Concert pianist James Rhodes may publish his autobiography despite his former wife’s fears of consequences for the wellbeing of their 12-year-old son, the Supreme Court ruled today in a judgment hailed as a victory for free speech. 

In James Rhodes v OPO and another (previously OPO v MLA and STL), Supreme Court justices, led by Lady Hale, vice-president, with the concurrence of Lord Neuberger, president, unanimously allowed an appeal against the Court of Appeal’s ban on Rhodes’ memoir Instrumental

The judgment is the final step in a legal battle begun by Rhodes’ ex-wife, who applied for an injunction on the grounds that Rhodes’ graphic accounts of sexual abuse he had suffered as a child would cause psychological harm to his son, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity order, dyspraxia and dysgraphia. 

In October last year, the appeal court reversed an earlier High Court ruling in Rhodes’ favour, finding that a claim for intentionally causing harm under the tort in the 1897 case Wilkinson v Downton should go to trial. It also granted an interim injunction preventing the identification of all the parties.

Rhodes (pictured outside court, right, with actor Benedict Cumberbatch) appealed to the Supreme Court. In today’s judgment, the court said that publication was justified by freedom to report the truth.

‘A person who has suffered in the way that the appellant has suffered, and has struggled to cope with the consequences of his suffering in the way that he has struggled, has the right to tell the world about it. And there is a corresponding public interest in others being able to listen to his life story in all its searing detail.’

Rhodes’ lawyer, Tamsin Allen of London firm Bindmans, said: ‘In overturning the injunction, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the fundamental importance of the freedom to speak the truth, even if the truth is brutal or shocking.

‘It has limited the ways in which true facts can be subjected to injunctions in the future, and made sure that a case like this one can never happen again by abolishing elements of the tort on which the claim was based. As the Supreme Court has recognised, this memoir is an important work whose publication is plainly in the public interest.

‘Secrecy has no place in this story.’

Robin Shaw, media law specialist at professional services firm Gordon Dadds, said: ‘If the court had prevented the book’s publication, the decision would have been regarded as a huge interference in the right to publish material about oneself and an extension of privacy laws by the back door.’

James Rhodes was represented by solicitors Allen and Athalie Matthews of Bindmans LLP, and by counsel Hugh Tomlinson QC, Sara Mansoori and Eddie Craven of Matrix Chambers.

The Supreme Court judgment is here.