Matrix leads as Chris Huhne’s partner appeals Daily Mail judgment

Leading silks at Matrix Chambers are set to go head-to-head as MP Chris Huhne’s partner Carina Trimingham takes on the Daily Mail.

Trimingham is appealing a judgment from May last year that dismissed her claim against Mail publisher Associated Newspapers for media harassment through “repeated references to her sexuality and appearance” (24 May 2012).

Mishcon de Reya partner Charlotte Harris and associate Emma Woollcott is representing Trimingham and has added Matrix junior Sara Mansoori to the team of counsel led by Matthew Ryder QC. Mansoori replaces 5RB’s William Bennett.

Associated Newspapers was successfully represented in the High Court hearing by Matrix silk Antony White QC and 5RB’s Alexandra Marzec, instructed by RPC partner and head of media Jaron Lewis. Lewis has since left the firm to join the South East Circuit as a full-time judge, meaning RPC partner Keith Mathieson is now working with senior associate Brid Jordan for Associated.

Ryder had argued that the newspaper had infringed Trimingham’s right to privacy under the Copyright Designs and Patent Act in respect of two photographs and was in breach of the Human Rights Act because if failed to respect her right to a private life.

Her third claim, which was added by amendment in October 2011, came under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. This was based on around 65 articles mentioning her following the revelations of her relationship with the Liberal Democrat MP and former secretary of state for energy and climate change Huhne.

But in a strongly worded ruling, Mr Justice Tugendhat said: “Ms Trimingham was not the purely private figure she claims to be. Her reasonable expectation of privacy has become limited.

“The effect of this judgment is that the defendant has not committed the tort of harassment so far, and is not threatening to commit it now.”

Trimingham’s appeal claims the judge misdirected himself in law and evidence in concluding the references to her bisexuality and previous civil partnership relationship were not pejorative and irrelevant. The appeal says he failed to take into account the PCC Editor’s Code on harassment and made further errors of law in concluding Trimingham was a public figure, not a private individual, due to her relationship with Huhne and erred in his approach to her character traits.

Mansoori said the novelty of the case was even more significant in the wake of Leveson.

She said: “If Carina Trimingham is correct, the wider implications are significant both for journalists who wish to refer repeatedly, or in negative contexts, to a person’s characteristics, such as their sexuality or race, as well as those who are the subjects of such reporting.

“The appeal in relation to the privacy claim involves an analysis of what circumstances make an individual a public person as oppose to a private person: Carina’s case is that she was a private individual albeit that she was in a relationship with Mr Huhne, who was a public person.

“This will have significant ramifications as more and more people nowadays find themselves in the ‘public eye’. In his report Lord Leveson urges the new press regulator to ‘equip itself to deal with complaints alleging discrimination’. He criticises the media’s representation of women and minorities and refers to prejudicial and pejorative references including of sexual orientation.

“This appeal will analyse this point in depth and be important both in terms of the implications for publishers and could well provide guidance on how a new Code could be drafted.”

The appeal is expected to be heard in the Court of Appeal for two days between 12 and 14 March.

In granting permission to appeal on all grounds, Lord Justice Laws noted that this was the first trial in England and Wales of a civil claim for harassment against a newspaper.

The appeal will focus on when newspapers may be liable for harassment with repeated references to sexuality, race, religion and other characteristics.