David and Victoria Beckham failed in a legal attempt to gag the UK’s News of the World. The Beckhams launched a court bid to prevent the paper from publishing revelations from their former nanny Abbie Gibson, 27. Lawyers of the couple applied for an emergency injunction from High Court judge Mr Justice Langley on the grounds of confidentiality. They argued that Abbie had signed a contract guaranteeing that she would not speak out about their lives. But lawyers acting for Abbie and the News of the World convinced the judge that the story was in the public interest. The court decided the News of the World was entitled to publish Abbie’s account about the state of the Beckhams’ marriage and David’s affairs on Sunday April 24th. The News of the World, represented by Richard Spearman QC, was given the green light to publish at 8:30pm in the evening on Saturday 24th April following a 90 minute hearing. The newspaper’s Legal Manager Tom Crone said: ‘The Beckhams have spent a lot of their lives basking in a warm glow of publicity which they have created for themselves. For the first time the world can now read an insider’s detailed account about what their marriage is really like.’
COMMENT : Writing in the Times newspaper Mick Hume noted “of course we are familiar with the notion that the line between public and private is becoming increasingly blurred even so this business of the Beckham’s nanny surely marks a new low. A woman employed to care for children breaks a confidentiality agreement and goes to the papers with her version of David and Victoria Beckham’s sexual and family secrets. A [judge] refuses to stop publication because he rules the story is ‘in the public interest’. If publishing intimate details of marital relations is now considered in the public interest where will it end? Can the state set up CCTV in celebrity bedrooms”. The most recent test of what is in the ‘public interest was set out by Lord Woolf in A v B & C (2002) and this somewhat limits the Human Rights Act 1998 ‘right to privacy’ when it comes to celebrities (see below). Writing in the Cambridge Evening News Bob Satchel, Director of the Society of Editors says ‘the public interest and the media’s right to publish override individual rights of privacy or expectations of confidentiality if revelations reveal wrongdoing or expose hypocrisy we had [privacy] laws to protect soccer legends, movies queens and pop stars very quickly we would have bent businessmen, corrupt officials and less than savoury pop stars hiding behind them. The decision of the Court of Appeal in Douglas v Hello! just after this case does, to an extent, provide a happier picture for the Beckhams with injunctive relief now promoted by the Court of Appeal as appropriate in privacy cases and a recognition of the Von Hannover decision by the European Court of Justice that Article 8 protection for all citizens including celebrities was relevant to UK law.
The parties returned to the High Court at the end of the week and an order was made preventing Ms Gibson from making further revelations and allegations. The order did not prevent her from repeating what was already in the public domain. Ms Gibson must also hold the sum of £125,000 she received pending the legal proceedings the Beckhams have said they will bring against Ms Gibson for breach of confidence.
In another case Eastenders actor Jessie Wallace was refused an injunction against a former boyfriend (and father of her child) Dave Morgan who has said he will ‘wreck her career’ with revelations. Mr Justice Andrew Smith found that as she had herself placed flattering details of her private life into the public domain she forfeited her right to privacy. Whilst this case did not involve the issue of a confidentiality agreement, it shows that when celebrities put themselves and detail about their private lives voluntarily into the public domain they will have some trouble in stopping others revealing far less favourable comment publicly.
See the Times Friday April 29th 2005
See the Cambridge Evening News April 20th 2005 (pp6-7)
See also ‘Putting the Boot Into Posh and Becks Inc (Peter Preston) The Observer April 31st
See the Guardian May 9th 2005 EastEnder is denied ‘gag’
See ‘Law On Trial: Free Expression‘ by Marcel Berlins at: http://www.eurozine.com/article/2003-10-15-berlins-en.html
In A -v- B & C (2002) the Court of Appeal overturned an injunction obtained by a A, well known footballer (Blackburn Rovers Skipper Gary Flitcroft), against B and C who wanted to sell ‘kiss and tell’ stories about extra-marital affairs to national newspapers. At first instance Mr Justice Jacks had held that individual’s sex lives were private and there was no contravening public interest. But on appeal Lord Woolf held that public figures must expect and accept that their actions, private or public, would be examined by the press. Lord Woolf equated public interest with ‘interesting stories’ about public figures rather than the more restrictive ‘public interest’.
See above for the revised appeal decision in Douglas v Hello! and see the Guardian (Media Section page 14) ‘Photo Finish‘ by Dan Tench 23 May 2005