Battle Royal in the High Court

January 2004


On Friday 21 November, Mr Justice Lewinson imposed an interim injunction of the Daily Mirror preventing the newspaper revealing any more details about the Royal Family’s lifestyle and the royal household which had been collected by undercover reporter Ryan Parry. Amongst details reported were the Queen’s TV viewing habits (Eastenders is a favourite), her regular dining menus, her reading habits (Racing Post is laid out first every day) and drinking habits (gin and Dubonnet). Mr Parry was taken on after almost no security checks and given responsibilities which took him into direct contact with the Royal Family. The Mirror argued that it had acted at all times in the public interest and had exposed a very serious security breach involving the Queen and the Royal Family. However, it was clear that Mr Parry had signed an employee agreement which contained a confidentiality agreement. This would almost always override any right to a freedom of expression (article 10) contained in the Human Rights Act. The Royal Family argued that the publications in the Mirror were the plainest possible breach of confidence and the plainest possible intrusion into personal privacy.
The full hearing for the action began on Monday November 24.

Jonathan Coad of the Simkins Partnership adds the following:
The proceedings between the Royal Household (represented by the Attorney General) and the Daily Mirror and its undercover reporter (Ryan Parry) have been settled. The fact that proceedings were initiated and the statements made on the Royal Family’s behalf at their conclusion before Mr Justice Lightman yesterday suggest a change of approach by the Royal Family on the question of their privacy and confidences. Mr Parry claimed to have obtained a job in the Royal Household by means of “basic subterfuge” (to quote Piers Morgan, the Daily Mirror’s editor). However, before being employed, Mr Parry signed an agreement under which he undertook not to disclose information obtained during the course of his employment about either the Queen or the Royal Family, or her guests and members of the Royal Household. The Daily Mirror claims that the newspaper has “scored a famous victory in being allowed to keep all the money earned from syndicating the story worldwide”. The newspaper has, however, agreed to a permanent injunction prohibiting further disclosures by Mr Parry or MGN, delivery up of all unpublished photographs and documents and the destruction of any unpublished stories. The Daily Mirror has agreed not to syndicate any further material already published or republish the pictures of the Duke of York and the Earl and Countess of Wessex. The Daily Mirror also agreed to contribute £25,000 towards the Attorney General’s costs.
Jonathan Sumption QC (acting for the Attorney General and the Royal Household) described the Daily Mirror’s actions at yesterday’s hearing as “a highly objectionable invasion of privacy, devoid of any legitimate interest,” since the public interest could have been better served by the Daily Mirror simply informing the Security Commission of any alleged failures of the Palace’s vetting procedures. He added that the Queen and Royal Family “are entitled to a proper measure of privacy in their personal lives” and also “entitled to trust those who serve in their households, without having to make the corrosive assumption that their confidence may be betrayed at any moment with impunity.” It is difficult to argue with Mr Sumption’s statements, or understand how the public interest could have been served by the Daily Mirror publishing pictures of the private rooms of the Duke of York and the Earl and Countess of Wessex. In the breach of confidence action brought by Naomi Campbell against her personal assistant Mr Justice Lightman emphasised the public interest in duties of confidentiality entered into by contract being upheld by the courts. Doubtless this judgment was not forgotten by the Daily Mirror’s legal team. One suspects that if Mr Justice Lightman had been given the opportunity to express his views on the subject, they would have been much closer to those of Mr Sumption than those of the Daily Mirror.

Where identified, material is by Jonathan Coad of the Simkins Partnership and republished with permission.
This material is © The Simkins Partnership and is for general guidance only.

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