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Venables & Thompson v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2001] EWHC 32



Perpetual injunction granted to protect the identities of two notorious murderers

Facts

The claimants were notorious murderers who were convicted at the age of 11. Injunctions which restricted the information which the media could publish about them came to an end when they reached 18. They sought further injunctions, under the inherent jurisdiction of the court, which would prevent publication of information regarding their appearance, whereabouts and new identities upon release.

Issue

The claimants alleged that there were at a real risk of revenge attacks and the Court should therefore exercise its inherent jurisdiction to grant an injunction restraining publication against the world. Further, any concerns about interference with freedom expression should be considered in light of the evidence of murder threats against the claimants. The claimants relied upon the positive obligations established under Article 2 European Convention on Human Rights which imposes a positive obligation to protect individuals against violation of Convention rights by another private individual. The defendants argued that it was inappropriate to exercise the court’s inherent jurisdiction to create ad hoc exceptions from the right to freedom of expression.

Held

The claimants’ application was granted. They were uniquely notorious individuals and were at an ongoing risk of serious physical harm. Their Article 2 rights demanded protection which could be provided by an extension of the law of confidence. The Court was therefore required to exercise its inherent jurisdiction to widen the scope of the protection of confidential information, even to the extent of placing restrictions on the freedom of expression of the press. Nevertheless, any restriction on the right of the press to publish information had to be given a narrow interpretation in line with Article 10(2) ECHR.

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