The topless duchess

Judith Bruhn explores the theory and practice of privacy in Europe and whether a court injunction was enough to salvage the Duchess of Cambridge’s privacy.

The case

On 13 September 2012 the French magazine Closer published photos of the Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing topless while on holiday at the Chateau d’Autet, a private residence in the south of France. On 15 September the Irish Daily Star published the photos and on 17 September The Italian magazine Chi rushed out a special edition.

The royal couple lodged a criminal complaint with the French prosecutor’s office and filed a claim for civil damages at the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Nanterre. That court granted an injunction against Closer, prohibiting further publication of the pictures, and announced that a criminal investigation would be initiated. The court further ordered the French magazine to hand over digital files of the pictures. It reasoned that the photos were “by nature particularly intrusive” and a violation of the couple’s privacy. Even after this injunction in France, several magazines in Europe proceeded to publish the photos, among them the Danish magazine Se og Hør and its Swedish sister magazine Se och Hör.

Author opinion

It might be thought that this case brings into conflict Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, guaranteeing a right to privacy, and Article 10 on the right to free speech and dissemination of information. I believe, however, that publication of these pictures cannot be justified by any serious claim to public interest and represents a clearly unjustified intrusion into the Duchess of Cambridge's privacy.

I believe it is right that these pictures have not been published in the UK and that the French court granted an injunction. However, as Max Mosley points out in his interview on Free Speech Debate, this injunction does not salvage Kate’s privacy. Once privacy has been violated in this way it cannot be restored.

- Judith Bruhn

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    Obviously the ‘horse is out of the barn.” However, we are capable of learning from our mistakes, and acting upon our new knowledge. As we come to understand and accept that we all live in the same world, our ‘standards’ of rights and wrongs must evolve. Does not the ancient phrase of ‘do unto others as you’d have them do unto you’ still hold water?

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