It is open season in the UK press on MP Boris Johnson’s “colourful” private life as it is revealed that he and his wife are divorcing. He is alleged to be a serial adulterer with one woman said to have had an abortion as a result of a liasison with him and another having had an illegitimate child.
But here’s the legal issue: could Johnson, in light of the UK Supreme Court “celebrity threesome” judgment, get injunctions against publication of such material? Lord Mance, explaining that judgment (PJS v News Group), declared:
“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; and so there is no right to invade privacy by publishing them. It is different if the story has some bearing on the performance of a public office or the correction of a misleading public impression cultivated by the person involved. But … that does not apply here.”
The judgment itself set the seal on an emerging privacy law, asserting that even the re-publication of material already accessible to all was an offence against an individual’s privacy because of its likely “intrusive and distressing effect”.
But is there a Boris exception? Do we have a legitimate public interest in the private life of a man who has occupied one of the highest political positions in the land – and certainly has his eyes on another?
On the one hand, the argument might run: we already know Johnson is a bit of a roué who hasn’t always observed his marriage vows to the letter; we’ve seen some of these stories already. Retailing them once more (or adding a few others, if there are any) hardly corrects a “misleading public impression”. They are merely intrusive and distressing. Injunction granted!
On the other hand, the right to privacy may be outweighed “by the public interest in the recklessness of the father”, as Judge Nicola Davies put it in the High Court in 2010 when the mother of Johnson’s illegitimate child sought an injunction against the Daily Mail to prevent further identification of the baby as Johnson’s.