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02.12.2015

ECtHR: Decision on report about Prince Albert of Monaco’s love child

Ass. jur. Robin Zeiger

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held unanimously, that there had indeed been a violation of the freedom of the expression according to Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). The case concerned the balancing of the protection of the right of freedom of expression of a press member and the right of the protection of privacy and the reputation and rights of others (case "Couderec and Hachette Filipacchi Associés v. France", application no. 40454/07, 10 November 2015).

The applicants are Anne-Marie Couderec, editor of the French magazine Paris Match and the Company Hachette Filipacchi Associés, publisher of the magazine. In May 2005, the British Daily Mail published claims that Prince Albert II of Monaco had a son with a woman called Nicole Coste. The article reproduced the main points of an interview by her due to be published by Paris Match. Prince Albert served a notice to Paris Match to restrain the magazine from publishing the interview. In spite of that notice, the interview was published. An article also appeared in the German magazine Bunte. This article revealed the existence of Prince Albert of Monaco’s illegitimate son, and included both photographs and interview material of and about the child´s mother and the child itself. Prince Albert claimed an infringement of his right to privacy and image rights. He contended that his rights outweighed the publisher’s right to freedom of expression according to Article 10 ECHR.

 

In June 2005 the French Court Nanterre Tribunal de Grande Instance awarded Prince Albert 50.000 Euro in damages and ordered Paris Match to print details of the judgement in a full-page feature on the front cover of Paris Match under the headline "Court order against Paris Match at the request of Prince Albert II of Monaco". The judgment was immediately enforceable. Alleging a violation of Article 10 ECHR, the applicants lodged an appeal on points of law, which was dismissed. The French Court of Appeal stated that a person’s affections, love life or family life and issues of paternity and maternity came within the sphere of private life and were protected by Article 9 of the French Civil Code and Article 8 ECHR, and that those provisions made no distinction between private persons and public figures. It concluded that the publication in question had caused the Prince irreversible damage regarding his paternity, which he had wished to keep secret.

 

In its decision, the European Court of Human Rights came to a rather different conclusion. In its view, the French rulings against Paris Match, in fact, constituted an unjustified limitation of the rights granted by Article 10 ECHR. The Chamber noted the obvious societal value in the freedom of expression, particularly in supporting an uncensored press. The Court stated that those in political positions had to display a greater tolerance. New weight was also placed upon the rights of Ms. Coste and her child, both of whom had a legitimate interest in having the child’s existence and paternity acknowledged publicly. To the extent that Ms. Couderc’s actions were intentional and could be viewed as merely an exploitation of her own Article 8 right to private and family life, the ECHR Chamber found it difficult to see how Prince Albert’s right must necessarily outweigh her rights and the right to freedom of expression. Therefore, the Court found that there has been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention.

The applicants also stated that they hoped to obtain reasonable compensation which would compensate for the cost of the damages awarded and of the compulsory publication order imposed by the domestic courts. But it dismissed the applicants’ claim for just satisfaction.

Ass. jur. Robin Zeiger works as a Legal Affairs Manager at ZDF Enterprises GmbH in Germany.


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The Judgement is available in English here.

The judgement is available in French language here.





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