Anna Ford denied judicial review of PCC privacy decision

Anna Ford’s application for leave to review a decision of the Press Complaints Commission has been refused.  She had made a complaint to the PCC about photographs taken of herself and a friend without their knowledge on a beach in Majorca.  She was in a bikini, and the photographs showed her applying sun-tan lotion to her then partner.

The photographs were published in the Daily Mail and OK Magazine.  Ms Ford complained to the PCC that they infringed her privacy in breach of clause 3 of the PCC code, which provides:

  1. Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence.  A publication will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent.
  2. The use of long lens photography to take pictures of people in private places without their consent is unacceptable.

Note – Private places are public or private property where there is reasonable expectation of privacy.

The PCC decided that Ms Ford’s entitlement to privacy under the PCC code had not been infringed because she had been photographed on a public beach.  Ms Ford challenged that ruling.  However, in order to challenge the PCC by way of judicial review, you must first apply for leave to do so.

Ms Ford therefore applied to the court for leave to invite a judge to review the PCC ruling.  Had she been successful in obtaining leave, she would then in a separate hearing have invited the court to declare the ruling “unreasonable” in legal terms.  The court rejected her application for leave and concluded that: “The Commission was a body whose membership and expertise made it much better equipped than the courts to resolve the difficult exercise of balancing the conflicting rights of the claimants to privacy and the newspapers to publish.  The courts should only interfere with the Commission’s decisions when it would be clearly desirable to do so.”

The court also decided that none of the criticisms made on Ms Ford’s behalf of the PCC’s determination had any merit, or reached the threshold necessary for the court to grant her permission to apply for judicial review of the PCC’s decision.  This illustrates the very high threshold faced by any complainant to the PCC in seeking to challenge the PCC’s decision in court.

Since the law of privacy is rapidly developing and the PCC does not enjoy the confidence of many of those who have reason to complain about their treatment by the press, legal proceedings are now more likely to be effective in many cases.

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.