UK top court: Celebrity in 'kiss and tell' can't be named

AP News
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Posted: May 19, 2016 10:55 AM

LONDON (AP) — Britain's Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a ban on identifying a celebrity involved in an extramarital relationship, even though the man's name has been published in other countries.

The legal battle has major implications for the balance between privacy and the right to publish in the U.K., where the wealthy and famous have used the courts to stop scandal-hungry tabloids making embarrassing revelations.

The man — an entertainment figure who is married to another celebrity — went to court earlier this year to stop the Sun on Sunday newspaper publishing interviews with two former sexual partners, including details of what the judges called "a three-way sexual encounter."

The celebrity — identified in court only as PJS — argued that publication would infringe the privacy of the couple and their young children.

The newspaper is trying to quash the injunction, and argues publication bans are untenable in the Internet age. The injunction applies only to England and Wales, and names of those involved have been published in North America and Scotland.

Last month, after the man's name had appeared online, the Court of Appeal ruled the injunction should be lifted because his identity was now "common knowledge." But the ban remained in place while he appealed to the country's top court.

Supreme Court justices ruled by a 4-1 margin that the ban should remain until a full trial. No date has been set.

In the majority ruling, judge Jonathan Mance said "there is no public interest (however much it may be of interest to some members of the public) in publishing kiss-and-tell stories or criticisms of private sexual conduct, simply because the persons involved are well-known."

One judge dissented. Roger Toulson said "the story's confidentiality has become so porous that the idea of it still remaining secret in a meaningful sense is illusory."

The use of gag orders has become a contentious issue in Britain, especially since the blocked information is often available online.

The number of celebrity injunctions has dwindled since soccer star Ryan Giggs tried to prevent a story being published about an alleged affair in 2011. He was named on Twitter and in Parliament, and the story generated even more publicity than it might have done had Giggs not gone to court.

Robin Shaw, a media-related litigation expert at law firm Gordon Dadds, said Thursday's ruling "will likely lead to a rapid increase in applications for privacy injunctions" by celebrities and wealthy individuals.

But Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, called the court's ruling disappointing and said injunctions were "an expensive waste of rich people's money and of the courts' time."

"It is wrong that people in England and Wales cannot read in the media of their choice whatever everyone else in the world knows already," he said.