claimant’s therapy were banal and inconsequential and their publication within the scope of the public interest which admittedly existed.
(2) Whether the judge was wrong to hold that s32 of the DPA did not apply to publication.
Allowing the appeal,
(1) Having regard to the admitted public interest the details of the claimant’s therapy were part of a justifiable journalistic package. They did not add information of sufficient significance for its publication to shock the conscience or cause offence to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities.
(2) DPA s32 affords a publisher a public interest defence, which extends to the act of publication.
In April 2004 the House of Lords, by a majority, allowed an appeal by Naomi Campbell. The decision is controversial. However, their Lordships opinions dealt with the cause of action in confidence or privacy only. It was common ground that the DPA claim stood or fell by the outcome of that. The Court of Appeal decision therefore stands as the leading (and so far only) decision on the scope of s32 DPA.