Haven't we been here before? The privacy injunction back under attack

Legal action taken by a married celebrity to prevent allegations about his private life being published has been the subject of heavy criticism, particularly since the allegations have now been published in the US and Scotland.

The British press has called the Court of Appeal's ruling on 'PJS' a "sex gag disgrace".
The British press has called the Court of Appeal's ruling on 'PJS' a "sex gag disgrace".
Last month the Court of Appeal granted an injunction preventing The Sun on Sunday from publishing allegations about PJS and YMA, a married couple in the "entertainment world" who allegedly have an open relationship. 

The court ruled that PJS' right to a "private and family life" outweighed the newspaper's right to publish an article about his adultery including an alleged "three-way sexual encounter".

The court made clear that while PJS was a public figure, there was no inherent public interest in such kiss and tell stories. 

It was held that the proposed story about PJS' sex life would be "devastating" for the claimant and his family, especially his young children.

Since the judgement was made public there has been the inevitable speculation and gossip on social media and the internet about the identity of the couple. 

Matters escalated last week when a magazine in the US, not bound by the terms of the injunction, which only applies in England and Wales, decided to publish the full story, complete with names. 

While it is worth mentioning that the same magazine carried an article alleging that Tom Cruise is trying to dethrone the Queen, the publication of the article in the US, followed by a similar article published in Scotland over the weekend, has generated extra unwelcome column inches for PJS and his family. 

It would now take someone little more than ten minutes online to find out who they are. 

The infuriated British press has also hit back, labelling the Court of Appeal's ruling a "sex gag disgrace".

As happened in 2011, when Ryan Giggs was identified in Parliament as having an injunction, Westminster has now jumped on the bandwagon.

After reports that an unnamed MP was planning to use parliamentary privilege to reveal the details of the couple, the House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has controversially warned MPs they are banned from breaching the terms of the injunction, which in turn would have allowed English news outlets to report the information lawfully. 

The Speaker has stepped in to prevent claims that such behaviour by certain MPs would be an abuse of their position.

The events of the past week demonstrate the limits of taking legal action in a digital world where there are no boundaries. 

While legal action is a useful tool in the correct circumstances, for those with an international profile (even one that only extends north of Hadrian's Wall) an injunction granted by the English courts will never eliminate the risk of the story being published elsewhere. 

No doubt the likes of Ryan Giggs and Fred Goodwin regret the legal action they previously took trying to keep their extramarital affairs secret. PJS must be starting to feel the same. 

Michael Patrick is a senior associate at Farrer & Co

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