The Court of Appeal has upheld the decision of Mr Justice Eady in the case of McKennitt v Ash. This is a significant decision concerning the extent to which the Court will protect the privacy of celebrities.
Canadian Loreena McKennitt wins appeal and her right to “the human dignity of privacy” in Court of Appeal
14 December 2006
Today in London, the Court of Appeal upheld the December 2005 High Court judgment of Mr Justice Eady who found that Loreena McKennitt’s privacy had been intruded upon and the duty of confidence owed to her by a former friend and employee had been violated.
Niema Ash, a UK resident, had self-published a book about the Canadian singer/composer in the summer of 2005. After a 10-day High Court trial heard in private in November of 2005, certain passages of the book were restrained by order of Eady J and he also awarded damages and costs. Subsequently, Ms Ash and her solicitors appealed the ruling and were heard by a three-person appeal panel in November of this year.
The Court of Appeal, led by Lord Justice Buxton, determined that there was no error in approach or law by Mr Justice Eady. In the judgment handed down today, the Court found that Eady J was right to conclude that numerous passages of the book, such as those dealing with the drowning death of Ms McKennitt’s fiancé and her subsequent grief, “were remarkably intrusive” and a breach of confidence.
In commenting on the result Ms McKennitt said:
“I am very grateful to the courts who have recognized that every person has an equal right to a private life. If an aspect of career places one directly in the public eye or if extraordinary events make an ordinary person newsworthy for a time, we still should have the basic human dignity of privacy for our home and family life.
As an artist I naturally feel strongly about freedom of expression, and I feel vindicated that the law supported my view that freedom comes with responsibility for decency, fairness and truth.”
The case of McKennitt v Ash has generated interest in legal circles and among various media interests because it has moved to clarify the effect of the Human Rights Act 1998 on English law and, in particular, the incorporation of the right to respect for a private life as described in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Moreover, and as widely reported, various media parties sought to intervene and the Court considered their detailed legal submissions.
Ms Ash and her solicitors had argued before the Court of Appeal that she wanted to “tell her story” and that the Article 10 right to freedom of expression allowed her to override Ms McKennitt’s Article 8 rights to privacy.
Mark Thomson, Ms McKennitt’s solicitor from the London law firm Carter-Ruck, pointed out:
“The Court of Appeal has found that Mr Justice Eady applied the law correctly and paid tribute to his careful judgment and his handling of the case. With an intense focus on the facts of the case at trial he performed a proportional balancing exercise on the parties’ respective rights. The judgment has helped explain the breadth of privacy rights in this country, the relevance of public domain and accuracy in the material disclosed and the extent to which the public interest is truly served by mere curiosity.”
The judgment also indicated that the breach of confidence and Ms Ash’s signed confidentiality agreement could not be justified by a supposed public interest defence of revealing alleged malfeasance or hypocrisy in relation to a private real estate transaction. In fact, Eady J found that the evidence presented in court proved there “was nothing to Ms McKennitt’s discredit whatsoever.”
Ms McKennitt stated:
“This is a victory as well for writers who view their work with integrity, and for those who understand that the duty of the press to question government and corporations should not be interfered with nor taken lightly. We also realize that the essence of a free society is the personal autonomy of the individual to think, feel, and interact socially without unwarranted intrusion.”
Loreena McKennitt was represented by Mark Thomson and Antonia Foster.