Campbell v MGN Ltd (QBD)

Reference: [2002] EWHC 499 (QB); [2002] EMLR 617

Court: Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Morland J

Date of judgment: 27 Mar 2002

Summary: Breach of Confidence - Privacy - Photographs - Personal Sensitive Data - Data Protection Act 1998 - section 32 exemption - Public interest - damages - section 13 of the DPA.

Appearances: Desmond Browne QC - Leading Counsel (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Davenport Lyons for the Defendant

Facts

Naomi Campbell was photographed coming out of a Narcotics Anonymous (“NA”) meeting on the King’s Road. The “Mirror” published an article publishing photographs of her with the other attendee’s of the meeting’s faces pixallated in order 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 claimed damages for breach of confidentiality and compensation under s.13 Data Protection Act 1998 in relation to this article and subsequent ones published by the “Mirror”. It was accepted by the Claimant that the “Mirror” was entitled to publish that she was a drug addict and the fact that she was having therapy. but she contended that the information that the therapy was being obtained through NA and the details of her attendance at meetings were private and confidential.

Issue

Whether the details of the Claimant’s attendance at NA and of her treatment contained in the article were sensitive personal data within the meaning under section 2 of the DPA. Whether the information had the necessary quality of confidence about it. Whether there was an overriding public interest in publishing the information consistent with Art.10(2) of the Convention? Whether the exemption under section 32 of the DPA applied after publication.

Held

The details of the Claimant’s attendance at NA did have the necessary quality of confidence about it. The information giving details of her regular attendance at NA meetings for therapy must have been imparted in circumstances importing an obligation of confidence and the editor and journalists were clothed in conscience with this duty of confidentiality. The public had a right to know that the Claimant had been misleading them by her denials of drug addiction and balanced and positive journalism demanded that the public be told that the Claimant was receiving therapy for her drug addiction, but there was no public interest in disclosing without her consent the details of that treatment. Therefore, striking the balance between Art.8 and Art.10 of the Convention and having full regard to s.12(4) of the Act, the Claimant was entitled to the remedy of damages and/or compensation for the disclsoure of the details of her treatment.

Comment

At the first trial of a privacy claim after the entry into force of the HRA the judge upheld Naomi Campbell’s claim on the grounds that although it was legitimate to expose her as a drug addict, when she had lied to the public about that, disclosure of details of her treatment went too far. His decision was later reversed by the Court of Appeal, holding that the details were not significant enough to amount to a breach of privacy. The Claimant appealed to the House of Lords which, by a 3-2 majority, allowed the appeal and restored the order of Morland J.