The House of Lords ruled the Daily Mirror had gone too far in publishing details of her fight against drug addiction. The Court held the 33-year-old supermodel was entitled to damages against the newspaper for breach of confidence.
Her victory was by a 3-2 majority, but even the Lords who ruled against her said the time had come to recognise that an individual’s right to a private life under human rights laws could form part of an action against a newspaper, even though there was no specific law against invasion of privacy.
The lords once again indicated that there is no legal right to sue for breach of privacy and no easy way to define what is private and what is public. All the judges seemed to suggest that the test was whether or not “the disclosure of the information would be highly offensive to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities” – the test used in a New Zealand case.
The Lords overturned a Court of Appeal ruling that publication in February 2001 of a report about her drug addiction – including photographs of her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in the King’s Road, Chelsea – was justified in the public interest and that she was not entitled to the £3,500 damages awarded to her by the High Court two years ago.
The Court of Appeal had said she had courted, rather than shunned, publicity and had gone out of her way to tell the media that, in contrast to some other models, she did not take drugs. That was not true. She had also lied to the High Court judge who heard her case.
Today’s reversal of the appeal judges’ ruling was condemned by Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan as introducing a privacy law “by the back door”.
He said: “This is a very good day for lying drug-abusing prima donnas who want to have their cake with the media, and the right to then shamelessly guzzle it with their Cristal champagne.
“If ever there was a less deserving case for creating what is effectively a back door privacy law, it would be Ms Campbell, but that’s showbiz.”
Miss Campbell, born in Streatham, south London, said in a statement: “This has been a huge strain and now I can get on with my life.
“What’s important for me is that people in recovery should be free to receive treatment without fear of press intrusion – and that’s what today’s judgment guarantees.
“I have had calls of support and thanks from people in my meetings and that, right now, means more than anything in the world to me.”
In their judgments, the five Law Lords said the law had to strike a balance between an individual’s right to privacy and the media’s right to freedom of expression.
They were divided only on how that balance should be struck in Miss Campbell’s case.