Surge in number of privacy cases heard in UK courts

The number of reported privacy cases heard in court in the UK rose by 22 per cent in the last year, according new research.

A study by legal information provider Sweet and Maxwell found that the number of recorded cases in the year to 31 May 2013 was 55, up from 45 in the 12 months before. And there were 40 recorded in the year before, between 2010 and 2011.

The statistics, on cases reported in the High Court and above where a privacy argument was used, were based on research by Sweet and Maxwell’s online services, Lawtel and Westlaw UK.

It also found that 11 per cent of privacy cases in the last year were brought by high-profile individuals – down from 47 per cent the year before. This means the number of privacy cases being brought by ordinary individuals more than doubled between the 2012 and 2013 periods, from 24 to 49. Meanwhile, six privacy arguments were made in court by high-profile individuals in the year to 31 May 2013, compared with 21 the year before (a 71 per cent drop).

“There has been a sudden shift from privacy law being the preserve of wealthy, high profile celebrities to privacy law being used by a much broader cross-section of society,” said Jonathan Cooper. barrister at London’s Doughty Street Chambers and editor of Sweet & Maxwell’s European Human Rights Law Review.

“The courts recently restricted the use of privacy law to take out super injunctions, which had become a growing trend amongst celebrities and other high profile individuals. This has reduced the number of these types of claims in the courts.  

“However, the overall trend is for there to be more privacy cases in the courts on a wider range of issues.”

Journalists are hopeful the Defamation Act, which comes into force later this year, will lead to greater protection for responsible journalism when it comes to libel actions. But the right to privacy enshrined in the Human Rights Act is becoming a growing source of litigation for publishers.

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