On 19th September 2013, the European Court of Human Rights issued the third judgment in respect of Princess Caroline von Hannover and held that there had been no violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Case of von Hannover v Germany (no. 3) application no. 8772/10 – Press Release).
This case concerns a photograph of princess Caroline and her husband on holiday (on walk amongs other people) on not specified place in the magazine 7 Tage on 20th March 2002. The picture was included as a part of the article that referred about the trend amongst celebrities to let out their holiday homes. The article further described the Princess Caroline villa on Island Lamu (Kenya) with details of the letting price and how the villa looks like. The case appeared in 2008 before the Federal Constitutional Court – judgement from 26.02.2008, 1 BvR 1607/07 that referred to the ESPL case law regarding balancing proportionality test and stated that the balancing test is left to the Federal Court of Justice however it must be taken in consideration that the freedom of speech covers also information about the prominents and celebrities behavour and ordinary life. It would be against Article 5 par.2 GG (Basic Law) if the behaviour and social life of these people will be excluded from reporting. The Federal Court of Justice issued judgment from 01.07.2008, VI ZR 67/08 that stated: “the applicant was a public figure and while the photograph did not relate to a subject of general interest, the freedom of expression of the magazine’s publishers should not be overriden by the applicant’s right to respect for her private life.” The Federal Court of Justice set out reasons explaining why the report was capable of stimulating discussion on a matter of general interest and could therefore legitimately be accompanied by that single picture. The court further considered that nothing about the photograph itself consituted a violation.
The European Court of Human Right concluded the German courts made a proper balancing act. In von Hannover no. 2 the Court provided criteria and terms under which even entertainment media could be safeguarded by Article 10 of the Convention if there is contribution to a debate of general interest, how well known the person concerned was, the subject of the report, the prior conduct of the person concerned, the content, form and consequences of the publication and, in the case of photographs, the circumstances in which they were taken. This judgement confirms the preposition of the von Hannover No. 2 outcome and is for the Czech Republic very welcomed decision that adjust the so far one sided view of the courts in respect of the reporting about private information of celebrities by tabloid press.
The English summary of the von Hannover No. 3 is part of the Press Release:
Decision of the Court
The Court noted that in the present application the Federal Constitutional Court had taken the view that, while the photograph in question had not contributed to a debate of general interest, the same was not true of the article accompanying it, which reported on the current trend among celebrities towards letting out their holiday homes. The Federal Constitutional Court and, subsequently, the
Federal Court of Justice had observed that the article was designed to report on that trend and that this conduct was apt to contribute to a debate of general interest. The Court also noted that the article itself did not contain information concerning the private life of the applicant or her husband, but focused on practical aspects relating to the villa and its letting.
It could not therefore be asserted that the article had merely been a pretext for publishing the photograph in question or that the connection between the article and the photograph had been purely contrived. The characterisation of the subject of the article as an event of general interest, first by the Federal Constitutional Court and then by the Federal Court of Justice, could not be considered unreasonable. The Court could therefore accept that the photograph in question had made a contribution to a debate of general interest.
As to how well known the applicant was, the Court pointed out that it had found on several occasions that the applicant and her husband were to be regarded as public figures who could not claim protection of their private lives in the same way as individuals unknown to the public.
Noting that the German courts had taken into consideration the essential criteria and the Court’s case-law in balancing the various interests at stake, the Court concluded that they had not failed to comply with their positive obligations and that there had been no violation of Article 8 of the Convention.