Ministry of Defence succeed in defence of privacy claim

Court finds no reasonable expectation of privacy in claim by former Navy officer

A privacy claim brought by a former Commander of a Royal Navy warship was today dismissed by Nicol J.  In a judgment handed down today following the trial last month, the Court concluded that the Claimant, David Axon, had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the information in issue.

In 2004, the Claimant had been subject to an Equal Opportunities Investigation (EOI) which upheld complaints that he had bullied officers on his ship.   As a result, he was temporarily removed from command of the ship but accepted that his position as Commanding Officer was untenable. He did not oppose his permanent removal from command and was later formally removed from command of the ship.  The Sun newspaper published three articles at the time – the first with headline “Mutiny on Gulf warship: ‘Bully’ Captain is kicked off” – about the Claimant’s removal from Command.

Some 9 years later, the Claimant was informed by the police (Operation Elveden) that an employee of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) had received payment from The Sun for a story concerning him. The MOD employee was subsequently prosecuted for misconduct in public office to which she pleaded guilty.

The Claimant brought proceedings against the MOD for misuse of private information and/or breach of confidence in respect of the disclosure to The Sun of his information in relation to the EOI.

The Court dismissed the claim holding that the Claimant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of his removal from command as he was discharging a very public function, was in charge of a warship and his conduct in bullying officers had undermined the fighting effectiveness of the ship.

The judgment and 5RB case report are available here.

5RB‘s Christina Michalos acted for the Ministry of Defence instructed by the Government Legal Department.