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THE PUBLIC FIGURE DOCTRINE AND THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY

  • Kirsty Hughes

Abstract

This article argues that the public figure doctrine is doctrinally problematic and conceptually and normatively flawed. Doctrinal uncertainty surrounds who is affected and how rights are affected. Conceptually it raises challenges for universality, the non-hierarchical relationship between Articles 8 and 10 ECHR, the process of resolving rights conflicts, and the relationship between domestic law and the Convention. All of which necessitate a strong normative justification for the distinction. Yet there is no compelling rationale. The values underpinning the right to privacy of public figures are no different from those of other persons and there are other better mechanisms of accounting for freedom of expression. We should therefore reject the idea that public figures have fewer or weaker privacy rights or that the process of dealing with their rights is different and instead focus squarely upon the relative importance of the rights, and the degree of intrusion into those rights.

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Copyright

Footnotes

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*

University Lecturer, University of Cambridge.

I am grateful to Professor David Feldman Q.C., Jelena Gligorijevic and Professor Gavin Phillipson for their invaluable comments as well as the anonymous reviewers. Earlier versions were presented at the Privacy Forum (Sorbonne, Paris) and the Amsterdam Privacy Law Conference, and I am indebted to Paul Wragg and Tom Bennett, the organisers and participants for their thought-provoking discussion. Any remaining errors are my own.

Footnotes

References

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1 For example the reaction to the damages awarded to Cliff Richard following the broadcast of a police search of his home, Richard v BBC [2018] EWHC 1837 (Ch).

4 Hughes, K., “Parliament Reports on Privacy and Injunctions” (2012) 4(1) J.M.L. 17.

5 Von Hannover v Germany (No.2) (2012) 55 EHRR 15, at [110]. Cited and applied in Richard [2018] EWHC 1837 (Ch), at [276].

6 Lingens v Austria (1986) 8 EHRR 407.

7 See Chauvy v France (2005) 41 EHRR 29; and Radio France v France (2005) 40 EHRR 29.

8 Von Hannover v Germany (2005) 40 EHRR 1.

9 The Court's general stance is that Arts. 8 and 10 are of presumptive equal value and that they should be balanced using the Von Hannover (No.2) (2012) 55 EHRR 15 criteria. See also the declaration in Couderc and Hachette Filipacchi Associés v France [2016] EMLR 19, at [91] that the rights “deserve equal respect”.

10 Lindon v France (2008) 46 EHRR 35 Concurring Opinion.

11 Ibid.

12 Von Hannover (2005) 40 EHRR 1; Von Hannover (No.2) (2012) 55 EHRR 15; Axel Springer v Germany (2012) 55 EHRR 6; Couderc [2016] EMLR 19.

13 Grebneva and Alisimchik v Russia (Application no. 8918/05) 22 November 2016; Milisavljevic v Serbia (Application no. 50123/06) 4 April 2017; Genner v Austria (Application no. 55495/08) 12 January 2016; Borozic and Vujin v Serbia (Application no. 38435/05) 26 June 2009.

14 Savva Terentyev v Russia (Application no. 10692/09) 28 August 2018.

15 Dmitriyevskiy v Russia (Application no. 42168/06) October 2017.

16 ML and WW v Germany (Application no. 60798/10 and 65599/10) 28 June 2018. See also NT1 and NT2 v Google [2018] EWHC 799 (QB), at [137]–[140]. The notion of different standards for those that play a “role in public life” also appears in Case C-131/12, Google Spain SL and Google Spain Inc v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos and Mario Costeja Gonzáles, at [81]. Strasbourg reasoning was also employed in the Art. 29 Data Protection Working Party Guidelines on the Implementation of the Court of Justice of the European Union Judgment on Google Spain and Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD) and Mario Costeja Gonzáles, C-131/12.

17 Von Hannover (2005) 40 EHHR 1, at [74].

18 Von Hannover (2005) 40 EHHR 1.

19 Verlagsgruppe News GmbH v Austria (No. 2) [2007] EMLR 13, at [36]; Goodwin v NGN [2011] EWHC 1437 (QB), [2011] EMLR 27, at [103].

20 Zybertowicz v Poland (Application no. 59138/10) (available on HUDOC); Zybertowicz v Poland (No.2) (Application no. 65937/11) available on HUDOC); Kucharczyk v Poland (Application no. 72966/13) (available on HUDOC); Verlagsgruppe (No. 2) [2007] EMLR 13; Verlagsgruppe News GmbH and Bobi v Austria (Application no. 59631/09) (available on HUDOC).

21 Hasan Yazici v Turkey (Application no. 40877/07) 15 April 2014; Mengı v Turkey (Application no. 13471/05 38787/07) 27 November 2012. Although note in a case concerning possible incitement of violence against academics, Kaboglu and Oran v Turkey (Application no. 1759/08, 50766/10 and 50782/10) 30 October 2018, the Court declined to equate academics with politicians.

22 Verlagsgruppe (No. 2) [2007] EMLR 13.

23 Standard Verlags GmbH v Austria (No.3) (Application no. 34702/07) (available on HUDOC), at [37]; News Verlags GmbH & Co.KG v Austria (Application no. 31457/96) (2001) 31 EHRR 8, at [54]; Verlagsgruppe (No. 2) [2007] EMLR 13, at [36]; Egeland and Hanseid v Norway (Application no. 34438/04) (2010) 50 EHRR 2 at [60]; Flinkkilä v Finland (Application no. 25576/04) (available on HUDOC), at [83]; Eerikäinen and Others (Application no. 3514/02) (available on HUDOC), at [66]; Krone Verlag GmbH v Austria (Application no. 27306/07) (available on HUDOC); and Kurier Zeitungsverlagd und Druckerei GmbH v Austria (No.2) (Application no. 1593/06) (available on HUDOC).

24 Von Hannover (2005) 40 EHHR 1.

25 Ibid., at para. [63].

26 M.A. Sanderson, “Is Von Hannover v Germany a Step Backward for the Substantive Analysis of Speech and Privacy Interests?” [2004] EHRLR 631, at 637.

27 Von Hannover (No.2) (2012) 55 EHRR 15.

28 Ibid., at para. [120].

29 Axel Springer (2012) 55 EHRR 6.

30 Couderc [2016] EMLR 19.

31 Gunnarsson v Iceland (Application no. 4591/04); Sokolowski v Poland (Application no. 75955/01); Rodivilov v Ukraine (Application no. 49876/07); Garaudy v France (Application no. 65831/01); Petrov v Bulgaria (Application no. 15197/02) (all available on HUDOC).

32 Timciuc v Romania (Application no. 28999/03) (available on HUDOC).

33 Middelburg, Van der Zee and Het Parool B.B. v The Netherlands (Application no. 28202/95) (1999) 27 EHRR CD111.

34 Axel Springer (2012) 55 EHRR 6; Lillo-Stenberg and Sæther v Norway (Application no. 13258/09) (available on HUDOC).

35 Verlagsgruppe (No. 2) [2007] EMLR 13, at [36], emphasis added.

36 Goodwin [2011] EWHC 1437 (QB), [2011] EMLR 27.

37 McLaren v News Group Newspapers Ltd. [2012] EWHC 2466 (QB), at [34]. It was later suggested that higher standards of conduct may also be expected from “headmasters and clergymen”, as well as “politicians, senior civil servants, surgeons and journalists”, McKennitt v Ash [2006] EWCA Civ 1714, at [65].

38 See Krone (Application no. 27306/07); and Kurier (No.2) (Application no. 1593/06), although on the facts the Court held that the child had not “entered the public scene” merely by being the subject of a high profile custody battle.

39 Standard Verlags (No.3) (Application no. 34702/07), at [37]: News Verlags (Application no. 31457/96) (2001) 31 EHRR 8, at [54]; Verlagsgruppe (No. 2) [2007] EMLR 13, at [36]; Egeland (Application no. 34438/04) (2010) 50 EHRR 2, at [60]; Flinkkilä (Application no. 25576/04), at [83]; and Eerikäinen (Application no. 3514/02), at [66].

40 Zybertowicz (Application no. 59138/10); Zybertowicz (No.2) (Application no. 65937/11); Kucharczyk (Application no. 72966/13); Verlagsgruppe News GmbH and Bobi (Application no. 59631/09).

41 Mitkus v Latvia (Application no. 7259/03) (available on HUDOC), at [132].

42 Krone (Application no. 27306/07), at [57]; and Kurier (No.2) (Application no. 1593/06), at [59].

43 Flinkkilä (Application no. 25576/04), at [83].

44 Both of which are factors in the Von Hannover (No.2) balancing criteria discussed further below.

45 RocknRoll v News Group Newspapers Ltd. [2013] EWHC 24 (Ch.); and Weller & Ors v Associated Newspapers Ltd. [2015] EWCA Civ 1176.

46 Trimingham v Associated Newspapers Ltd. [2012] EWHC 1296 (QB).

47 Goodwin [2011] EWHC 1437 (QB), [2011] EMLR 27, at [103].

48 Murray v Big Pictures Ltd. [2008] EWCA 446, [2008] 3 W.L.R. 1360, at [37] approved Patten J. in Murray v Express Newspapers Plc & Anor [2007] EWHC 1908 (Ch).; and AAA v Associated Newspapers [2013] EWCA Civ 554 and [2012] EWHC 2103 (QB).

49 See Timciuc (Application no. 28999/03), where the Court did not explain why a civil servant was a public figure, simply declaring that “in his capacity as a high-ranking local civil servant, the applicant was a public figure”.

50 It seems that certain individuals will always be public figures (even following death); see Dzhugashvili v Russia (2015) 61 EHRR SE9 (Stalin); and Edition Plons v France (2006) 42 EHRR 36 (President Mitterand). The Court has yet to consider less prominent individuals, or cases where an individual has sought to withdraw from public life.

51 Hasan Yazici (Application no. 40877/07); Mengı (Application no. 13471/05 38787/07). Although note a distinction in a case concerning possible incitement of violence against academics in Kaboglu and Oran (Application no. 1759/08, 50766/10 and 50782/10), where the Court declined to equate such persons with politicians. Verlagsgruppe (No. 2) [2007] EMLR 13.

52 The process of defining public figures was famously described in Rosanova v Playboy Ents., Inc., 411 F. Supp. 440, 443 (S.D. Ga. 1976) as “much like trying to nail a jellyfish to the wall”.

53 F. Inglis, A Short History of Celebrity (2010, Princeton).

54 As Frederick Schauer explains: “[t]he question whether the private lives of public figures should be open to newspaper reporting is so close to self-answering as to be an unhelpful characterisation. Too much of the normative and conceptual work is elided by the terms ‘public’ and ‘private,’ which turn out to have the attributes of normative conclusions masquerading as descriptions or analytic tools”, F. Schauer, “Can Public Figures Have Private Lives?” (2000) Soc.Phil.& Pol'y. 293, at 294.

55 See e.g. Editions Plons (2006) 42 EHRR 36; Von Hannover (2005) 40 EHRR 1; Campbell v MGN (2004) UKHL 22; Mosley v News Group Newspapers [2008] EWHC 1777, [2008] EMLR 20; PJS v News Group Newspapers [2016] UKSC 26; Richard [2018] EWHC 1837; CTB v Thomas [2011] EWHC 1326.

56 Couderc [2016] EMLR 19, at [119].

57 Craxi v Italy (No.2) (Application no. 25337/94), at [65].

58 Ibid.

59 Ageyevy v Russia (Application no. 7075/10), at [221]; and Mitkus (Application no. 7259/03), at [132].

60 Von Hannover (No.2) (2012) 55 EHRR 15, at [95]–[99], [108]ff.

61 N. Moreham, “Unpacking the Reasonable Expectation of Privacy Test” (2018) 134 L.Q.R. 651.

62 Spelman v Express Newspapers [2012] EWHC 355 (QB), at [70].

63 Ibid., at para. [69]. Compare this with McKennitt [2006] EWCA Civ 1714, at [23], “a person's health is in any event a private matter”.

64 Verlagsgruppe (No. 2) [2007] EMLR 13, at [101]–104].

65 Ferdinand v MGN Ltd. [2011] EWHC 2454 (QB), at [56].

66 Richard [2018] EWHC 1837, at [256], emphasis added.

67 Von Hannover (No.2) (2012) 55 EHRR 15; Couderc [2016] EMLR 19.

68 Von Hannover (No.2) (2012) 55 EHRR 15, at [108]–[113].

69 Couderc [2016] EMLR 19.

70 Ibid., at paras. [99]–[101], [108]–[116].

71 Ibid., at paras. [117]–[125].

72 Ibid., at para. [117].

73 Ibid., at para. [118].

74 Ibid., at paras. [97]–[100].

75 Ibid., at para. [89].

76 Mosley v United Kingdom (2011) 53 EHRR 30.

77 After a 12-year stand-off the UK Government proposed to allow a very limited class of prisoners (those on day release) to vote. This was accepted by the Committee of Ministers in December 2017, CM/Del/Dec(2017)1302/H46-39, 7 December 2017.

78 The Court has never applied Art. 16 ECHR but the distinction continues to exist, see Perincek v Switzerland (Application no. 27510/08) Grand Chamber (available on HUDOC), at [118]–[123].

79 Hoffmann, Lord, “The Universality of Human Rights” (2009) L.Q.R. 416; Spano, R., “Universality or Diversity of Human Rights? Strasbourg in the Age of Subsidiarity” (2014) H.R.L.Rev. 487.

80 Hirst v United Kingdom (No.2) (2006) 42 EHRR 41.

81 Hode v United Kingdom (Application no. 22341/09) (2013) 56 EHRR 27.

82 Chassagnou v France (Application no. 25088/94 28331/95 28443/95) (1999) 29 EHRR 615.

83 Ibid., at para. [91].

84 Mouvement raelien suisse v Switzerland (2013) 56 EHRR 14, at [61]; Animal Defenders v United Kingdom (2013) 57 EHRR 21, at [102].

85 As emphasised in Couderc [2016] EMLR 19, at [92].

86 Spelman [2012] EWHC 355 (QB).

87 AAA [2013] EWCA Civ 554.

88 In Campbell (2004) UKHL 22, it was suggested that the courts would not regard such photographs as private. Since Von Hannover (2005) 40 EHRR 1, it has been evident that the Strasbourg Court takes a different approach. Our domestic courts have upheld the rights of children in such circumstances, see Weller v Associated Newspapers [2014] EWHC 1163 (QB), but it is unclear whether they would find that adult celebrities have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such circumstances. For discussion, see Hughes, K., “Publishing Photographs Without Consent” (2014) 6(2) J.M.L. 180.

89 On horizontal effect and the law of privacy see Bennett, T., “Horizontality's New Horizons: Re-Examining Horizontal Effect: Privacy, Defamation and the Human Rights Act: Part I” (2010) Ent.L.R. 96; Bennett, T., “Horizontality's New Horizons: Re-Examining Horizontal Effect: Privacy, Defamation and the Human Rights Act: Part II” (2010) Ent.L.R. 145; Hughes, K., “Horizontal Privacy” (2009) L.Q.R. 244; Moreham, N., “Privacy and Horizontality: Relegating the Common Law” (2007) 123 L.Q.R. 373; Phillipson, G., “Privacy: The Development of Breach of Confidence: The Clearest Case of Horizontal Effect” in Hoffmann, D. (ed.), The Impact of the UK Human Rights Act on Private Law (2011, Cambridge). H. Fenwick, G. Phillipson, R. Masterman (eds.) Judicial Reasoning under the UK Human Rights Act (2007, Cambridge); Phillipson, G., “The Human Rights Act, the Common law and Horizontal Effect: A Bang or a Whimper” (1999) 62(6) MLR 824. Note this is also contingent upon the extent to which the domestic courts are required to follow Strasbourg case law. The Supreme Court's recent judgment in Hallam v Secretary of State [2019] UKSC 2 suggests that there may now be greater scope to depart from Strasbourg case law than had previously been recognised.

90 See the Court's numerous references to the need to “balance” the rights in Von Hannover (No.2) (2012) 55 EHRR 15 and Axel Springer (2012) 55 EHRR 6.

91 Couderc [2016] EMLR 19, at [119].

92 For consideration of similar issues in the law of misuse of private information see P. Wragg, “The Benefits of Privacy-Invading Expression” (2013) 64(2) NILQ 187.

93 Couderc [2016] EMLR 19, at [125], emphasis added.

94 Jelena Gligorijevic is developing some excellent doctoral work on how to resolve rights conflicts and I have found her contributions to be illuminating.

95 The Strasbourg Court has not offered any detailed insight but it has drawn upon a consent rationale for limiting a public figure's right to privacy based upon prior conduct, see Axel Springer (2012) 55 EHRR 6, at [101] and has emphasised the democratic watchdog function of the press in connection with the criteria “debate of general interest” and “notoriety” see Von Hannover (No.2) (2012) 55 EHRR 15, at [110]–[111]. For discussion of the public figure doctrine and the public interest, see Phillipson, G., “Press Freedom, the Public Interest and Privacy” in Kenyon, A. (ed.), Comparative Defamation and Privacy Law (2016, Cambridge); and Wragg, “The Benefits”.

96 Hughes, K., “A Behavioural Understanding of Privacy and its Implications for Privacy Law” (2012) 75(5) MLR 806.

97 Woodrow Hartzog is researching different notions of “public” in the US context as presented at the Amsterdam Privacy Law Conference 2018.

98 Westin, A., Privacy and Freedom (New York 1967); Solove, D., Understanding Privacy (2010, Cambridge, Massachusetts); Rössler, B., The Value of Privacy (2005, Cambridge); Cohen, J., “What Is Privacy For” (2013) 126 Harv.L.Rev. 194.

99 Richards, N., Intellectual Privacy (2015, New York).

100 Inness, J., Privacy, Intimacy and Isolation (1992, New York); Rachels, J., “Why Privacy Is Important” (1975) 4 Phil.& Pub.Aff. 323; Gerstein, R., “Intimacy and Privacy” (1978) 89 Ethics 76.

101 Waldman, A.E., Privacy as Trust: Information Privacy for an Information Age (2018, New York).

102 N. Moreham and Y. Tinsley, “Grief Journalism, Physical Intrusion, and Loss: The Pike River Coal Mine Disaster” in Kenyon, Comparative Defamation.

103 Leveson Report (2012, London), An Inquiry into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press, vol. II, ch. 5 (2012); Gulati v MGN [2015] EWHC 1482 (Ch).

104 Hughes, K., “The Social Value of Privacy, the Value of Privacy to Society and Human Rights Discourse” in Roessler, B. (ed.), Social Dimensions of Privacy (2015, Cambridge); Regan, Priscilla Legislating Privacy (Chapel Hill 1995).

105 Lord Woolf stated in A v B [2002] EWCA Civ 337, 11(xi), that an individual “should recognise that because of his public position he must expect and accept that his actions will be more closely scrutinised by the media”.

106 Lord Woolf stated in A v B [2002] EWCA Civ 337, 11(xi), that a “public figure may hold a position where higher standards of conduct can rightly be expected by the public. The public figure may be a role model whose conduct could well be emulated by others”.

107 McLaren [2012] EWHC 2466 (QB).

108 Ibid.; Axel Springer (2012) 55 EHRR 6. See G. Phillipson “Press Freedom, the Public Interest and Privacy” pp.155-156.

109 The position has become more nuanced than Lord Woolf's declaration in A v B [2002] EWCA Civ 337, 11(xi), that “if you have courted public attention then you have less ground to object to the intrusion which follows”. See McKennitt [2006] EWCA Civ 1714, at [25]; and KGM v News Group Newspapers Ltd. [2010] EWHC 3145 (QB), at [38].

110 Axel Springer (2012) 55 EHRR 6, at [101]. For discussion, see Phillipson, “Press Freedom”, pp. 150–1.

111 Richard [2018] EWHC 1837, at [256].

112 Murray [2008] EWCA 446, [2008] 3 W.L.R. 1360, at [23].

113 Hughes, “A Behavioural Understanding”.

114 W.N. Hohfeld, Fundamental Legal Conceptions (2001, Oxford).

115 R. (on the application of Begum) v Denbigh High School [2006] UKHL 15.

116 Eweida v United Kingdom (2013) 57 EHRR 8.

117 Within the reasonable expectation of privacy test the courts are already directed to consider “the absence of consent and whether it was known or could be inferred” and within the balancing criterion “prior conduct” forms a separate criterion.

118 Campbell [2004] UKHL 22.

119 Richard [2018] EWHC 1837, at [256].

120 E. Goffmann, Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life (1990, London).

121 E. Barendt, Freedom of Speech, 2nd ed. (2005, Oxford).

122 J. Milton (2014, London), Areopagitica: A Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing (1644); J.S. Mill (2015, Oxford), On Liberty (1859).

123 Couderc [2016] EMLR 19.

124 Campbell [2004] UKHL 22.

125 Ibid.; Ferdinand [2011] EWHC 2454 (QB).

126 For discussion, see Barendt, Freedom of Speech.

127 See all G. Phillipson ‘Press Freedom, Public Interest and Privacy' p.157.

128 Schauer, “Can Public Figures Have Private Lives?”, p. 303.

129 Ibid., at pp. 300–6.

130 Mokrosinska, D., “How Much Privacy for Public Officials?” in Rössler, B. and Mokrosinska, D. (eds.), Social Dimensions of Privacy: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (2015, Cambridge).

131 Couderc [2016] EMLR 19, at [100].

132 Schauer, “Can Public Figures Have Private Lives?”, p. 308.

133 Gavison, R., “Privacy and the Limits of the Law” (1980) 89 Yale L.J. 421, at 455.

134 See the dicta of Baroness Hale in Campbell [2004] UKHL 22, at [143]; and Lord Woolf in A v B [2002] EWCA Civ 337, 11(xi), where he declared that the “courts must not ignore the fact that if newspapers do not publish information that the public are interested in, there will be fewer newspapers published, which will not be in the public interest”.

135 G. Phillipson ‘Press Freedom, the Public Interest and Privacy', p.144.

136 Gertz v Robert Welch 418 U.S. 323, public figures have greater access to “the channels of effective communication and hence have a more realistic opportunity to counteract false statements than private individuals normally enjoy”.

137 See Mosley [2008] EWHC 1777; Hughes, K., “Privacy Injunctions No Obligation to Notify Pre-Publication” (2011) 3(2) J.M.L. 179; Scott, A., “Prior Notification in Privacy Cases: A Reply to Professor Phillipson” (2010) J.M.L. 49; Phillipson, G., “Max Mosley Goes to Strasbourg: Article 8, Claimant Notification and Interim Injunctions” (2009) J.M.L. 73.

138 Wragg, “The Benefits”.

139 Ibid., at p. 194.

140 Phillipson, G., “Leveson, the Public Interest and Press Freedom” (2013) J.M.L. 220, at 237–8.

141 Wragg, “The Benefits”, p. 200.

142 Ibid., at p. 194.

143 Ibid., at p.194.

144 Ibid., at p. 196.

145 Ibid., at p. 207.

146 Mosley (2011) 53 EHRR 30.

147 Wragg, “The Benefits”, p. 202.

148 Ibid.

* University Lecturer, University of Cambridge.

I am grateful to Professor David Feldman Q.C., Jelena Gligorijevic and Professor Gavin Phillipson for their invaluable comments as well as the anonymous reviewers. Earlier versions were presented at the Privacy Forum (Sorbonne, Paris) and the Amsterdam Privacy Law Conference, and I am indebted to Paul Wragg and Tom Bennett, the organisers and participants for their thought-provoking discussion. Any remaining errors are my own.

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THE PUBLIC FIGURE DOCTRINE AND THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY

  • Kirsty Hughes

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