Re Stedman & Patten (& Others)
Reference:  EWHC 935 (Fam)
Court: Family Division
Judge: Mrs Justice Eleanor King
Date of judgment: 18 May 2009
Summary: Reporting restrictions - Family - Children - Injunctions - Article 10 - Freedom of expression - Article 8 - Respect for privacy and family life - Public domain - 'Canute' principle - s.12 Human Rights Act 1998
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Adam Wolanski KC (Interested Party)
Instructing Solicitors: Local Authority Solicitor for the Applicant; Mayo Wynne Baxter for Mrs Stedman; Daniel and Harris for Mrs Patten; Newman Law for Mr Patten; CAFCASS for Chantelle Stedman; Creighton & Partners for Alfie Patten; Farrer & Co for News Group Newspapers Ltd
On 13 Feb 2009, The Sun reported the birth of a child to two children aged 12 and 15. The mother, Chantelle named Alfie as the father. This provoked enormous media interest both in the UK and all over the world. A video interview with the children was made available on The Sun’s website. Suggestions then appeared that Alfie might not be the father and that another boy, Tyler, 14, might be the father. On 18 Feb 2009, an injunction preventing the soliciting of information and restricting reporting was imposed, subject to a public domain exception.
On 26 Mar 2009, a Daily Mirror article revealed that a DNA test had proved that Alfie was not the father. This information was widely reported in foreign media. The Local Authority applied for and was granted an urgent variation to the injunction to prevent any further publication of this information. It also sought an order rescinding the public domain exception to the order in respect of all images of the children.
(1) Whether the injunction restraining further publication of the fact that Alfie was not the father should be continued; and
(2) Whether the injunction should be widened, by modifying the public domain exception, so as to prohibit publication of any images of the children notwithstanding previous publication of the images.
Refusing the application:
(1) Balancing the respective Article 8 and Article 10 rights of Chantelle, Alfie and the media, continued restriction of the information that Alfie was not the father could not be justified. Although there was evidence that the media attention was causing distress to Chantelle, it was in Alfie’s interests and the wider public interest that the record be set straight;
(2) Similarly the restriction sought to prohibit further publication of images that had previously been within the public domain exception could not be justified. There was nothing inherently invasive about publication of the photographs; Chantelle was more concerned with the articles that accompanied the photographs; and
(3) In respect of both limbs, the Court had to guard against slipping into playing the role of King Canute. There had been such widespread publication of both the DNA result and the images that in practical terms there was no longer anything which the law could protect.
The ‘Canute principle’ upon which, in part, the Judge based her decision can be traced back to Spycatcher. Its application in privacy (as opposed to pure breach of confidence cases) is the subject of some controversy and debate. But cases like this and <A
href=”https://www.5rb.com/5rb/casereports/detail_redirect.asp?case=717″ target=_parent>Mosley v News Group Newspapers (No.1) demonstrate that even in privacy cases, where each republication of private information may represent further interference with the Article 8 right, there comes a point where it is futile to impose an injunction against further publication.