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British courts protect privacy of stars in recent sex cases

By Paisley Dodds
Associated Press / April 22, 2011

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LONDON — A topless model has juicy details of a six-month affair with a married soccer star. A prostitute wants to dish the dirt about a sex romp with a British actor.

But British courts have barred the women and journalists from reporting the lurid details or the men’s identities.

The cases are the latest in a series of British court orders issued to protect the privacy of public figures — usually men involved in extramarital affairs.

Press freedom and legal advocates say the public figures — and the mostly male judges issuing the gag orders — are abusing and misinterpreting European human rights law. They ask what would happen if everyone were allowed to stop everyone else from talking about them.

“Middle-class male judges will usually rule in favor of chaps who have the bad luck of a mistress who kisses and then tells,’’ said Geoffrey Robertson, a human rights lawyer. “The problem is that the law is incoherent and being interpreted by judges behind closed doors. Tiger Woods’ reputation may have been unsullied had he lived in England.’’

In the United States, freedom of speech is protected under the First Amendment and often trumps privacy arguments. In Europe, however, the law is interpreted by judges who can balance privacy concerns over the concept of open justice and freedom of speech.

More than 30 public figures have won gag orders since 2008 in Britain.

In the latest case, Justice David Eady granted an order Wednesday to prevent a topless model and reality show contestant from revealing the details of her affair with a Premier League soccer star to the press or the public. Eady is known for upholding several libel rulings for celebrities and others.

Richard Spearman, an attorney representing The Sun tabloid, argued that the principle of open justice should prevail. Lawyer Hugh Tomlinson, meanwhile, said his soccer star client should be protected against having the media report allegations of the affair.

The press and the public were ordered to leave the court minutes into the 2 1/2-hour hearing.

Max Clifford, a public relations expert who represents the topless model, said she never wanted to sell her story.

She simply told the soccer star that reporters had started asking about their relationship, and the player’s agent then went to the courts to prevent the media from publishing his name, Clifford said.

Pictures of the model — and her name — were widely publicized in the British press.

“The orders are totally sexist,’’ says Clifford. “It’s all about men stopping women from talking. He gets to keep his privacy while she loses hers.’’

Only three of the 30 recent privacy injunctions were obtained by women and most of the orders came from male judges. Experts also say many judges have used the privacy article to curtail the power of the British tabloids.

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