European privacy protection grows

Princess Caroline of Monaco’s court victory against the German press has “sharply accelerated the march towards privacy protection by the European court”.

Dan Tench, a partner at law firm Olswang, warned that the European Court of Human Rights judgment gives celebrities and others wide-ranging rights to privacy when it comes to “snatched” photos of them taken in public.

The court ruled that the princess did have a right to privacy in public but not when carrying out public duties. It said the test of whether such photos could be published was the contribution they made to a “debate of general interest”.

The decision is binding on UK law. Tench said the “debate of general interest” could provide some “wiggle room” for news desks -but he warned that the European Court definition of this was a very “sober” one.

Tench said the effects will be limited by the fact that many seemingly “snatched” celebrity photos are taken with their permission and with the collusion of PRs.

He added that celebrities will be reluctant to bring actions because of the relatively limited damages available and the fact that such cases usually bring about more invasion of the privacy they are trying to protect.

Journalists could be more affected by a possible change in the Editors’ Code of Practice. Tench said if the code is not changed to take into account the Caroline ruling, a PCC privacy decision could be open to attack by judicial review.

Dominic Ponsford and Jon Slattery report from the 2004 Law for Journalists conference

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