Son obtains injunction preventing famous father publishing autobiography

31 October 2014

In the recent case of OPO v (1) MLA (2) STL [2014] EWCA Civ 1277 a son was successful in obtaining an injunction against his father, a famous performing artist, from publishing a book which was likely to have “catastrophic effect” on son’s physiological well-being. 

X, a famous performing artist, had been subject to sexual abuse at school, leading to episodes of severe mental illness. He wished to speak out about his experiences and to describe them in a semi-autobiographical book. L was the publisher of the book. O was X's young son who suffered from significant disabilities, including Asperger's syndrome. A psychologist had commented that the book would be likely to exert a catastrophic effect on O's self-esteem and cause him enduring psychological harm.

An application was made on O’s behalf for an interim injunction to stop publication of the book, but the judge refused the application, rejecting each of the three causes of action relied on: misuse of private information, negligence and the intentional infliction of mental suffering under the principle in Wilkinson v Downton [1897] 2 Q.B. 57.

O appealed against a judge's refusal to grant him an interim injunction restraining the X and L from publishing a book.
The appeal was successful.

The court of appeal held that it was appropriate to grant an interim injunction as O had sufficiently favourable prospects of establishing at trial his claim under Wilkinson v Downton; that is that the book's publication would constitute intentional conduct causing him psychiatric harm to justify an injunction restraining publication of parts of the book pending trial.

It was further held that the judge at first instance had been right to hold that there was no cause of action for misuse of private information, as the information concerned X and not the private life of O.

The first instance judge had also been right to hold that there was no cause of action in negligence. The judge held that on policy grounds the law did not impose a duty of care on a parent in respect of matters arising out of his or her child's upbringing. It had been argued on O's behalf that a parent should owe a duty of care whenever he caused a child to be exposed to an unacceptable risk. That submission could not be accepted. If such a duty were to be imposed, it would lead to liability in a large number of cases and encompass a whole range of commonplace activities in which a parent was involved in caring for his or her child. 

Katie Allard

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