11 févr. 2012

ECHR lowers the private life protection standard, von Hannover v Germany (no.2), 40660/08

On 07/02/2012 Her Royal Highness Princess Caroline von Hannover, Hereditary Princess of Monaco, and her husband lost proceedings against paparazzi before the European Court of Human Rights. The issue was raised by publishing photos of the Princess from her private skiing holiday at the resort of St. Moritz.

The most interesting for me in this case is the lowering of the private life standard. If previously the paparazzi would have to prove that the published photos “contribute to a debate of general interest”. This time we see a new wording: “contribute, at least to some degree, to a debate of general interest” (§ 118). Do you see the difference? In practical terms it means that, since the respective German press article suggested that Prince Rainier of Monaco was ill but his daughter Princess Caroline did not care about him enough and went on holidays, it “contributed, at least to some degree, to a debate of general interest”. Thus, according to the ECHR, the photos were not published for the entertainment purposes.

The Princess pointed that she did not exercise any political or official function, and therefore her private life should enjoy protection (§ 85). This was an argument leading to success in her previous case von Hannover (no.1). However this time the judges regarded her and her husband as “public figures” (§ 120).

The Princess argued that such a judgment would make the paparazzi free to abuse the notion of “general interest”, but the judges replied that they do not really care about future possibilities. Basically, let’s think about future in the future – they wrote (§ 119).

From the legal strategy perspective, the paparazzi performed well in mobilizing 5 NGOs for filing their observations (§§ 90, 92-93), which with no doubt had an influence on the judges.

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