Privacy out of the spotlight

While all eyes have been focused on Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas in their privacy battle, two recent court rulings demonstrate how privacy rights are being applied outside the rarefied world of celebrities.

In the case of Peck v United Kingdom, a local authority supplied broadcasters and local newspapers with CCTV images of a man carrying a kitchen knife. The images were then widely published. The man had in fact just attempted to commit suicide, but this was not caught on camera.

The man applied to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg claiming, among other things, that the supply of unmasked CCTV footage of him to the media was in breach of his right to privacy guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention. The Strasbourg Court had little difficulty in concluding that the disclosure of the footage to the media infringed Article 8. The fact that the council had disclosed the images in order to promote the benefits of CCTV to the public was insufficient to justify the disclosure and the subsequent widespread publication of the images.

In another privacy ruling, a convicted burglar and car thief succeeded in obtaining a temporary injunction preventing Essex police from using his image as part of a “name and shame” poster campaign. Reports suggest that one reason the injunction was granted was because of the impact the poster campaign may have on the man’s family. Essex police are reported to be considering how to respond.

There is still a lack of judicial guidance on precisely how an individual’s right to privacy is to be balanced against the right of free speech and other public interests. However, the direction in which the courts appear to be heading will worry many in the media. Credence is being given to privacy claims even where the media would claim that there are public interest reasons for publication. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas may grab the headlines, but it is the private individual who is quietly shaping the law of privacy.

David Attfield is a solicitor in the Media Group of Lovells

David Attfield

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