A battle royal in the High Court

The proceedings between the Royal Household (represented by the Attorney General) and the Daily Mirror and its undercover reporter (Ryan Parry) have been settled. The fact that proceedings were initiated and the statements made on the Royal Family’s behalf at their conclusion before Mr Justice Lightman yesterday suggest a change of approach by the Royal Family on the question of their privacy and confidences.

Mr Parry claimed to have obtained a job in the Royal Household by means of “basic subterfuge” (to quote Piers Morgan, the Daily Mirror’s editor). However, before being employed, Mr Parry signed an agreement under which he undertook not to disclose information obtained during the course of his employment about either the Queen or the Royal Family, or her guests and members of the Royal Household.

Today’s Daily Mirror claims that the newspaper has “scored a famous victory in being allowed to keep all the money earned from syndicating the story worldwide”. The newspaper has, however, agreed to a permanent injunction prohibiting further disclosures by Mr Parry or MGN, delivery up of all unpublished photographs and documents and the destruction of any unpublished stories. The Daily Mirror has agreed not to syndicate any further material already published or republish the pictures of the Duke of York and the Earl and Countess of Wessex. The Daily Mirror also agreed to contribute £25,000 towards the Attorney General’s costs.

Jonathan Sumption QC (acting for the Attorney General and the Royal Household) described the Daily Mirror’s actions at yesterday’s hearing as “a highly objectionable invasion of privacy, devoid of any legitimate interest,” since the public interest could have been better served by the Daily Mirror simply informing the Security Commission of any alleged failures of the Palace’s vetting procedures. He added that the Queen and Royal Family “are entitled to a proper measure of privacy in their personal lives” and also “entitled to trust those who serve in their households, without having to make the corrosive assumption that their confidence may be betrayed at any moment with impunity.”

It is difficult to argue with Mr Sumption’s statements, or understand how the public interest could have been served by the Daily Mirror publishing pictures of the private rooms of the Duke of York and the Earl and Countess of Wessex. In the breach of confidence action brought by Naomi Campbell against her personal assistant (Vanessa Frisbee – see our March 2002 early warning) Mr Justice Lightman emphasised the public interest in duties of confidentiality entered into by contract being upheld by the courts. Doubtless this judgment was not forgotten by the Daily Mirror’s legal team. One suspects that if Mr Justice Lightman had been given the opportunity to express his views on the subject, they would have been much closer to those of Mr Sumption than those of the Daily Mirror.

Bulletins are for general guidance only. Legal advice should be sought before taking action in relation to specific matters. Where reference is made to Court decisions facts referred to are those reported as found by the Court. Please note that past bulletins included in the Archive have not been updated by any subsequent changes in statute or case law.