New figures reveal soaring number of UK celebrity privacy cases

Anecdotal evidence from media lawyers has long suggested that privacy has overtaken defamation as the biggest money-spinner for many of them.

Now the Independent is reporting evidence which says that the number of UK court cases involving privacy arguments has soared in the past year.

Citing research from Sweet and Maxwell, the Independent reports that there have been 43 privacy court cases in the last year, versus 28 in 2009. It states that 21 per cent of the cases in the last year have involved celebrities – versus just seven per cent in 2009.

Over the last month we have heard about three footballers and a golfer using injunctions to block newspaper revelations about their private lives. Who knows how many further “super injunctions” have been brought (those so secret that their existence cannot be reported).

The ballooning number of injunctions has led the Coalition Government to the view that new privacy law provisions need to be included in its Defamation Act, due out next year.

UPDATE: The press release on this just appeared from Sweet and Maxwell, here it is in full:

Sweet & Maxwell says that of the 43 cases reported, 22 were brought against the public sector, up from 17 cases in the previous year, making up 51% of all privacy cases.

Sweet & Maxwell says that problems arise when a public body fails to consider whether their interference in an individual’s right to privacy is necessary and proportionate to any public interest that there might be in interfering with the right in the first place.

Jonathan Cooper, barrister at London’s Doughty Street Chambers and editor of Sweet & Maxwell’s ‘European Human Rights Law Review’ comments: ‘The right to respect for private life is increasingly important in the 2st century. Once your private life has been violated it is very difficult to recreate it.”

“Privacy was once something we could take for granted, but as our privacy is increasingly encroached upon by public bodies, people are resorting to the law to protect themselves.

‘As Sweet & Maxwell’s research shows, protecting the right to respect for private life is a growing area of law. Privacy law is no longer the preserve of wealthy celebrities concerned with media intrusion. Privacy is about all of us and our relationship with the State and each other.”

‘Although the right to a private life has been well developed in international human rights law the UK has lagged behind in the development of this legal concept.”

Experts have warned that Britain is at risk of becoming a ‘surveillance society’ with Human Rights group Privacy International earlier this year describing Britain as: ‘the most surveillance-intense country in the democratic world”.

The problem was highlighted by a recent Investigatory Powers Tribunal that criticised Poole council (Paton v Poole Borough Council) for  using ‘covert surveillance’ techniques, normally reserved to monitor terror suspects, to monitor Jenny Paton and her family during a dispute over which school catchment area the family belonged to.

Sweet & Maxwell says that while the use of privacy law in the UK has been almost exclusively reserved to celebrity versus media in the past, the spread of privacy arguments to other areas reflects a changing attitude towards the use of privacy laws in the UK courts.

Jonathan Cooper explains that the growth in privacy cases stems from the fact that privacy claims could not be argued before the entry into force of the Human Rights Act.

He adds, ‘One of the most important features of that Act is its recognition of the importance of privacy and the fact that it gives an enforceable right to respect for private life. The definition of private life includes physical and moral integrity, identity, as well as the right just to be. What actually constitutes a lawful interference of one’s privacy or private life can be open to challenge.”

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