Celebrities will seize upon supermodel ruling

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The Independent Online

Naomi Campbell's so-called "pyrrhic victory" over The Mirror yesterday may not have been the most auspicious start for a new privacy law in this country but it was still seized upon by celebrities and their lawyers as the dawning of a new age of litigation.

Judges can now expect to hear dozens of similar cases which over the coming months will mark out a new boundary between the rights of celebrities and the freedom of the press.

Mr Justice Morland's ruling yesterday relied heavily on this month's judgment by the Lord Chief Justice in the case of the Premier League footballer, the lap dancer and the nursery teacher. Lord Woolf accepted then that article 8 of Human Rights Act 1998 could be used in combination with the English common law of confidentiality to create a right to privacy. But in the end he ruled against the footballer and his telling comments were drowned out in the noise of the celebrations on Fleet Street.

The practical significance of yesterday's ruling was that the celebrity won and the press lost. So it will be Mr Justice Morland's judgment which celebrity lawyers will be using as the stick with which to beat the press.

Expect to hear these words, uttered by the judge, many times again: "Although many aspects of the private lives of celebrities and public figures will inevitably enter the public domain, in my judgment it does not follow that, even with the self-publicists, every aspect and detail of their private lives are legitimate quarry for the journalist. They are entitled to some space of privacy."

But don't expect to hear Mr Justice Morland's warning about not wanting to hear a case like the Campbell one in his court again. Editors may be falsely comforted by the low level of damages awarded to the supermodel. But claims for distress are always low. Now the door has been opened celebrities will be able to argue for financial loss and any damage to their future careers resulting from the media intrusion. These are sums which could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Keith Schilling, Ms Campbell's solicitor, said he expected the courts now to consider the profits made out these kinds of intrusions of privacy and reflect them in the amount damages awarded. He said he had a number of cases which would benefit from yesterday's ruling.

The first will be that of the BBC Radio 1 DJ Sara Cox, who is suing the Sunday People over topless pictures taken of her during her honeymoon in the Seychelles.

According to Myles Jelf, intellectual property lawyer at law firm Bristows, the win for Ms Campbell is the first of many to come.

He said: "From the decision in this landmark case, it appears that the court has accepted that journalists and papers must now go beyond verifying the facts of a story, and be able to defend its publication as being in the public interest.

"This is a huge change in the regulation of the press, and further cases testing the principle will not be long in coming."

The law has come a long way since Lord Wakeham, the former head of the Press Complaints Commission, declared this year that there was no such thing as a law of privacy.

He said fewer than 10 so-called privacy cases had used the human rights legislation since it had come into force in 1998, underlining, "the fact that actions under the legislation have proved cumbersome, inaccessible and practically useless for ordinary people".

But in the last month alone we have seen two cases, which for the first time talked about a right to privacy under the new legislation.