Folk singer Loreena McKennitt wins major court privacy victory

Canadian folk-singer Loreena McKennitt today won a significant court
ruling upholding her right to privacy.

It is a ruling which could have major ramifications for the press.

McKennitt, whose "new age" Celtic music has sold 13 million albums
worldwide, had claimed that former friend and employee Niema Ash acted
in breach of confidence by publishing and disclosing certain information
in a 2005 book about her.

Last year she won £5,000 High Court damages and an injunction banning
further publication of certain identified passages in the book, entitled
Travels with Loreena McKennitt: My Life as a Friend.

The passages covered personal and sexual relationships, McKennitt's
feelings about her fiance, who drowned in 1998, as well as details of
her health and diet, her emotional vulnerability, and information on a
property dispute.

Ash denied she was bound by any such duty, arguing that the
information was so "banal, inconsequential or anodyne" as not to have
about it the "quality of confidence".

Her advocate, David Price, told Lord Justice Buxton, Lord Justice Latham
and Lord Justice Longmore at the Court of Appeal in London that the
importance of the case went beyond its protagonists.

"The judgment below is a triple whammy against freedom of expression –
that freedom being not merely the right of an author to impart
information but also to the public's right to receive it if they so
choose," he had told the court.

But Lord Justice Buxton, dismissing Ash's appeal today, said that the
claim was brought against the background that McKennitt was unusual
among world-wide stars in the entertainment business, in that she very
carefully guarded her personal privacy.

Mr Justice Eady, in the High Court, had rightly seen that to be a matter
of great importance.

He upheld all the judge's conclusions that various passages in the book
were intrusive, insensitive and distressing and came under Article 8 of
the Human Rights Act, which guarantees the right to respect for private
and family life.

He commented that, as an indication that the judge did not approach the
case with any preconception nor any unreasonable hostility to Ash,
there were many stories about the relationship between the two women in
the book that the judge held not to have been breaches of confidence.

"I would only comment that in some of those cases I myself might have
taken a different view," Lord Justice Buxton said.

He also dismissed the argument that Ms Ash's Article 10 right to freedom
of expression outweighed McKennitt's right to protection under
Article 8.

Rejecting the claim that Ash had a right to tell her own story, he
backed Mr Justice Eady's conclusion that the "confidence" between the
two women was "shared" only in the sense that McKennitt had admitted Ash to her confidence, which confidence Ash knew should be
respected.

As a result, Ash had no story to tell that was her own as opposed to
being McKennitt's.

After the hearing, Ms McKennitt said: "I am very grateful to the courts
who have recognised that every person has an equal right to a private
life.

"If an aspect of career places one directly in the public eye or if
extraordinary events make an ordinary person newsworthy for a time, we
still should have the basic human dignity of privacy for our home and
family life.

"As an artist I naturally feel strongly about freedom of expression, and
I feel vindicated that the law supported my view that freedom comes with
responsibility for decency, fairness and truth."

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