The media don't like to be gagged: their response is unlikely to be kind...Emily Dent, director, Rampart PR
Despite the fact that the PJS story has already appeared in US, Canadian and even Scottish media, the court’s judgement decided that further disclosure in England and Wales, together with "unrestricted internet coverage", would cause distress to PJS and his family.
Managing the crisis
But how would reputation management have handled the situation differently, or more effectively, than employing the legal system?
There is an uneasiness among the British public about quashing free speech, despite the lack of explicit legislation protecting it in comparison with the US, and PJS may come to regret taking that route, despite yesterday’s victory in court.
Dent says: "An injunction might be seen by the public as an arrogant attempt to prevent them knowing the truth, and risks damaging public opinion as much or more than the story itself."
Better, Dent thinks, to employ a multi-pronged approach that attempts to deal in truths rather than "clumsy, heavy handed cover-ups".
She says: "Consider a good reputation as being built out of papier maché, made strong over time with layers of long-garnered public favour and hard-won goodwill – all easily destroyed if you try to protect it by swinging a sledgehammer."
He says: "I would have urged PJS to go on the front foot by putting forward their side of the story and taking appropriate legal action post-publication if a newspaper was later found to have breached their right to privacy under the law."
Employing the law
So, is the law still capable of protecting people’s reputations?
In addition to injunctions, there are a number of legal instruments in the toolbox, such as defamation, copyright – which can be used to protect celebrities from intrusive pictures – and data protection legislation, as well as specific criminal offences, including the Computer Misuses Act.
Patrick says: "These continue to provide celebrities and other high profile individuals with protection in this country, certainly in comparison with other jurisdictions around the world such as the US."
Although the PJS story has significantly weakened the case for using privacy injunctions, they still continue to provide some protection and it would be premature of the media to discount the possibility of being on the receiving end of one in the future.
Nathan Capone, a lawyer at reputation management law firm Fieldfisher, says: "Had the Supreme Court decided to discontinue the injunction on the basis that the identities of PJS and YMA were already widely known, this would have undoubtedly sounded the death knell for celebrity privacy injunctions. The judgement is a robust affirmation of the importance of applying the law. Responding to press criticism of the injunction, the Supreme Court said that even if it can be said that the law is an ass, if that is the price of applying the law, it is one which must be paid."
He says: "This is a hugely significant decision for those wishing to protect their privacy, and that of their family, from intrusion and harassment by the media. It may well also sound the death knell for the 'kiss-and-tell'."
It may well sound the death knell for the 'kiss-and-tell'David Engel, head of reputation, Addleshaw Goddard
Blueprint for the future
Engel thinks the Supreme Court’s judgement has even created a new blueprint for how cases such as these may be decided in future.
He says: "It has made the practical point that, even where people may be able to find the information online, that is qualitatively different – in terms of the distress and damage caused to the victim – from having the story plastered across the front pages of the tabloids."
Capone thinks that the case has highlighted how the courts need to adapt their approach, while maintaining people’s right to privacy.
He says: "The Supreme Court has acknowledged that the world of social media and the internet is effectively uncontrollable and the courts need to be ready to change their approach as a consequence. However, in this case the legal position as to PJS's privacy rights was clear and electronic developments as they stand today should not affect that position."
The Supreme Court has acknowledged that the world of social media and the internet is effectively uncontrollable and the courts need to be ready to change their approach as a consequenceNathan Capone, lawyer, Fieldfisher
But Sellitto still believes that reputation management should have been employed early.