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Friday, 30 May 2008

Mind your Ps and Qs -- and watch your Rs

English cases often begin with the formula "R v ...", where "R" is an abbreviation for Rex or Regina (Latin for king/queen) -- but he's found a case brought by P and Q as well as R. It's P, Q and R v Quigley [2008] EWHC 1051 (QB), a decision of Mr Justice Eady from 16 May 2008. You can read it here in full on BAILII. In brief, the anonymised applicants (P, Q and R) applied for summary judgment on their claim for a permanent injunction to stop Quigley publishing "purported information" concerning the sexual activities of P and Q (Q being P's husband and also a former director and chief executive of a company, R).

Right: taking pains to preserve their anonymity, P and Q would adopt disguises whenever they met in public

There was obviously a bit of bad feeling between the parties since Quigley used to work for R but, after his resignation, criminal proceedings had been commenced against him following allegations that he had been siphoning off R's business opportunities -- proceedings which were abandoned on account of Quigley's mental health. Quigley then brought an action for malicious prosecution against R, which was settled. Subsequently Quigley threatened to publish a novella on the internet, starring P and Q, thinly disguised, who were to be depicted as participants in various unsavoury and fictitious sexual activities. Having secured interim injunctive relief, P and Q sought to make the ban permanent on the basis that the publication of Quigley's novella would infringe their rights to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 8.

Eady J granted the permanent injunction. In his view

* the balancing act between P and Q's rights of privacy and Quigley's right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the same Convention was clearly in favour of restricting publication because there was no conceivable public interest in the publicising of scurrilous allegations against P and Q.

* although the threat related to imaginary activities, the publication would be likely to cause distress and embarrassment and would constitute an unacceptable intrusion into a personal and intimate area of their lives -- and very little value could be given to Quigley's freedom to do that.

* any infringement of Quigley's rights was thus necessary and proportionate, having regard to the protection gained by P and Q.

* R's application to restrain publication would be adjourned for full trial because its claim was based on contract, not breach of privacy.
The IPKat, though sympathetic with the claimants, is a little perturbed by this result. If (i) Quigley's story on the internet was true and (ii) P and Q were identified as the persons in it and (iii) their sexual activities were of a private nature, the case for injunctive relief would have been unanswerable. But here it seems to be accepted by both sides that this was a novella, which suggests a work of fiction, and the identities of P and Q were disguised: if the public were not already familiar with the sexual practices of P and Q, why should they assume that the information in the movella was true and referred to P and Q rather than just being the fruit of the apparently disturbed mind of the defendant? Merpel adds, wasn't there an ECHR case involving an artist who had depicted real people in fictional sexual positions, with the court dividing as to whether this was an infringement of Art. 8 or not? Can anyone remember?

Mind your Ps and Qs here and here
Alphabet soup here
Publish your own novella here

1 comment:

Birgit Clark said...

The case is Vereinigung Bildender Kuenstler v Austria,
http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int/tkp197/view.asp?action=html&documentId=813158&portal=hbkm&source=externalbydocnumber&table=F69A27FD8FB86142BF01C1166DEA398649

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