European Court says prime minister had right to privacy over affair with single mother

The European Court of Human Rights has upheld the right to privacy of prominent politicians when it comes to their romantic affairs.

Finnish national Susan Ruusunen has lost her appeal against a criminal conviction for breach of privacy in 2010 after she disclosed information about her affair with that country’s former prime minister Matti Vanhanen (pictured below) in her 2007 book: The Prime Minister's Bride.

At the time of her affair with Vanhanen, Ruusunen was an impoverished single mother.

It is a ruling which could have implications in the case of French actress Julie Gayet who has said she is planning to sue Closer magazine in France over its revelation that she was having an affair with the country’s president Francois Hollande. ECHR judgments also have bearing on UK courts.

Ruusunen is a former girlfriend of Vanhanen who wrote about dating him over nine months when he was in office. At the time he was divorced from his wife.

The Finnish public prosecutor brought criminal charges in 2007 under the country’s penal code for invasion of privacy. The book was withdrawn from sale in 2008 but an initial court ruling went in the woman’s favour.

However, in 2009 the Helsinki Appeal court convicted her for breach of personal privacy and fined her 300 Euros as well as forfeiting 4,270 Euros as the proceeds of the crime.

The court found that the passages in the book "concerning the prime minister’s intimate dating and his children’s feelings and behaviour unnecessarily violated the core areas of his protected private life.

“Even though the applicant had the right to write about her private life, disclosure of intimate details of another person’s private life always required his or her consent.”

Matti Vanhanen (Reuters)

In 2010 the Finland Supreme Court upheld the ruling but quashed the forfeiture of 4,270 Euros.

Ruusunen complained to the ECHR that her right to Freedom of Expression under Article 10 of the human rights convention had been breached.

She argued that she “had simply written that two adults had a sexual relationship, which could hardly be construed as a detailed description of somebody’s intimate life”.

The ECHR said that even though the emphasis in the book was on the applicant’s private life, it nevertheless contained elements of public interest.

It also found that "the information concerning the great differences in the standard of living between the applicant and the former Prime Minister, his lifestyle, the data protection concerns and the protection of the highest political authorities in general had relevance to general public discussion. The Court".

But it agreed that references to “sex life and intimate events” between Ruusenen and the former prime minister were “illegal” and it agreed that the 300 Euros fine was a reasonable penalty.

It concluded that there had been no violation of the applicant’s Article 10 rights.

Dr Riitta Ollila, a lecturer in law at Jyvaskyla University, told Press Gazette: “This case could have some relevance to Closer's revelation of Hollande's love affair. Even prime ministers have some private sphere if there is no public interest reasoning.”

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