Litigation Recent Decisions 19/5/98

Injunction against television programme refused

(1) Service Corporation International (2) Associated Funeral Directors v (1) Channel 4 Television Corporation (2) Hardcash Productions (1998)

Ch.D (Lightman J) 12/5/98

Charles Gray and Mark Warby instructed by Dibb Lupton, Birmingham for the plaintiffs. James Price and Jacob Dean instructed by DJ Freeman for the defendants.

The plaintiffs, owners of a large chain of funeral homes, applied for an ex parte injunction on notice to the defendants for an injunction to restrain the defendants showing certain video film as part of a television documentary on funeral homes scheduled to be heard on the night after the hearing. The second defendant, Hardcash, sent in one of its journalists undercover as a trainee funeral director to make a covert film of events at one funeral home. The film purported to show corpses being subjected to disrespectful and abusive treatment. By letter on 21 April 1998 Hardcash informed the plaintiffs that it had made a film featuring their business for the first defendant, Channel Four Television Co Ltd, detailing the alleged malpractices revealed. The plaintiffs gave notice of the application for an injunction on Friday 8 May 1998 and evidence in support was served on 11 May 1998 at 2.00pm when the hearing took place. The programme was due to be transmitted on 12 May. The plaintiffs' claim was founded on (1) breach of copyright; (2) breach of confidence; (3) trespass. The primary issues in the action were whether the plaintiffs were entitled to the copyright in the film and, if so, whether nonetheless the public interest in televising the film was such as to entitle the defendants to override the plaintiffs' copyright. The issue on the application was whether the plaintiffs' prospects of success at trial, the public interest and considerations of justice and convenience were such that, pending trial the film should not be televised or whether the plaintiffs' remedy for any infringement of their rights should be restricted to an award of damages at the trial. Also at issue was the freedom of the defendants' investigative journalists and broadcasters to publish what they considered to be a matter of serious public concern worthy of public debate.