Von Hannover v. Germany
Few decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter ECtHR) have received as much media attention as the judgment in the case under review, in which the princess of Monaco, Caroline von Hannover, defended her right to privacy against intrusions by paparazzi and the tabloid press. The Third Section of the Court held unanimously that Germany had violated the applicant's right to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter ECHR),2 when its courts, including the Federal Constitutional Court, denied her damages for the publication of pictures showing her shopping, in a restaurant courtyard, and at a private beach club. In weighing the right to privacy with the freedom of the press (articles 8 and 10 of the convention, respectively), the seven judges found that there was no public interest in knowing facts of an essentially private nature that could override the applicant's privacy right. Despite heavy lobbying by media corporations, the German government decided against requesting a referral of the case to the Grand Chamber for review under article 43 of the convention.3 The German Federal Constitutional Court subsequently hinted that it does not consider itself obliged to bring its own case law fully in line with this judgment.4
The case is the last in a series of proceedings brought by the applicant in German courts against the publication of pictures of her and her family. The German Federal Court, the highest civil court, determined that the public's interest in pictures showing "public figures"5 outweighs their right to privacy unless they have retreated to a secluded place.6 The Federal Constitutional Court largely upheld this judgment, reversing and remanding it only with respect to pictures that showed the applicant with her children. The German Constitution particularly protects the relationship between parent and child.7 As a consequence, the respondent media corporation promised not to publish those pictures again.
Thus, the question before the European Court of Human Rights was whether the German courts had struck a fair balance between the freedom of the press and the right to privacy in light of the Convention guarantees with respect to the remaining photos. The Court began by pointing out that the scope of "private life" under article 8 also encompassed a "zone of interaction with others, even in a public context."8 Consequently, pictures showing the applicant outside her home pursuing unofficial activities concerned her private life. The Court then asked whether Germany had fulfilled its duty in securing the applicant's privacy. According to its longstanding case law, such "positive obligation[s]" may arise under the Convention guarantees,9 and they may extend to the relationship between private persons.10 For this reason, the German courts had to ensure the media's proper consideration for the applicant's privacy.
On the other hand, the...