Campbell v MGN Ltd

Campbell v Mirror Group Newspapers Ltd [2004] UKHL 22 was a House of Lords decision regarding human rights and privacy in English law.

Campbell v Mirror Group Newspapers Ltd
CourtHouse of Lords
Transcript(s)Full text of judgment
Court membership
Judge(s) sittingLord Nicholls, Lord Hoffman, Baroness Hale, Lord Carswell, Lord Hope


British model Naomi Campbell was photographed leaving a rehabilitation clinic, following public denials that she was a recovering drug addict. The photographs were published in The Mirror a publication owned by MGN.

Campbell sought damages under the English law through her lawyers Schillings, who engaged Richard Spearman QC and instigated a claim for breach of confidence engaging section 6 of the Human Rights Act. This would require the court to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The claim sought a ruling that the English tort action for breach of confidence, subject to the ECHR provisions upholding the right to private and family life, would require the court to recognise the private nature of the published information and hold that there was a breach of her privacy.

Rather than challenge the disclosure of the fact she had been a drug addict, Campbell challenged the disclosure of information about the location of her Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and the pictures used. The photographs, they argued, formed part of this information and would be a deterrent to her seeking further medical treatment - and that others would be discouraged from entering in to medical treatment at the clinic knowing their image may appear in the press.


First instanceEdit

In the High Court, MGN was found liable and Campbell was awarded £2,500 in damages, plus £1,000 in aggravated damages. MGN appealed.

Court of AppealEdit

The court of appeal found that MGN was not liable, and that the photographs could be published as they were peripheral to the published story and served only to show her in a better light. It was within journalists' margin of appreciation to decide whether such "peripheral" information should be included.

Campbell appealed on the basis of inter alia, that the aforementioned breach of confidence had occurred, and was subject to human rights principles of privacy.

House of LordsEdit

The House of Lords held MGN liable by majority vote, with lords Nicholls and Hoffmann dissenting. Baroness Hale, Lord Hope and Lord Carswell held that the picture added something of 'real significance'. The court engaged in a balancing test, firstly determining whether the applicant had a reasonable expectation of privacy (thus determining whether Art.8 ECHR was involved). It then considered whether, if the claimant was successful, this would result in a significant inference with freedom of expression (balancing Art. 8 with Art. 10). It was held that Campbell's right to privacy (ECHR, Sch 1, Part I, Art 8) outweighed MGN's right to freedom of expression (ECHR Art 10).

Lord Hoffmann and Lord Nicholls dissented on the grounds that as the Mirror was allowed to publish the fact that she was a drug addict and that she was receiving treatment for her addiction that printing the pictures of her leaving her NA meeting was within the margin of appreciation of the editors as they were allowed to state that she was an addict and receiving treatment for her addiction. Lord Nicholls observed that "confidence" was an artificial term for what could more naturally be termed "privacy".

Lord Hope of Craighead noted that a duty of confidence arises wherever the defendant knows, or ought to know, that the claimant can reasonably expect their privacy to be protected, approving A v B plc.[1] Where there is doubt, the test "what is highly offensive to a reasonable person" in the plaintiff's position,[2][3] can be used for guidance.

Baroness Hale said the following.

The basic principles

132. Neither party to this appeal has challenged the basic principles which have emerged from the Court of Appeal in the wake of the Human Rights Act 1998. The 1998 Act does not create any new cause of action between private persons. But if there is a relevant cause of action applicable, the court as a public authority must act compatibly with both parties' Convention rights. In a case such as this, the relevant vehicle will usually be the action for breach of confidence, as Lord Woolf CJ held in A v B plc [2002] EWCA Civ 337, [2003] QB 195, 202, para 4:

"[Articles 8 and 10] have provided new parameters within which the court will decide, in an action for breach of confidence, whether a person is entitled to have his privacy protected by the court or whether the restriction of freedom of expression which such protection involves cannot be justified. The court's approach to the issues which the applications raise has been modified because, under section 6 of the 1998 Act, the court, as a public authority, is required not to 'act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right'. The court is able to achieve this by absorbing the rights which articles 8 and 10 protect into the long-established action for breach of confidence. This involves giving a new strength and breadth to the action so that it accommodates the requirements of these articles."

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ A v B plc [2003] QB 195 per Lord Woolf CJ
  2. ^ Australian Broadcasting Corporation v Lenah Game Meats Pty Ltd (2001) 208 CLR 199
  3. ^ at [92]


External linksEdit