Move over Libel: Privacy is the new King of the Courts

On Thursday 17th December, the Court of Appeal delivered its unanimous decision upholding the trial judge’s decision in the ground-breaking judgment in the phone-hacking case against the Mirror Group[1]. Eight individuals, some of them very well-known[2], recovered damages from Mirror Group Newspapers totalling over £1.2m[3], with the prospect of more to come if Mirror Group is unable to provide more information as to the full extent of the hacking.  When the original decision was published, it was reported that the Mirror Group had increased its provision to deal with matters arising from phone hacking by £16m.


The Court had to consider the question of what the claimants could and should be compensated for. The claimants argued that they were entitled to compensation for loss of privacy or “autonomy” resulting from the phone hacking or blagging[4] that went on, and that such compensation should be in addition to damages for distress. Mirror Group argued that all that could be compensated for was distress. It argued that loss of privacy or autonomy were relevant, but only to the extent that they caused distress. In simple terms, if a person was not distressed by the infringement of their privacy, then they could not recover. The trial judge[5] found that the damages should compensate not merely for distress, but should also compensate (if appropriate) for the loss of privacy or autonomy as such arising out of the infringement by hacking (or other mechanism). So for example, Alan Yentob was awarded £85,000 even though he did not have any articles printed about him on the basis of overheard voicemails.

The trial judge acknowledged that the sums awarded were, “very substantial – far more substantial than in any hitherto reported privacy case. They are more substantial than in many libel cases”. However, he indicated that he did not consider them to be either excessive or an under-award. He noted that, “The fact that they are greater than any other publicly available award results from the fact that the invasions of privacy involved were so serious and so prolonged”.

The Court of Appeal’s reasons for dismissing Mirror Group’s appeal were given by Lady Justice Arden. In doing so, confirming the amount of every award made by the trial judge, she acknowledged that, “the judge’s careful and comprehensive judgment, to which I pay tribute, is one of the first to contain a detailed analysis of how such damages are to be calculated”.


  1. Shobna Gulati & Others v MGN Limited (21 May 2015)
  2. including Alan Yentob, Paul Gascoigne, Shane Ritchie and Sadie Frost
  3. £1,243,000
  4. The process of obtaininginformation from the person holding it by deception
  5. Mr Justice Mann