Campbell v MGN Ltd (HL)

Reference: [2004] UKHL 22; [2004] 2 AC 457; [2004] 2 WLR 1232; [2004] EMLR 247

Court: House of Lords

Judge: Lords Nicholls, Hoffman, Hope, Hale & Carswell

Date of judgment: 6 May 2004

Summary: Breach of confidence - Privacy- Private information - Art 8, ECHR -Freedom of expression - Art 10, ECHR- Photographs

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Appearances: Desmond Browne CBE KC - Leading Counsel (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Schillings for the Claimant; MGN Legal Department 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 for the publication of further details. At the trial, Morland J upheld both claims. The Court of Appeal reversed this decision. Ms Campbell appealed.


Whether publication of the additional information contained in the photographs and the nature and details of the Claimant’s treatment was a breach of confidence.


Reversing the Court of Appeal by a 3-2 majority the additional information was confidential as its publication would have caused substantial offence to a person of ordinary sensibilities in the Claimant’s position. The Claimant’s Article 8 rights outweighed the Defendant’s Article 10 rights, so that publication of the additional information was an infringement of the Claimant’s Article 8 rights for which she was entitled to damages.

Per Lords Nicholls and Hoffman, dissenting: The Court of Appeal were correct in holding that the additional information was within the degree of latitude that should reasonably be afforded to journalists. The Defendant’s Article 10 rights justified publication of the additional information.


Rather like the decision in Reynolds v Times Newspapers, the House of Lords judgments generate rather more questions than answers as to how privacy law will work in practice. Giving practical advice on the parameters of the law is now difficult.