Friday, 27 July 2007

The Prince of Monaco has the right to respect for his private life

Cour de cassation, 1re civ., 27 February 2007, n° 06-10.393, Hachette Filipacchi and others v Albert Grimaldi

In 2005, Paris-Match, the French magazine owned by Hachette Filipacchi, published an interview with Mrs Coste, revealing the birth of her baby boy, fathered by Albert Grimaldi, Prince of Monaco. Several photos illustrated the text. The cover of the magazine had the title ‘Albert of Monaco: Alexandre, the secret child, Nicole, his mother, tells their long story’. Prince Albert brought the case before the High Court of First Instance arguing that the publication infringed on his privacy. The Court condemned Hachette Filipacchi, on the grounds of Article 9 of the French Civil Code, to damages and to the publication of the ruling. The Court of Appeal of Versailles confirmed the ruling. Hachette Filipacchi did not accept the ruling, and appealed before the Cour de Cassation (French Supreme Court for civil and criminal matters).

Article 9 of the Civil Code provides that ‘Everyone has the right to respect for his private life.’ These provisions are rather laconic. The judges generally try to strike a balance between the right to privacy and three forms of justifications: the consent of the person concerned, the reporting of current events and the contribution to a debate of public interest (see the commentary of A. Lepage on the ruling of 27 October 2007, Communication Commerce Electronique, n° 7-8 July-August 2007, page 41 and J.-P. Gridel, Protection de la vie privée: rupture ou continuité?, Gazette du Palais, 18-19 May 2007, p. 4 et seq). For example, a preceding case (Cour de Cassation 1re civ, 24 October 2006, n° 04-16.706) ruled that the fact that a mayor and municipal councillors were freemasons could be disclosed, since the mayor had been charged with forgery and favouritism, and that the disclosure came within the context of a judicial debate and was justified by being information for the public on a debate of general interest.

In the present case, the Cour de Cassation, on 27 February 2007, considered that the reporting of current events could not prevail over the prince’s right to respect for his privacy, and that there was no public debate on the subject.

Before the Supreme Court, Hachette Filipacchi argued that the Court of Appeal of Versailles had misapplied Articles 9 of the Civil Code and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, since the disclosure of Prince Albert’s paternity, Prince Albert being a reigning sovereign since April 2005, was relevant to a debate on public affairs, because of the functions of the person concerned, and was justified by the right to information of the readership.

The Supreme Court dismissed Hachette Filipacchi’s arguments, stating that any person has the right to respect for his private life, whatever his station, birth or functions may be. Moreover, the Supreme Court notes that, at the time the article was published, the public had no knowledge of the existence or filiation of the child, and that the constitution of the Principality excludes any possibility of the child acceding to the throne, since he was born out of marriage wedlock, while Hachette Filipacchi did not even argue that any public debates were being held on the subject in Monaco or France. The Court finally notes that the article digressed, writing about the relationship between Mme Coste and Prince Albert, his reaction to the announcement of the pregnancy and his subsequent behaviour towards the child.

The Supreme Court therefore approved the Court of Appeal for concluding that the absence of any current event or any debate of general interest for which the legitimate information of the public would have justified the disclosure of information at the time of the publication of the litigious article, and dismissed the appeal of Hachette Filipacchi against the ruling of the Court of Appeal.

The Supreme Court carefully verified whether the right of the public to information justified the disclosure of information on the prince’s privacy. In another case, the Supreme Court ruled that a birth in a princely family (actually the same family) meets the necessity of information and may be disclosed to the public where the birth is likely to have political or dynastical implications (Cour de Cassation 2me civ, 24 October 2006, n° 02-11.122).