Last week saw the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) reject a complaint by Princess Caroline relating to the refusal of the German courts to prevent the re-publication of photographs taken of her and her husband in an unspecified location while on holiday without their knowledge. The photographs accompanied an article about the trend in celebrities renting out their holiday homes and discussed the possibility of renting the holiday villa owned by the von Hannover family in Kenya.

The photographs were published in March 2002 and they have been the subject of a series of legal skirmishes in both the German and European Courts ever since, the most recent of which saw the German Federal Court of Justice dismiss Princess Caroline’s application for an injunction preventing further publication of the photographs. The Court held that Princess Caroline was a public figure and that, while the photograph did not relate to a subject of general interest, the Article 10 rights (freedom of expression) of the magazine’s publishers should not be overridden by the applicant’s Article 8 right to respect for her private life.

Last Thursday (19 September), the ECHR upheld that the decision did not constitute a breach of her Article 8 rights. The court held that the German courts had taken into consideration the essential criteria (as set out below) in balancing the competing Article 8 and Article 10 rights at stake in the case:

  1. Whether the information contributes to a debate of general interest
  2. How well known the person concerned is and the subject matter of the report
  3. The prior conduct of the individual concerned
  4. The consequences of publication
  5. The circumstances in which the photos were taken

The view of the ECHR was that the article had some substances and did contribute to a debate of general public interest and therefore that it was more than just a transparent pretext to publish celebrity holiday snaps. Moreover, they pointed out that the Court had found on several occasions that Princess Caroline and her husband are public figures and can’t expect the same degree of privacy as a relative unknown.

While the case may be of comfort to editors of the various tabloid magazines, the decision is a salient reminder that public figures looking to safeguard their privacy can’t rely solely on their Article 8 rights. Our advice to clients who find themselves in the spot light is that there are a number of practical steps they can take to maintain a shield around their private life and thus minimise potential intrusions.