French magazine which revealed prince’s illegitimate son wins article 10 case at Strasbourg

French magazine which revealed prince's illegitimate son wins article 10 case at Strasbourg

A French magazine which revealed that Prince Albert of Monaco had an illegitimate son has won an article 10 appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on the basis the report struck at the prince’s public function which trumped his article 8 right to privacy.

On May 5 2005, Paris Match published an article in which one Ms Coste claimed her son’s father was Albert Grimaldi, reigning prince of Monaco – in spite of the Prince’s notice to refrain.

The gist of the article had already been published in the UK and Germany.

The French domestic courts found in favour of Paris Match.

On 29 June 2005, the Nanterre Tribunal de Grande Instance ordered the magazine’s publisher Hachette Filipacchi Associés to pay Prince Albert €50,000 in non-pecuniary damages, and also ordered that details of the judgment be printed on Paris Match’s entire front cover, under the headline “Court order against Paris Match at the request of Prince Albert II of Monaco”.

The judgment was immediately enforceable. The court considered that the entire article and the accompanying photographs fell within the most intimate sphere of Prince Albert’s love and family life and that it did not concern any debate of general interest.

The applicants lodged an appeal.

The court of appeal upheld the order to pay €50,000 in damages and amended the conditions of publication of the court ruling, which was not to appear under a headline and was to take up only one third of the front cover.

Alleging a violation of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicants lodged an appeal on points of law, which was dismissed.

The ECtHR found in particular that, given the nature of the information in question, the applicants could be understood as having contributed to the coverage of a subject of public interest.

It observed that the disputed publication admittedly concerned the sphere of Prince Albert’s private life, but considered that the essential element of the information contained in the article – the child’s existence – went beyond the private sphere, given the hereditary nature of the Prince’s functions as the Monegasque Head of State.

The court stated that the arguments advanced by the government with regard to the protection of Prince Albert’s private life and of his right to his own image could not be regarded as sufficient to justify interfering with the judgment in question.

The domestic courts had not given due consideration to the principles and criteria for balancing the right to respect for private life and the right to freedom of expression as laid down by the case-law of the court.

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