LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Supreme Court on Thursday upheld an injunction preventing the English press from naming a celebrity who was involved in a much publicised extra-marital threesome.
The ruling means media in England and Wales remain banned from naming the people involved, even though their names have been widely reported on the internet since a U.S. magazine published the full story on April 6.
The case has stirred a wider debate in Britain about whether injunctions, court orders banning publication of private information, serve any purpose when stories can travel across jurisdictions at the click of a mouse.
In a four-to-one majority ruling, the Supreme Court said that even though the threesome story was easily accessible online, allowing publication in English newspapers would lead to a "media storm" with increased intrusion into the lives of the main protagonist, his spouse and their two young children.
London-based tabloid newspapers, which have a long history of publishing stories about the sex lives of celebrities, reacted with fury, with the Sun calling the ruling "draconian" and the Daily Mail branding it "ludicrous".
The man at the centre of the story and his spouse were described in court documents as "well-known individuals in the entertainment business".
The couple testified to the lower court that originally granted the injunction that theirs was an open relationship in which extra-marital flings were acceptable and did not call into question their commitment to each other and their children.
The Sun on Sunday, the tabloid newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch which bought the story from the other participants in the threesome, argued it was in the public interest because it exposed the couple's public image of marital commitment as hypocritical.
"There is no public interest (however much it may be of interest to some members of the public) in publishing kiss-and-tell stories or criticisms of private sexual conduct, simply because the persons involved are well-known," said Supreme Court judge Lord Mance, reading a summary of the ruling.
Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger wrote in the ruling that the courts existed to protect legal rights, even when that protection was difficult and unpopular in some quarters, though he acknowledged the problems raised by online publication.
"If parliament takes the view that the courts have not adapted the law to fit current realities, then, of course, it can change the law," he wrote.
Some lawyers suggested that the Supreme Court ruling may lead to an increase in applications for injunctions by rich and famous people trying to keep embarrassing stories out of the headlines.
"This is a hugely significant decision for those wishing to protect their privacy, and that of their family, from intrusion and harassment by the media," said David Engel, media specialist and partner at law firm Addleshaw Goddard.
"It may well also sound the death knell for the 'kiss-and-tell'."
Editing by Janet Lawrence and Robin Pomeroy