Damages and injunction awarded in Facebook privacy claim

Misuse of private information claim over social media dispute succeeds at trial

A privacy claim over a Facebook post disclosing information relating to the claimant’s mental health problems, published as part of an acrimonious family dispute, has seen the claimant win damages and an injunction at trial. Judgment was handed down in JQL v NTP [2020] EWHC 1349 (QB) by HHJ Lewis (sitting as a deputy High Court Judge) on 27 May 2020, following a four day trial between 17-20 March 2020.

The parties were anonymised. The claimant, a graduate hoping to train as a lawyer, brought the claim against her uncle over a 2018 post on Facebook which referred to her having had “treatment for mental health and self-harm”. The post was published in the course of a series of exchanges on the social media platform between the claimant, her mother, and the claimant’s grandmother. These posts were published in the context of a number of disputes between members of the family, including one in 2015 which led the claimant, her siblings and her mother to stop speaking to the defendant, his brother, and the claimant’s grandmother.

The Court found that the post would have been understood as referring to the claimant’s mental health difficulties, and that it was published directly to six members of the claimant’s close family who were not aware of the information, as well as to a small number of additional readers who became aware of it on Facebook. The claimant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the information, which concerned one of her “deepest secrets”, and was frightened that the post by the defendant had led to her losing control over the information. Her rights were not outweighed in the circumstances by those of the defendant.

The Judge awarded general damages, having regard amongst other things to the nature of the information, the impact the disclosure had on the claimant’s family relationships, and the consequences for her right of autonomy and control in respect of the information. He also found that the defendant had aggravated the harm caused to the claimant, both by his initial response to her claim and by the way in which he defended the litigation, in which he persisted in seeking to turn a case about the claimant’s mental health and self-harm into one about alleged misuse of alcohol and drugs. The Judge considered an award of £15,000 including general and significant aggravated damages to be appropriate.

The Judge also awarded an injunction. Although the claimant did not include a claim for an injunction in her claim form, she had threatened to apply for one during the litigation and a number of factors, including the underlying context of the family feud, meant that she was entitled to one.

Gervase de Wilde, instructed by Brett Wilson LLP, acted for the claimant. David Hirst, instructed via direct access, acted for the defendant.