James Rhodes v OPO (by his litigation friend BHM) and another [2015] UKSC 32

This appeal required the Supreme Court to consider the scope of the rarely used cause of action known as the tort in Wilkinson v Downton: the tort of intentionally causing harm. James Rhodes intended to publish an autobiography, detailing the physical and sexual abuse he suffered as a child, the severe effects of that abuse on his mental health and his redemption through music. His former wife sought an injunction to prevent its publication on the grounds that, should the contents come to the attention of their teenage son, who suffered from a number of developmental and behavioural disorders, and on whose behalf the injunction was sought, he was likely to suffer psychological harm. The Court of Appeal had granted an injunction restraining the publication of ‘graphic’ accounts of the sexual abuse but the Supreme Court reversed the order, finding that there was no real prospect of establishing the tort. It required words or conduct directed towards the claimant for which there was no justification or reasonable excuse. In this case the Court considered that there was every justification for Mr Rhodes to exercise his right to freedom of speech to tell the world his story. It was hard to envisage any cases where words which were not deceptive, threatening or (possibly) abusive could be actionable under this tort. It was also his right to choose the language in which it was expressed. Equally there was no evidence that Mr Rhodes intended to harm his son.