UK Supreme Court urged to uphold press ban on celebrity threesome story

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Supreme Court was urged on Thursday to maintain a ban on the English press naming a celebrity who was involved in an extra-marital threesome, even though the details are easy to find online.

A general view shows the library of the United Kingdom's new Supreme Court building in Westminster, central London September 14, 2009. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/File Photo

The case has stirred debate in Britain about whether injunctions, court orders banning publication of private information, still serve any practical purpose in the age of the Internet.

On Monday, the Court of Appeal ruled that the ban should be lifted because the details of the story were now common knowledge, but the celebrity involved went to the Supreme Court to try and get that decision overturned.

Desmond Browne, the celebrity’s lawyer, told five Supreme Court justices that they should keep the injunction in place to prevent a “storm of harassment” that the English media would inflict on his client’s family if it were lifted.

Browne accused some newspapers of “whipping up public attention” on the case and ridiculing court rulings to put pressure on the judiciary to lift the ban.

Gavin Millar, the lawyer for the Sun on Sunday tabloid which originally obtained the threesome story in January, denied that the newspapers were to blame for raising public interest in it.

He told the court the story “took off” on the Internet on April 6, the day that it was published by a widely read U.S. magazine, before English newspapers had produced front pages lambasting the injunction.

Millar said the story had spread across England and beyond via social media and was now out in the real world, with people discussing it in pubs, cafes, and over garden fences.

“This is not something a court can prevent,” he said.

The person at the heart of the story is married to another celebrity and the couple have two young children.

The Sun on Sunday had argued it should be allowed to publish the threesome story because it would correct the couple’s public image of strong marital commitment.

The couple testified that their relationship was an open one in which extra-marital flings were acceptable, and that did not call into question their commitment. Lawyers also argued that publication would be harmful to their children.

The celebrity obtained an injunction covering England and Wales on Jan. 22, which kept a lid on the story for 11 weeks, but from April 6 onwards details spread rapidly in foreign media and online.

It is not clear exactly when the Supreme Court will say whether the injunction should remain in place or not.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison