Caroline Spelman's son loses privacy injunction bid

Caroline Spelman
Image caption Ms Spelman is the Conservative MP for Meriden in the West Midlands

The High Court has refused to continue a privacy injunction won by the son of Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman.

The order remains in place while Jonathan Spelman, 17, has until next Friday to seek permission to appeal.

The one-time England under 16 rugby player was granted the injunction this month to prevent publication of a story in the Daily Star Sunday related to his sporting career.

Mrs Spelman is the Conservative MP for Meriden in the West Midlands.

The Star's publisher, Express Newspapers, claim "an underlying public interest in the story".

The injunction was initially granted at a private hearing by Mr Justice Lindblom, who said privacy could reasonably be expected over the information involved and publication would not advance the public interest.

Last week, Mr Justice Tugendhat was asked to continue the privacy injunction until the Spelmans' legal action against Express Newspapers reaches court.

Christina Michalos, counsel for Express Newspapers, said the case was about "freedom of expression in its purest sense".

Sporting pressures

Giving his decision in the High Court on Friday, Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled that it was "not necessary or proportionate" to continue the injunction.

Referring to Jonathan Spelman's rugby career, which has also seen him play for Harlequins, the judge said that the claimant's "youth, and his success in public sport, are two of the most important facts at the heart of this case".

Express Newspapers had argued that their story highlighted "the pressures on elite athletes from the very beginning of their sporting careers", the judge said.

He acknowledged that the "demands made on children for the benefit of sport have increased very greatly" in recent times, and said public debate on the issue was warranted.

"Whereas in the past there was relatively little money to be made out of sport by anyone, sport has in recent years generated huge revenues, mostly from broadcasting and other intellectual property rights.

"So there is a risk that those responsible for organising national and international sporting activities may have interests that conflict with the welfare of the children who participate, or aspire to participate, in these activities."

Appeal deadline

Discontinuing the injunction did not give Express Newspapers a "licence" to publish, the judge insisted.

"It is simply a decision not to grant an injunction," he said.

"If the defendant or anyone else does disclose private information about the claimant, then such disclosure may be the subject of a claim for damages, which may, in an appropriate case, include aggravated damages."

Mr Justice Tugendhat went on to warn publishers against the assumption that any damages would be relatively limited.

"If a remedy in damages is to be an effective remedy, then the amount that the court may award must not be subject to too severe a limitation," he said.

"Recent settlements in the much publicised phone hacking cases have been reported to be in sums far exceeding what in the past might have been thought to be available to be awarded by the courts."

The privacy injunction remains until at least 1600 GMT on 2 March, the deadline for Jonathan Spelman to seek the Court of Appeal's permission to challenge the latest ruling.