Woodward v Hutchins: CA 1977

An injunction was sought to restrain publication of confidential information about a well-known pop group, starring Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. As the group’s press agent, the defendant’s role had been to see that the group received favourable publicity. However, after parting company, amicably, with the group, the defendant disclosed ‘no doubt, for a very considerable reward’ to the Daily Mirror ‘secrets’ about the group, including episodes of allegedly discreditable nature involving drink, sex and other matters.
Held: (ex tempore) The injunction was discharged. The group had sought publicity, giving one view of themselves. Where justification is to be pleaded to a defamation claim then an interim injunction to restrain publication will not be granted.
Bridge LJ said: ‘It seems to me that those who seek and welcome publicity of every kind bearing upon their private lives so long as it shows them in a favourable light are in no position to complain of an invasion of their privacy which shows them in an unfavourable light.’ and ‘If the defendants cannot in due course make good that claim [viz a summary of the stories that they wished to publish], it is quite clear that the plaintiffs will recover very considerable damages for libel, to say nothing of any damages they may recover for breach of confidentiality. But if the defendants substantiate the claim, it is clear that the plaintiffs will recover no damages in libel; and I think that they could only recover nominal damages for the breach of confidentiality, if there was one.’
Lawton LJ said: ‘The defendants have intimated that in so far as there is a claim for damages for libel there will be a plea of justification. Sir Peter, on behalf of the plaintiffs, has accepted, in the circumstances of this case at any rate, that it is pointless to make submissions to the court that his clients should be granted an injunction to restrain further publication of the libel.
What then is the position? The allegation of confidentiality is interwoven with the claim for damages for libel and, once that is understood, it seems to me that the balance of convenience is entirely on the side of allowing the publication to go on. The defendants should know and possibly do that, if they fail in their plea of justification, the damages are likely to be heavy. They may be heavier still by reason of the fact that the offence – because that is what libel is – has been made worse by the circumstances in which Mr. Hutchins has come to reveal what he knows about the plaintiffs. I find it impossible in this case to extricate the libel aspect from the confidentiality aspect. In those circumstances, it seems to me that it would be wrong to allow this injunction to continue.’
Lord Denning MR said: ‘If a group of this kind seek publicity which is to their advantage, it seems to me that they cannot complain if a servant or employee of theirs afterwards discloses the truth about them. If the image which they fostered was not a true image, it is in the public interest that it should be corrected. In these cases of confidentaial information it is a question of balancing the public interest in maintaining the confidence agaiinst the public nterest in knowing the truth.’
and ‘There is a parallel to be drawn with libel cases. Just as in libel, the courts do not grant an interlocutory injunction to restrain publication of the truth or of fair comment. So also with confidential information. If there is a legitimate ground for supposing that it is in the public interest for it to be disclosed, the courts should not restrain it by an interlocutory injunction, but should leave the complainant to his remedy in damages. Suppose that this case were tried out and the plaintiffs failed in their claim for libel on the ground that all that was said was true. It would seem unlikely that there would be much damages awarded for breach of confidentiality. I cannot help feeling that the plaintiffs’ real complaint here is that the words are defamatory: and as they cannot get an interlocutory injunction on that ground, nor should they on confidential information.’


Lord Denning MR, Bridge LJ, Lawton LJ


[1977] 2 All ER 751, [1977 1 WLR 760


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedBritish Steel Corporation v Granada Television Ltd HL 7-May-1980
The defendant had broadcast a TV programme using material confidential to the plaintiff, who now sought disclosure of the identity of the presumed thief.
Held: (Lord Salmon dissenting) The courts have never recognised a public interest right . .
CitedLion Laboratories Ltd v Evans CA 1985
Lion Laboratories manufactured and marketed the Lion Intoximeter which was used by the police for measuring blood alcohol levels of motorists. Two ex-employees approached the Press with four documents taken from Lion. The documents indicated that . .
CitedHyde Park Residence Ltd v Yelland, News Group Newspapers Ltd, News International Ltd, Murrell CA 10-Feb-2000
The court considered a dispute about ownership and confidence in and copyright of of video tapes taken by Princess Diana before her death.
Held: The courts have an inherent discretion to refuse to enforce of copyright. When assessing whether . .
CitedMcKennitt and others v Ash and Another QBD 21-Dec-2005
The claimant sought to restrain publication by the defendant of a book recounting very personal events in her life. She claimed privacy and a right of confidence. The defendant argued that there was a public interest in the disclosures.
Held: . .
CitedAsh and Another v McKennitt and others CA 14-Dec-2006
The claimant was a celebrated Canadian folk musician. The defendant, a former friend, published a story of their close friendship. The claimant said the relationship had been private, and publication infringed her privacy rights, and she obtained an . .
CitedAsh and Another v McKennitt and others CA 14-Dec-2006
The claimant was a celebrated Canadian folk musician. The defendant, a former friend, published a story of their close friendship. The claimant said the relationship had been private, and publication infringed her privacy rights, and she obtained an . .
CitedHannon and Another v News Group Newspapers Ltd and Another ChD 16-May-2014
The claimants alleged infringement of their privacy, saying that the defendant newspaper had purchased private information from police officers emplyed by the second defendant, and published them. The defendants now applied for the claims to be . .
CitedHeythrop Zoological Gardens Ltd (T/A Amazing Animals) and Another v Captive Animals Protection Society ChD 20-May-2016
The claimant said that the defendant had, through its members visiting their premises, breached the licence under which they entered, by taking photographs and distributing them on the internet, and in so doing also infringing the performance rights . .
CitedNT 1 and NT 2 v Google Llc QBD 13-Apr-2018
Right to be Forgotten is not absolute
The two claimants separately had criminal convictions from years before. They objected to the defendant indexing third party web pages which included personal data in the form of information about those convictions, which were now spent. The claims . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Litigation Practice, Media, Information

Updated: 13 May 2022; Ref: scu.193374