It is almost two years since the Court of Appeal handed down its landmark decision in the Hello! case giving the green light to breach of privacy claims in the UK courts. The decision concerned the rights of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones in relation to the publication of unauthorised photos of their wedding.
The unauthorised photos were published by Hello! magazine who bought them from sources in America including the photographer Phil Ramey. Douglas and Zeta-Jones (along with OK! magazine who had exclusive rights to publish the official wedding photos) sued Hello! magazine, the publisher of the unauthorised photos (see our January 2001 bulletin).
The Court of Appeal refused two years ago to uphold an injunction against Hello! Although the claimants did have privacy rights, an injunction was inappropriate because those privacy rights had in effect been sold to OK!
Earlier this year the claimants applied to join Ramey as a defendant in the proceedings. He was served at an address in Santa Monica, California by delivery to a numbered mailbox facility. Ramey applied for service of the proceedings to be set aside and for the claims against him to be dismissed. Ramey’s application was initially unsuccessful and he then appealed to a High Court judge (Mr Justice Laddie) whose judgment was handed down earlier this week.
In order to extricate himself from the proceedings Ramey had to show that the claims against him were insufficiently weighty to justify service out of the jurisdiction. There was no claim that Ramey took the unauthorised photos himself or was even present at the wedding. However, he was said to have committed a cocktail of unlawful actions including:
- Breach of confidence
- Breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998
- Invasion of privacy rights
- Interference with contractual relations
The judge agreed that no reasonable allegation of wrongdoing actionable in England had been made against Ramey and ordered that service of the proceedings on him be set aside.
It remains to be seen whether the claimants will ultimately have more success in their claims against Hello! and the other defendants. The result, if there is one, will be keenly awaited by media lawyers.