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Accessible legal tips, know-how and news for anyone with a complaint or legal issue from Stephen Gold, author of The Return of Breaking Law, the book

Tuesday 15 November 2016


You have information that a husband is cheating on his wife. Are you legally entitled to tell the wife what you know or can a court order you to keep your mouth shut? The High Court has had to grapple with this conundrum before. It had to do so again last Tuesday.

In this latest case, the husband was having an affair with another woman. During some part of the affair the other woman was seeing a second man who she was two-timing. The second man came to find out he had been two-timed and was none too pleased. It was alleged that he had hacked into the other woman's email and read private and confidential correspondence between her and the husband and that he was threatening to disclose private information to the wife who was ignorant of the affair.

The husband and the other woman applied to the court for an injunction to stop the second man from making various disclosures to the wife and from harassing the couple. Initially, they obtained an injunction at an emergency hearing without the second man being given advance notice and that injunction was confirmed last week.

The argument put forward by the husband was that it was his right to decide whether and, if so, how to disclose his infidelity to his wife. This is how the judge saw it. The human rights convention came into play. An individual had a right to decide who got to know what about their private life, when and by what means. But the wife and the second man had their own rights too. The court had to strike an appropriate balance between the competing rights.

A person who finds out that a married individual has been unfaithful to their spouse could, in some circumstances, have every right to inform the wronged spouse who might have a right to know that information. If the person came by the information by observing behaviour in a public place, for example, the court might be reluctant to intervene to prevent disclosure. It could make a difference if the person acted out of a disinterested concern for the well-being of the ignorant spouse. 

But it was improbable that the court would consider it legitimate to disclose details of the unfaithful spouse's correspondence and still less so where that correspondence had been accessed through hacking.