The Sunday Times v UK (No. 2) (13166/87) ECHR

International Human Rights Law Study Module feature


The Sunday Times v UK (No. 2) concerned a violation of Article 10 of the ECHR on account of injunctions against the publication of a book written by a wormer spy.


The case summary contains 326 words.


Media Law – Human rights – Book – Publication – Injunctions – Article 10 – ECHR – Freedom of expression – European Court of Human Rights


In The Sunday Times v UK (No. 2), a former spy, employed by the British Security Service (MI5), wrote a book of his memoirs named “Spycatcher”. Initially, he tried to publish the book in Australia. However, the Attorney General of England and Wales began litigation proceedings in the Australian courts. The court allowed the publication of that book and held that the book would not be detrimental to the British Government or the Security Service.

At the same time, in the United Kingdom proceedings were initiated against the Observer and the Guardian. As a result, the Court of Appeal upheld the injunctions against the publication of the book. Despite these injunctions, the Sunday Times published the extracts from “Spycatcher”.

The matter came before the European Court of Human Rights.


Whether the injunctions against the publication of “Spycatcher” violated Article 10 of the ECHR?


Alleged violation of Article 10

In particular, the Court held that the injunctions violated Article 10 of the ECHR because it was not necessary in a democratic society. In particular, the information contained in “Spycatcher” had been essentially published. So, the injunction against the publication of the book was no longer sufficient in balancing national security interests versus freedom of expression. The Court explained that at the outset the injunctions were imposed for the purpose to keep the secret information. However, later on, these injunctions became unnecessary because the information was no longer secret since “Spycatcher” had been published by different sources and in various countries.


See the full text of the judgment here.

References: [1991] 11 WLUK 347; (1992) 14 E.H.R.R. 229.

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