Direct Line has won an injunction against the Advertising Standards Authority to stop publication of the latest ASA report, due out this week.
The unprecedented move by the High Court means Direct Line has effectively leap-frogged the normal appeals procedure against decisions by the ASA Council.
It is the first time the ASA has failed to overturn an injunction of this kind, although other advertisers have tried to impose them.
Sources say the ASA was about to uphold a complaint from a member of the public about a press ad through Scottish ad agency 1576 Advertising, containing certain contested claims.
The insurer successfully applied to the High Court on Friday afternoon for the injunction before Lord Justice Popplewell, who also granted the advertiser leave to apply for a judicial review. If this application is successful, the ASA will have to reassess its decision.
Stephen Groom, a partner at Lewis Silkin solicitors and a specialist in advertising law, says: “There hasn’t been a single case where the court has decided it is appropriate to grant an injunction. Inevitably this is going to mean more advertisers will consider taking a pop at the ASA.
“It’s worrying for the ASA because, although it is obviously not opening floodgates, it opens a gap for lawyers to get involved. The ASA will have to be even more legally punctilious in its decision-making process.”
Direct Line company secretary Lorna Finlayson refused to comment.
A spokesman for the ASA confirmed an injunction had been granted. He says: “This is very unusual. Most companies go through the normal appeal process.”
The ASA will delay the release of what will be its 75th monthly report until next Wednesday, and will omit the Direct Line adjudication.