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FRONT LINE FIRST - LAW

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Lat month the High Court awarded£3,500 damages to Naomi Campbell following the publication of an article and photo...
Lat month the High Court awarded£3,500 damages to Naomi Campbell following the publication of an article and photographs in The Mirror about her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. The trial judge ruled the supermodel had established she was entitled to damages for both breach of confidence and under the Data Protection Act 1998 (Campbell v Mirror Group Newspapers).

This case is similar to the one heard last October, when Newham LBC agreed to pay a disabled girl£5,000 in damages after using her photograph without permission. Jacklyn Adeniji was shunned after friends saw her face on the front of a brochure setting out Newham's Aids strategy. Her legal action cited breach of confidence as well as the Data Protection and Human Rights Acts 1998.

The significance of the Naomi Campbell case - apart from the glamour of its subject - lies in the fact that it is the first time that a trial court has awarded compensation under the Data Protection Act 1998.

The Newham case did not receive much judicial comment because the settlement was agreed between the parties outside court.

In Campbell, the trial judge, Mr Justice Morland, stated that even celebrities were 'entitled to some space of privacy'. With regard to the Data Protection Act, he said the information contained in The Mirror article as to the nature of, and details of, the therapy that Ms Campbell was receiving, including the photographs with captions, was clearly related to her physical or mental health or condition and was therefore 'sensitive personal data'. He ruled The Mirror did not have one of the legitimising conditions in schedule 3 of the Act to enable it to publish such material lawfully.

The case shows the courts will use the Human Rights Act 1998 and article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights to protect individuals' privacy. This was not the case prior to the Human Rights Act (see Gordon Kaye v Robertson (1991)).

Three months after that law was implemented, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones sued Hello! magazine which had run unauthorised pictures of their wedding. There was no full trial but the Court of Appeal said the couple were likely to succeed in claiming a breach of privacy by Hello!. Lord

Justice Sedley said that the law had to protect those 'who find themselves subjected to an unwarranted intrusion into their lives'.

These cases are a further reminder to councils that they must be aware of privacy issues, especially when using photographs of people and when processing 'sensitive personal data' as defined by the Act. The majority of cases in this area will be brought by celebrities, but you don't have to be a media darling to use the principles established by them. The man or woman on the Clapham omnibus is equally protected.

Ibrahim Hasan

Principal solicitor, Calderdale MBC

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