The extramarital activities of those in the entertainment business may usually pass us by, unobserved. However the Supreme Court’s recent ruling which touched on the invasion of privacy relating to “PJS’” sexual encounters has caused quite a stir. In doing so, the issue of privacy in the age of the internet (and arguably the identity of PJS) have been brought further into public spotlight.  Dispute Resolution solicitor, Tom Spencer provides an outline of the case.

In a globalised world of information and the sharing of personal information at an unprecedented level, the Supreme Court of England and Wales has struck a blow for privacy, where in all respects there is none.

In a recent decision the Supreme Court has allowed an appeal against the Court of Appeal’s decision to set aside an interim injunction preventing a newspaper from disclosing details of extramarital sexual activities of “PJS” a well-known British person in the entertainment business, who was married to, and had two young children with, “YMA”, a well-known individual in the same business.

The details of PJS’ extra marital activities were well known to anyone in the US, Canada, as close to home as Scotland and to anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the internet as the details appeared on numerous websites identifying PJS and YMA. However, PJS was able to obtain an interim injunction (applicable in England and Wales only) before publication of accounts of his extramarital sexual activities were made available in England and on the basis that the interim injunction preventing disclosure of the identity of the individuals involved is still in place, this article must continue to address PJS and YMA by their Court appointed pseudonyms. However, for anyone with a passing interest in celebrity tittle tattle/freedom of the press (delete as applicable) in anywhere other than England and Wales, the details of the story may well be known to you and forgotten about as the media spotlight has moved onto some other famous face.

In its decision the Court of Appeal had set aside the interim injunction concluding that PJS was not “likely” to obtain a permanent injunction restraining publication at trial, and consequently the interim injunction should be set aside. However, the interim injunction would be held in place pending an appeal to the Supreme Court, the highest Court in England.

The Supreme Court in considering the appeal to it concluded that PJS’s application for permission to appeal should be granted and the interim injunction continued until trial. The majority of the Supreme Court (although there was a dissenter) concluded that, even if private information had already been disclosed, the repetition of such disclosure could constitute a further invasion of privacy, especially if it occurred in a different medium (such as large scale print media). The Supreme Court found that the lower Court of Appeal had not given due weight to the differences in intrusiveness and distress likely to be involved in unrestricted publication of the information by English media in hard copy as well as on their own internet sites, and had not given the interests of PJS and YMA’s children sufficient importance. The media storm that discharge of the interim injunction would unleash would add a different and in some respects more enduring dimension to the existing invasions of privacy. Therefore, the appeal should be allowed and the interim injunction continued.

The decision, although welcomed by privacy lawyers has flown in the face of the realities of the information age and the speed of the internet in a global market for news. While the newspaper and magazine reading public of the UK await the final decision of the Supreme Court, by the time the decision is made the story will be the equivalent of digital fish and chip paper for the rest of the world.