A piece in today’s Media Guardian under the headline “John Terry case: the aftermath” looks at the fallout from Mr Justice Tugendhat’s discharge of the privacy injunction relating to the former England captain.  We have previously blogged about this case here and here.   The Guardian article looks at the changed attitude of the press to “privacy” stories over recent weeks.   It quotes a “senior newspaper executive” as saying:

“There’s definitely an element of revenge against lawyers. Lawyers had been aggressive against newspapers since Mosley.”

This is confirmed by the nature of the stories which have recently dominated the tabloids.   The “red tops” have published prominent “kiss and tells” featuring not only John Terry’s entourage but also Ashley Cole and TV presenter Vernon Kay (pictured right).   It also accords with our own experience:  newspaper lawyers have become noticeably more bullish in recent weeks.   In the words of one lawyer “sex is back”.

Although the John Terry case set out no new legal principles it does seem to have produced a change of “mood” with claimant lawyers showing a much greater degree of caution in relation to privacy stories and the press “dusting off” some good old “kiss and tell” stories from their bottom drawers.  There have even been rumours that “mobile phone hacking” is back and the paparazzi are approaching ever closer to the celebrities in the streets …

From a longer term perspective, this is part of a cyclical pattern: the press misbehaves, the courts rein them in, an unmeritorious claimant seeks an injunction too far and fails, the press are emboldened, and the cycle starts again.   As BLP’s Graham Shear says in the Guardian article

“The more aggressive the tabloids become in reporting private issues about celebrities so that they will boost sales, the more likely it is to be short-lived. I anticipate that the tabloids will step out of line and claimant lawyers who act for celebrities in this area will test them in the courts.”

In order to break this cycle clear and enforceable ground rules need to be established.  We suggest that this is a good time to stand back and look at how the reporting of private life can be properly regulated.  The forthcoming report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport (discussed by us here, here and here) might provide some useful material.