High Court Rules in Favor of Claimants in Misuse of Private Information Case

Citation: [2024] EWHC 116 (KB)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Shah Tasmina Hussain & Ors v Shamimur Rahman & Ors, the High Court of Justice provided a thorough analysis and judgment on a multi-faceted claim that primarily involved allegations of misuse of private information, harassment, undue influence, and duress. The claim revolved around a series of incidents pertaining to the private images of the claimant Ms. Shah Tasmina Hussain, the response of her father Mr. Shelim Hussain, and the involvement of other family members who were former business associates. The court’s decision hinged on the meticulous evaluation of the events and the interconnectedness of the alleged actions to establish liability.

Key Facts

The series of incidents ranged from the discovery and sharing of private photographs from Ms. Hussain’s Instagram account to alleged threatening communications, including a message from an unknown sender identified as ‘sergey’. The claimants asserted that the photographs were obtained via a deceptive “sockpuppet” account and then used to exert undue pressure on Mr. Hussain to withdraw a prior business-related legal claim. Despite the intricate web of allegations and the blend of family and business dispute narratives, the key hinge point rested upon whether the respondents had blackmailed Mr. Hussain into dropping his litigation, primarily utilizing photos of Ms. Hussain as leverage.

Misuse of Private Information

The court referred to the reasonable expectation of privacy in line with Campbell v Mirror Group Newspapers Ltd [2004], which emphasized the right to control the dissemination of information about one’s private life. To establish misuse of private information, the claimant must demonstrate a reasonable expectation of privacy and that any breach was not outweighed by the rights safeguarded under Article 10 (freedom of expression), as in Murray v Express Newspapers plc [2009].

Harassment

For harassment, the claim aligned with the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, requiring evidence of a course of conduct constituted by at least two instances of actions or speech that are oppressive and unacceptable enough to potentially invoke criminal liability, as elucidated in Hayden v Dickinson [2020] and Thomas v News Group Newspapers Ltd.

Duress and Undue Influence

The claims of duress and undue influence necessitated demonstration of illegitimate pressure resulting in the absence of practical choice for Mr. Hussain, as previously delineated in cases such as Barton v Armstrong [1976].

Outcomes

The court notably found in favor of the claimants, Ms. Hussain and Mr. Hussain, regarding the misuse of private information for the ‘sergey’ incident, while other claims of harassment and the wrongful element of the act were dismissed. The court was unpersuaded that the various claimed incidents formed a coherent course of conduct attributable to the defendants that could meet the statutory definition of harassment. The court also dissented on the claim of Mr. Hussain’s litigation withdrawal being under duress or undue influence by the defendants.

Conclusion

Mrs. Justice Collins Rice provided a comprehensive analysis of the evidence presented, emphasizing the need for clarity in establishing the culpability of the defendants. Though there was acknowledgment of unpleasant incidents faced by the claimants, the court did not find a sufficient nexus or a pattern of behavior across these that would justify a finding of harassment or establish the exertion of undue influence or duress. The judgment in Shah Tasmina Hussain & Ors v Shamimur Rahman & Ors thus underscores the importance of distinguishing personal narratives and perceptions from the objective and factual basis needed to substantiate legal claims of harassment, duress, and undue influence under UK law.

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