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Aaron Smith got screwed – and Stuff could end up getting sued

Aaron Smith’s indiscretions have been the biggest media story of the week. But lawyer Natalya King believes both the couple who made the recording and the outlets which broke the story may have committed an invasion of privacy.

Amidst the red-eyed rage that greeted the news that All Blacks have sex – and sometimes have sex with women who are not their partners (what a shock) – there was one somewhat unexpected voice of calm. The New Zealand Herald reports that, discussing the matter on the Paul Henry Show, Judith Collins admitted “the situation wasn’t her business.”

Quite. In fact, the law might go so far as to say not only was it not Judith’s business, or yours or mine for that matter, but that recording Aaron Smith’s escapade and sending it into a news outlet was actually an invasion of his privacy.

In the legal sense, an invasion of privacy is the “highly offensive” disclosure of private facts. That is, if Aaron had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the facts of the event, and if the average person considered that the publicity given to those facts was highly offensive then Stuff (or the couple who enthusiastically recorded the incident) may well find themselves on the wrong end of an invasion of privacy claim.

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Absent some voluntary disclosure by way of, for example, an intentionally leaked sex tape, it’s usually pretty clear that sex between two consenting adults is a private matter. And yes, I know, part of the appeal in having sex in a toilet cubicle is the risk of getting caught, but when *ahem* push comes to shove, it’s a little difficult to see how one’s sexual activity in a confined and indoor space with four walls is anything other than a private fact.

Some, including Stuff, the aforementioned receiver of the amorous audio-recording, have asserted that the toilet cubicle was a public place, but that’s not quite true. Aside from the obvious problem that the entire purpose of a closed door is to create a private space, Christchurch Airport is a private business that prohibits filming within the airport without its express permission, and without payment of a “location charge”.


See also: Eight key learnings from the Aaron Smith toilet sex scandal


Even if it were correct to say that the airport is a public space (and good luck getting a judge on board with that one), that doesn’t mean that Smith’s sexual activity automatically loses its private status. The law still protects a degree of privacy in public – for context, the UK Courts found that photos of Naomi Campbell on the street outside a drug treatment centre were disclosure of a private fact¹.

Just like Naomi Campbell (albeit probably not quite like Naomi Campbell) one issue for Aaron Smith has been his celebrity status. All Blacks, so the theory goes, give up their right to privacy as soon as they get Steve’s call. But that’s not quite right either. In the eyes of the law, a person’s right to privacy can be eroded if there’s some legitimate public concern in the matter. Legitimate public concern, according to the courts, covers issues like public health and safety, or the conduct of the government. That might automatically mean that some well-known figures, like politicians, have a lesser right to privacy, but on the sliding scale of celebrity status vs public concern, an All Black and his sexual proclivities are fairly low level.  Put another way, two people using a disabled toilet as a space in which to carry out their infidelity might be distasteful, but it’s not a matter of national importance.

Put in that context, the only remaining question is whether the publicity of Aaron’s tryst in the toilet – and its accompanying audiotape – was highly offensive. For my part, when John Key’s commenting on your sex life it’s gone well beyond that.


[1] Campbell v MGN Ltd [2004] 2 AC 457

* This article was updated on 12 October 2016 to remove an erroneous reference to the judgement in the case Andrews v Television New Zealand Ltd [2009] 1 NZLR 220

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