Big Pictures appeal against Harry Potter author JK Rowling privacy ruling is rejected

The House of Lords has refused to hear an appeal in the privacy case brought by Harry Potter author J K Rowling and her husband over photographs taken as they walked in the street pushing their young son in a buggy.

Big Pictures (UK) Ltd had petitioned for permission to appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal in May that the law protects children from intrusive media attention. It upheld an appeal by J K Rowling – under her real name, Joanne Murray – and her husband, Neil, against Mr Justice Patten’s decision to strike out their privacy claim the photographic agency on behalf of their young son, David.

The action came after pictures of the couple pushing David, who was then 19 months old, in a buggy as they walked from their home in Edinburgh to a nearby café appeared in a number of newspaper and in the Sunday Express magazine in April 2005.

The couple sued as David’s litigation friends, saying the photographs were an infringement to his right to respect for family and private life, and were a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.

In a key finding on May 7, the Master of the Rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, sitting with Lord Justice Laws and Lord Justice Thomas, said: “If a child of parents who are not in the public eye could reasonably expect not to have photographs of him published in the media, so too should the child of a famous parent.”

Hugh Tomlinson QC, who specialises in media issues, including privacy, said he was not surprised by the refusal to hear an appeal in the Rowling case.

“I am not surprised that the House of Lords refused permission because the way that the Court of Appeal dealt with the case was by saying that it should go to trial because it was fact-sensitive,” he said.

Observers have commented that the Court of Appeal’s decision in the Rowling case seems to leave the law of privacy in a confused state, and makes it difficult for the media to work out what is and is not likely to lead to problems.

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