The Court of Appeal throws Ms Frisbee a line

The Court of Appeal has also delivered judgment in the less well-known action concerning Naomi Campbell. This is her dispute with Vanessa Frisbee, who was contracted to provide ‘management services’ to Ms Campbell with both express and implied duties of confidentiality. Notwithstanding this, she provided information to the News of the World for £25,000 which became the subject of an account of Ms Campbell’s alleged affair with the actor, Joseph Fiennes during the course of her engagement with Flavio Britore (of Formula 1 fame).

As the Court of Appeal noted, ‘the disclosures made by Ms Frisbee to the News of the World were, on the face of it, a flagrant breach of the Confidentiality Agreement and the duty of confidence arising out of the relationship between Ms Campbell and Ms Frisbee.’

On this basis, Ms Campbell applied successfully before a Master for summary judgment, and the decision of the Master was upheld by Mr Justice Lightman (see our March 2002 early warning).

Ms Frisbee appealed that decision, and the Court of Appeal allowed her appeal, but on the very narrow ground that although they considered that Mr Justice Lightman’s analysis and determination were correct, they were not entirely convinced that the high threshold for summary judgment had been reached, stating: ‘We have reached the reluctant conclusion that the answers to the issues raised in this appeal are not so clear as to entitle Ms Campbell to the summary judgment that she has obtained.’

The Court of Appeal however made it clear that Ms Frisbee’s prospects of success at trial were poor.

The judgment addressed two main issues. The first was whether an obligation of confidentiality survived a repudiatory breach of the contract on which it was based. After analysing the relevant case law, the court concluded that the effect on duties of confidence assumed under a contract when the contract in question was wrongly repudiated was not clearly established. They went on to say: ‘while we do not consider that it is likely that Ms Frisbee will establish that Mr Justice Lightman erred in his conclusions in a manner detrimental to her case, it cannot be said that she has no reasonable prospects of success on the issue.’

The other issue which the court addressed was the issue of freedom of expression and public interest as it applied to contractual duties of confidentiality. Here the court did not come to any conclusion or give any clear guidance as to how the court would determine this balancing exercise.

The judgment does indicate however that the contractual obligation of confidentiality is one which the courts will generally uphold against competing freedom of speech claims. This is because of the public policy value of compelling individuals to comply with legal obligations they undertake for payment.


Contractual duty of confidence takes precedence over free speech: Naomi Campbell v Vanessa Frisbee

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.