Princess's privacy case ruling puts new focus on British law

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The Independent Online

Princess Caroline of Monaco has won a landmark ruling preventing the German press from publishing photographs of her and her children, which could have important implications for privacy cases in Britain.

Princess Caroline of Monaco has won a landmark ruling preventing the German press from publishing photographs of her and her children, which could have important implications for privacy cases in Britain.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg criticised the German courts for failing to prevent publication of the pictures, which it said violated the princess's right to respect for her private life.

Princess Caroline, a favourite subject of the European paparazzi, has battled for years to stop German tabloid publications from printing pictures of her family. In 1999 she failed in a plea to Germany's Federal Constitutional Court to stop the pictures appearing in three magazines, Bunte, Neue Post and Freizeit Revue.

The German court ruled that as a public figure Princess Caroline had to tolerate pictures of herself in public places, but the Strasbourg court said yesterday this was a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, which includes the right to respect for private life.

"The German authorities violated Princess Caroline's right to respect for her private life by failing to ban further publication of a series of photographs," the European court said. "The court considered that the general public did not have a legitimate interest in knowing Caroline von Hannover's whereabouts, or how she behaved generally in her private life.

"Photos appearing in the tabloid press were often taken in a climate of continual harassment, which induced in the person concerned a very strong sense of intrusion into their private life or even of persecution."

The European court cannot overturn the 1999 ruling, but Germany could face a fine if it does not reverse the decision. The nation has three months to appeal against the judgment.

"This is very good for my client and for all people in Europe because the court is raising the standard of protection of private life to a level higher than in Germany - to the level of France," Princess Caroline's lawyer, Matthias Prinz, told Reuters.

The media lawyer Mark Stephens said yesterday's ruling would give a boost to people who want a privacy law to be introduced in the United Kingdom. At present no such law exists.

"It may well encourage people who are trying to grow a new privacy law here," Mr Stephens said.

"I think it will encourage people who are taking privacy claims to go to Europe. Europe has always been pretty wishy-washy on both free speech and privacy."

He added: "I think it's extremely unlikely in the face of this that the Mirror will be taking the Naomi Campbell case to Europe."

He was referring to the case in May in which the supermodel won her appeal to the House of Lords against the Daily Mirror, after the tabloid newspaper published photographs of her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.

The law lords ruled that although the newspaper was entitled to reveal that Ms Campbell was a drug addict, it had committed a breach of confidence by publishing details of her treatment.

Princess Caroline, 47, the daughter of Prince Rainier of Monaco and the film star Grace Kelly, has long been the focus of media attention. Her husband, Prince Ernst August von Hannover made headlines when he was convicted of attacking a photographer, while her sister Stephanie, who married a Portuguese circus acrobat, is also a target of media interest.