The Duchess of Cambridge is a young woman, not an object, judges told

Lawyers fight it out as Royal Family call for criminal charges against photographer

A French court was asked last night to impose punitive fines running to hundreds of thousands of euros on the French edition of Closer magazine if it republishes or distributes electronically the topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge.

In a bad-tempered hearing in Nanterre, west of Paris, a French lawyer representing the royal couple – officially known to the court as Monsieur William Arthur Mountbatten Windsor and his wife Katherine – accused the magazine of "violating the bodily intimacy" of the Duchess. He said that she was a "young woman, and not an object".

The lawyer, Aurélien Hamelle, demanded a series of injunctions under French privacy law to prevent Closer from republishing last week's edition and to bar electronic distribution of the images in any form. He also called for the magazine to be banned from syndicating the images and to be forced to hand over the electronic originals.

He said that he was not asking for Closer to be withdrawn from the shops or pulped because the edition had "manifestly sold out". The lawyer dismissed as "lacking in morality" and "unworthy" the magazine's arguments that the photographs of the Duchess were "normal" images of a "young couple on holiday". The tribunal de grande instance at Nanterre postponed its ruling until midday today.

Defending the magazine, Delphine Pando said the photo had been taken from a "public place" – a road 700m from a chateau in Provence belonging to Viscount Linley. They showed a young woman with bare breasts which was now regarded by French legal jurisprudence on the right to privacy as "banal" and "not at all shocking". There could not, she said, be one law for ordinary people and another for royalty.

Mr Hamelle dismissed her argument as "outrageous" and "lacking morality". Young women had won the right to show off their bodies if they wished to do so, he said. But Closer magazine was turning that "freedom" into a "diktat" by insisting that it had the right to show the Duchess partly clothed against her will.

He asked the three judges to consider how they would feel if their own daughter had been secretly photographed in this way. "The Duchess is a young woman, not an object," Mr Hamelle said. The publication of the photographs was especially distressing to Prince William, he said, because it came "15 years and 15 days" after the death of his mother, Diana Princess of Wales after a road accident while pursued by paparazzi photographers.

The hearing was part of a two-pronged legal offensive by the Royal Family in France. The Duke and Duchess's lawyers earlier asked French authorities to bring criminal proceedings against "x", or persons unknown, for breach of privacy and trespass.

This separate complaint under criminal law – a procedure seldom used by aggrieved French celebrities – appears to be intended to flush out the identity of the photographer. If the French prosecution service obtains a conviction in this other case, both the editor of Closer and the as-yet-unnamed photographer could face a fine or, much less likely, a short jail sentence. Royal lawyers may have hoped that the parallel civil and criminal complaints could prevent the images from embarking on a world tour of gossip magazines. If so, they were instantly disappointed.

Chi, the Italian sister magazine of the French Closer, published 64 images of the sunbathing Duchess yesterday, including some even more revealing than those which appeared last Friday.

* The editor of the Irish Daily Star, Michael O'Kane, was suspended last night by his publishers, Independent Star, after reprinting Closer's topless pictures of the Duchess on Saturday. The publishers said they would investigate the editorial decision.

Aurelien Hamelle: Kate's man in court by royal appointment

Aurélien Hamelle, the barrister representing the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Paris, previously defended one of Princess Diana's favourite fashion designers, John Galliano.

However, William and Kate will be hoping he has better luck this time. Galliano was accused of using anti-Semitic and racist language in a Paris bar last year, and was subsequently convicted of "casting public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity".

Mr Hamelle is now a partner at Metzner Associés in Paris, which specialises in high-profile, white-collar crime, including money laundering, insider dealing and libel and slander. He has significant experience in international criminal law, extradition and European Court of Human Rights cases and is a member of the International Bar and European Criminal Bar Associations.

He also writes for French newspapers including Le Monde, Le Figaro and La Tribune. He was ranked as a "rising star" of the criminal Bar by Le Figaro last year.

Comments