The European Court of Human Rights has announced today that it will deliver two Grand Chamber judgments, in the cases of Axel Springer AG v Germany and von Hannover v Germany (No.2) on 7 February 2012. The cases were both heard more than 15 months ago, on 13 October 2010. We had a post about the hearing at the time (and an earlier preview).Both cases concern the publication in the media of material which is alleged to be private. The Axel Springer case concerned the publication in “Bild” of an article about a well-known television actor, being arrested for possession of cocaine. The article was illustrated by three pictures of the actor. The German court granted him an injunction to prohibit the publication of the article and the photos. The applicant company did not challenge the judgment concerning the photos. The newspaper published a second article in July 2005, which reported on the actor being convicted and fined for illegal possession of drugs after he had made a full confession.
The German courts held that the right to protection of X.’s personality rights prevailed over the public’s interest in being informed, even if the truth of the facts related by the daily had not been disputed. The applicant complained that the injunction preventing it from publishing the articles was a breach of its Article 10 rigths.
In Von Hannover (No. 2) the applicants, Princess Caroline of Monaco and her husband, had sought injunctions against the publication of further photos, showing them during a holiday and taken without their consent, which had appeared in the German magazines Frau im Spiegel and Frau Aktuell between 2002 and 2004. While the Federal Court of Justice granted Princess Caroline’s claim as regards the publication of two of the photos in dispute, it dismissed her claim as regards another photo which had appeared in February 2002 in Frau im Spiegel. It showed the couple taking a walk during their skiing holiday in St. Moritz and was accompanied by an article reporting, among other issues, on the poor health of Prince Rainier of Monaco. The courts found that the reigning prince’s poor health was a subject of general interest and that the press had been entitled to report on the manner in which his children reconciled their obligations of family solidarity with the legitimate needs of their private life. The applicants complained, under Article 8, of the German courts’ refusal to prohibit any further publication of the photos in dispute.
The applications raise serious and difficult issues about the ambit of the right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the Convention. The protection accorded to the actor in the Axel Springer case and that sought by the applicants in von Hannover (No.2) go considerably further than that which presently afforded by English law. Decisions in favour of German government in the first case and the applicants in the second would, therefore, have a very substantial impact on domestic privacy law and would extend the scope of privacy protection. On the other hand, if the Article 10 arguments were to succeed in each case then this may lead to some modification of privacy law in the direction sought by the media.
We will have a report on the judgment when it is handed down.