The law of privacy is developing fast and the days when newspapers could publish details of people’s personal lives with impunity are well and truly over. In a case on point, the High Court came to the aid of a man who claimed that he had been threatened with blackmail by a former sexual partner.
The man alleged that, following their brief sexual relationship, the woman informed him that, unless he paid her a large sum of money, she would go to the press or the police, or self-publish her story. She denied trying to blackmail him and countered with accusations that he had raped her, given her chlamydia and made her pregnant.
After the man launched proceedings, a judge granted an interim injunction forbidding the woman from disclosing specified information to anyone else, apart from the police. An order which prevented reporters from publishing anything that might tend to identify either the man or the woman was also made. Those orders had since been extended twice, pending a full trial of the action.
In granting a further extension, the Court noted that anonymity is for good reasons generally granted where allegations of blackmail or extortion are made. Sexual activity was also a classic example of information in respect of which there is an expectation of privacy. The man was more likely than not to succeed in establishing at trial that a permanent ban on dissemination or publication of the specified information would be necessary and proportionate to protect his privacy.
The Court, however, modified the injunction so as to minimise its impact on the woman’s human right to freedom of expression. Whilst respecting the man’s anonymity, she was permitted to tell others that she had had a sexual relationship. She was also permitted to disclose the specified information to medical professionals, two members of her family and five close friends on the basis that she would inform them of the injunction prior to doing so.