Oliver Smith: Celebrities the losers as tide of legal precedent turns again

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This case is the latest in a line of actions to test the boundaries of privacy rights. It started in 2004 with the lengthy battle between Mirror Group Newspapers and Naomi Campbell after MGN published a story with photos of the model leaving Narcotics Anonymous, saying that she was being hypocritical in pretending that she did not take drugs and was a public role model. Campbell sued for breach of her privacy and data protection rights. She won in the High Court, lost in the Court of Appeal and won in the then House of Lords (now The Supreme Court) by a 3-2 majority. The judges said the sensitive nature of her treatment should not have been disclosed.

The House of Lords then decided that the ECHR's wider interpretation of a private and family life applied in English law. This has been used by celebrities such as John Terry in cases that were a turning point in rationalising the extent of celebrity privacy.

MGN challenged the House of Lords decision on Campbell in the ECHR but could not persuade it that the photographs and details of her drug use were necessary to make the story credible. The judge, however, accepted that Ferdinand put himself in a position as a role model and that the kiss-and-tell story contributed to legitimate debate on the footballer's suitability for the role and so was in the public interest.

Oliver Smith is a solicitor at Keystone Law

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