Privacy Princess?

The front page of today’s Times reports speculation that the royal family’s lawyers are preparing a privacy test case to prevent paparazzi harassment of Prince William’s girlfriend, Kate Middleton. No doubt, they have been emboldened by the decision of the Court of Appeal before Christmas that Prince Charles was entitled to assert that his private diaries about the handover of Hong Kong were confidential and protected by copyright. Of course, they will look at the full spectrum of available remedies, but the strategy most likely to be successful will be to build upon recent privacy decisions.

Last Saturday’s Irish Independent carries a story which gives a flavour of what this action is designed to prevent. In the early hours of Friday morning, police were called to protect her from photographers as she and Prince William left a nightclub. In response, today’s Guardian media website reports that News International has banned its papers, including the Sun and the News of the World, as well as the Times and the Sunday Times, from using paparazzi photos of her (though later in the day, the Guardian media website reported that at least one News International paper was unaware of the ban!).

These reports are full of speculation that the couple will soon announce their engagement. If so, she won’t be the first princess to seek to protect her privacy. Princess Diana took an action against the Mirror Group over secretly-taken pictures of her exercising in a gym. More to the point, it was Princess Caroline of Monaco’s successful privacy action in the European Court of Human Rights which kick-started the privacy litigation in the English courts upon which Kate Middleton’s lawyers will seek to rely.

It will be an interesting case, and – if her prospective father-in-law doesn’t get there first – it is likely to provide the House of Lords with an opportunity to revisit their decision in Naomi Campbell’s case : it has a number of real analytical problems with which lower courts have been grappling with varying degrees of success. It may even provide the second example of a princess seeking to vindicate her privacy rights in the European Court of Human Rights.

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