Yesterday the High Court handed down a judgment which highlights the potentially nuanced approach which the courts will take when considering the privacy rights of minors. In Spelman v Express Newspapers  EWHC 239, the Court was asked to consider the question whether an interim injunction should be granted to the seventeen year old son of Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for DEFRA. The injunction was designed to restrain the publication of private and indeed sensitive information relating to the Spelmans’ son by Express Newspapers (“EN”). Having found that the son would have a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the information in question, Lindblom J went on to consider how the son’s privacy rights under Article 8 should be balanced against EN’s right to freedom of expression under Article 10. He concluded that the balance tipped in favour of protecting the son’s right to privacy. In reaching this conclusion Lindblom J took into account in particular: that the claimant was a minor who ‘faced considerable press scrutiny in a tabloid newspaper’ [para. 17]; that publication of the story by EN would ‘not of itself advance the public interest claimed for it to a material degree’, as that public interest would ‘be protected and advanced in any event’ [para. 24] and, further, that publication of this story was ‘likely to have a very significant harmful effect on the claimant’ [para. 25].
However, notably the claimant’s status as a minor was not sufficient to incline Lindblom J to allow his application for anonymity in respect of the order itself. He held that the fact that subject matter of the application and the precise nature of the relief granted would not enter the public domain was sufficient to protect the claimant’s interests and that the fundamental importance of the principle of open justice meant that the claimant should be identified as the person who sought injunctive relief against EN. Lindblom J went on to comment that this seemed ‘properly to reflect the course which the court ought now normally to take in situations such as these’ [para. 35]. See further the relevant jurisprudence referred to in the judgment including: Cream Holdings Ltd v Banerjee  1 AC 253 (Supreme Court judgment on the test to be applied under the Human Rights Act when seeking injunctive relief restraining freedom of expression), Murray v Express Newspapers plc  Ch 481, (Court of Appeal judgment on the privacy rights of JK Rowling’s son) and DFT v TFD  EWHC 2335 (hearings in private to prevent unlawful publication of private information).