HomeInsightsHigh Court continues interim injunction against defendant to restrain her from misusing the claimants’ private information and disclosing their affair

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The parties were all private individuals with no public profile in the UK.

The claimants, GJE and FJV, live and work for the same company in the USA. FJV was GJE’s boss. FJV was married, and GJE was in a long-term relationship. They had a brief sexual affair in 2017, terminated by mutual consent because FJV did not want to jeopardise his marriage.

The defendant, SLE, lives in the UK. GJE and SLE had known each other since childhood but were not close. They became so in 2020 when SLE temporarily relocated to the US to deal with a family medical crisis. They were on friendly and supportive terms for more than a year while SLE’s relative was in hospital, and for four weeks after his discharge when he and SLE lived in GJE’s home before returning to the UK.

The relationship between GJE and SLE soured in the second half of 2021 over the issue of the disposal of SLE’s personal effects left behind at GJE’s home.

According to evidence from the claimants, it appeared that while SLE was staying with GJE, she had accessed, and took screenshots from, GJE’s phone. By these means, SLE had found out about the claimants’ affair. The screenshots included a photo that GJE had sent to FJV of herself in a bikini with the message “I love you”.

The course of conduct alleged comprised of persistent online contact by SLE with the claimants of a nature amounting to angry, abusive and threatening demands for money by way of “compensation” in relation to SLE’s personal effects and, should she not be satisfied with the response to these demands, threats to disclose the affair, including to FJV’s wife. In short, the claimants said that they were being blackmailed, and that their private, family and working lives were being subjected to unwarranted threat.

Accordingly, the claimants issued proceedings to restrain SLE’s behaviour and assert their right to autonomous control of their private information under the European Convention on Human Rights. They claimed misuse of private information and harassment.

SLE did not attend the hearing, nor was she represented. However, Mrs Justice Collins Rice was satisfied that she had been properly served with all relevant documentation and was fully aware of the hearing. In the circumstances, Collins Rice J considered it just and convenient to proceed in her absence.

Collins Rice J was satisfied that the claimants were likely to establish that their asserted entitlement to autonomous control of information about their sexual life was squarely within the established scope of Article 8 ECHR, and that they had a reasonable expectation of privacy as regards their sexual affair; that they were likely to be able to prove that disclosure would have a serious impact on their personal wellbeing, a destructive effect on their family lives, and jeopardise their employment situation; and that, in any event, they were entitled not to be subjected to threats of disclosure, whether direct or indirect, which were designed to bring about the payment of significant amounts of money to avert them. SLE had no discernible countervailing right to do so.

As for harassment, Collins Rice J was satisfied that the claimants were likely to establish that the communications they had received from SLE, and the tone and content of those communications, amounted to a course of conduct that she ought to have known, and did know and intend, would cause alarm and distress; that they were indeed alarmed and distressed; that the course of conduct was persisted in despite the claimants’ clearly expressed attempts to cause her to desist; that SLE’s behaviour was not reasonable or otherwise defensible; and that, considering the blackmail dimension, it was harassment of a sufficiently serious nature as to be equivalent to (or to constitute) criminal conduct.

As for whether the claimants had experienced harassment within the UK jurisdiction and would therefore be likely to succeed on their harassment claim, as matters currently stood Collins Rice J said that since she was satisfied that they would be likely to succeed on their misuse of private information claim, she did not need to resolve the issue at this interim point.

It was obvious, Collins Rice J said, that damages for interim breach of the claimants’ rights would not be an adequate remedy. Disclosure once made would be irreversible and destructive of their ability to seek to make out their claim.

Therefore, on the evidence before her, Collins Rice J said that, unless restrained by order, there was a present risk that SLE would disclose the information and/or persist in threatening to do so. Despite not having any evidence from SLE, the claimants’ evidence at this stage was sufficient to satisfy Collins Rice J that the legal tests for granting the claimants the interim remedies they sought had been met. (GJE v SLE [2022] EWHC 1592 (QB) (21 June 2022) — to read the judgment in full, click here).