When private life crosses public domain

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May 23, 2011



Baying for the blood of the famous


Famous men and women are no less prone to temptation than anyone else. They make mistakes. They let their guard slip. They do things in an instant that later, in the full light of day, they bitterly regret.

Are they different from any of us?

We are all human beings, and none of us are perfect. So, should celebrities’ indiscretions ever be splashed across newspapers; flung into the public domain for the rest of us to salivate over?

Our courts are being urged to open their doors as widely as possible, but in private law cases, this is wrong. With divorce cases, for example, any containing “juicy detail” should be heard in private.

What a client does within his or her marriage should remain outside the public domain. That includes financial arrangements, unless the courts direct otherwise. And if judgments are to be published because they form precedent, then all parties’ names should be redacted.

A footballer is famous for being a footballer. What he gets up to in his private life should be a matter for him. The courts understand this and do their best to help.

So, I was pleased today when Mr Justice Eady rejected an application to discharge a footballer’s privacy injunction. As the judge stated: “The court’s duty remains to try and protect the claimant, and particularly his family, from intrusion and harassment so long as it can.”

All would be well except that his fame, whether he sought it or not, makes him a target for all those who, a couple of hundred years ago, would likely have been cheering the arrival of the tumbrils in Paris.

Back then, the crowds bayed for aristocratic blood, and they got it. Les Tricoteuses sat close to the guillotine, knitting, as thousands of men and women were decapitated. Everybody cheered and the bodies were thrown into lime pits.

In 2011, we think we have changed. But have we really?

Marilyn Stowe, a divorce lawyer, is senior partner at Stowe Family Law


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