The Scandal of the Duchess

So our future Queen, the glorious Kate Middleton, has recently been the victim of a gross intrusion into her private life, which I won’t insult you by explaining as I know my sophisticated readers don’t live in a cave, on a far-flung island in the middle of the ocean!  This scandal really couldn’t have come at a better time, as it fits in perfectly with the theme of my dissertation; whether there is an effective balance between the protection of the freedom of the press, and the privacy rights of those in the public eye.  The controversial debate has been raging for a while, under the umbrella of The Leveson Inquiry, but this scandal is the glazed cherry on top of the press v privacy Victoria Sponge.

The legal questions raised by the publication of these photos are numerous and fall into both civil and criminal categories, but the most important is undoubtedly that of public interest and its constitutive elements.  Public interest has no statutory definition and therefore evolves with society.  Our culture of “celebrity”, propelled through mainstream trashy magazines, has blurred the notion of the private life with the professional life of those in the public eye.

One view is that by knowingly putting oneself into the public eye, the right to a private life is automatically extinguished, as an element of public interest is associated with being a public figure.  I disagree with this view completely, but I recognize that there is a grey area existing here for those individuals who use their private life and the interest of obsessive fans to further a career.  In my opinion, only in these extremely limited circumstances can a right to privacy be denied because of the individuals actions in using the press for personal gain.  Yet it is still important to remember that the right to a private life is not extinguished simply because of one’s status as a public figure.  Confused? I am.  So is my dissertation!  Lord Justice Leveson’s report will hopefully clarify this muddled area of law!

Anyway, back to the Duchess and her precarious predicament… The basic question the French court had to answer here was if there was any legitimate public interest in seeing photos of Kate with her knockers out?  The answer is simply no.  Although public interest in her life is elevated due to her position as a member of the Royal Family, these photos have no relevance to any debates of public interest.  Le Tribunal de Grande Instance de Nanterre has recognised this under the strict Code Civil and have granted an injunction against further publication of these photos, with a penalty of a 10,000 € fine per day in relation to future publication.

Everyone deserves a private life, and this should be a lesson to those who deprive people of this fundamental human right.

What are your thoughts on this situation?  Do those who put themselves in the public eye automatically lose their right to privacy?  I’d love to hear your views!

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