A House of Lords ruling in June 2007 in favour of HRH Prince of Wales brings to an end a high-profile case involving confidential royal diaries.
The Prince of Wales brought proceedings against The Mail on Sunday for breach of confidence and copyright infringement in respect of its unauthorized publication of his Hong Kong diaries. The diaries contained the Prince’s personal and private impressions of Hong Kong when it was returned to China in 1997.
The Mail on Sunday had acquired the diaries from a former secretary of the Prince’s office. The secretary had signed a contract containing a confidentiality agreement and the diaries had been supplied to The Mail on Sunday in breach of this contract. Article 10(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights, which has been incorporated into domestic UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998, states that the right to freedom of expression is limited when the information has been received in confidence. Where there is a clear breach of confidence (particularly a contractual breach), it is highly unlikely that the right to freedom of expression will prevail.
In December 2006 the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s decision to award summary judgement to the Prince of Wales for breach of confidence and copyright infringement, ruling that the Prince’s right to privacy outweighed the public interest in the Prince’s travel diaries.
The Mail on Sunday appealed to the House of Lords against the Court of Appeal’s decision, arguing that as the Prince is a public figure, the public have a right to an insight into his political views.
But the House of Lords refused the appeal. It gave no reasons for its refusal, and subsequently there was no discussion by it of the development of the law of privacy by the courts. This was not surprising: the case was highly politically sensitive, and as it raised strong grounds for breach of confidence, comments concerning the law of privacy could be avoided.