In February we reported on a claim being brought by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie against the “News of the World”.  The claim concerned a false front page story that they were splitting up and dividing their substantial joint wealth. 

The story was inaccurate but not defamatory.  As a result, the couple brought an action for what is often call “false privacy”: disclosing private information which, although in fact untrue remains private (see McKennitt v Ash ([2006] EWCA Civ 1714, [86]).  A press release concerning the commencement of proceedings can be found on the website of the claimants’ solicitors, Schillings.

The claim has now been settled and a Statement in Open Court was read today.  The Statement records the fact that the News of the World accepts that the allegations that they had visited divorce lawyers and reached an agreement dividing their assets were false and intrusive.  The defendant agree to publish an apology in the “News of the World” and to pay undisclosed damages and legal costs. The settlement has been widely reported, Google News already recording well over a 1,000 news stories around the world.

The settlement is of interest for at least two reasons.  First, awards of damages in privacy claims against the media are rare and  “false privacy” awards are even rarer.   As far as we are aware, this is the first false privacy case involving the mainstream media to have been the subject of a public settlement.  Second, although this was in form a privacy case, the settlement of this case had all the attributes of a libel action – statement in open court and an apology.  The damage was to the claimants’ Article 8 rights – at the boundary between reputation and privacy.