17/09/2012 15:18 BST | Updated 17/09/2012 19:34 BST

Kate Topless Pictures: Royal Couple 'Sending Clear Message To Editors' With Legal Action

Royal experts have said the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's decision to file a criminal complaint over the publication of topless pictures is a symbolic move designed to "make a clear statement to the press".

Dickie Arbiter, former press secretary to the Queen, told the Huffington Post UK the couple are taking a stand with their legal action: “You may say its shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted but I think they are making a very clear statement.

"Prince William has always been very clear about his relationship with the media; that he regards it as a necessary evil.

"It is rare that the royals go to court but you have to think about what has happened to his mother and he doesn’t want it to happen to his wife."

dickie arbiter

Dickie Arbiter, former spokesperson for the Prince William and press secretary to the Queen.

There have only been a handful of times when royal rage over invasion of privacy has prompted the pursuit of legal action.

Of those few cases the matter of privacy has only gone to trial once in the past 30 years, when the Queen's nephew, Viscount Linley, (on whose French balcony the royal couple were sunbathing) took the now-defunct Today magazine to court in 1990.

The furniture designer accused the magazine libel for reporting that he threw beer around a London pub whilst drunk. He was awarded £64,000 altogether in both libel and punitive damages.

Royal expert and writer Charlie Jacoby told the Huffington Post UK that the decision to take a legal route by Kate and William will have been well considered: "The way that the palace runs means this decision will not have been taken lightly.

"There will have been two main camps, the hawks and the doves. One will suggest rising above it and another advising the couple to take the publishers down.

"Constitutionally they are the law so they are in a difficult position. If the Queen took somebody to court, it’s the Queen’s court so really she should win. But the law is a different pillar of the establishment, along with the army, the police, the government. "

wills kate chi magazine

Chi published a 26-page spread of topless Kate pictures under the headline 'the Queen is nude'

He suggested one reason the royal couple has taken legal action is because France does not have a press council that can enforce penalties in the same way as Britain does.

"The French equivalent of the PCC does not have the powers in the same way that the UK one does. However the courts are robust enough." he said.


Viscount Linley, the son of Princess Margaret, with his wife. Kate and Wills were sunbathing on the balcony of his villa in Provence when the shots were taken

Privacy laws are much stricter in France, meaning that it is much more likely the royal couple will win their case.

However it is highly unlikely that the maximum penalty of a year’s imprisonment would be imposed on the editor.

Even the top end fine of £36,000 seems minimal compared with the money awarded to royals in the past.

royal couple

Kate and William have continued on their Diamond Jubilee tour, the couple's happy smiles disguising their private indignation over the snaps

Princess Diana was reportedly paid costs of more than £1m after the Daily Mirror took pictures of her exercising in a gym with a hidden camera.

Duncan Bloy, Media Law Professor at Cardiff School of Journalism agrees that the legal action is symbolic.

“They are sabre rattling. They want to send a message to editors,” he told the Huffington Post UK.

“They are saying, look we won’t stick this sabre in you now, but this is a warning and we are prepared to use it again.

kate middleton

Duchess of Cambridge talks to a local woman during a visit to the Cultural Village in Honiara

He pointed to French privacy laws and the nature of the pictures, arguing that the reason the couple have taken legal action is because they have such a strong case.

“In the past there’s been a general reluctance because its not been as clear cut. But I don’t see how they can lose this case”

Echoing Mr Arbiter's description of William’s relationship with the media, Professor Bloy said:

“Diana did exploit the media in a way Kate and William have not.”

He said the couple were in a very strong position to take action.

“They’re holding all the aces as far their legal objectives are concerned. They’ve got a huge amount of public support.

"Even the British press are supporting them, with Richard Desmond saying he will close down his joint venture with the Irish Daily Star after the newspaper published the topless snaps."

However Professor Bloy thinks that very little will be achieved by the legal action.

“As far as objectives go, if their legal action stays at normal level very little will be achieved, " he commented.

"In the long term the courts will need to consider whether punitive damages might be awarded.”

This would mean that the magazine would have to declare how much it earnt from the pictures, and a fine would be imposed which would seek to punish the publication for its behaviour.

"This would have a much more significant effect on the press," Bloy added, noting that the £36,000 fine was very little compared to the amount the magazine stands to make through publishing the snaps.

Mr Arbiter also called for a much harsher ruling by the court, expressing sympathy for the royal couple:

“Their privacy was invaded and their dignity was robbed. There’s never been a jail sentence for invasion of privacy. You know, maybe its time there was.”

The Queen has sued The Sun twice in the past 30 years, and both times accepted an out of court settlement.

In 1988 Her Majesty took legal action after the tabloid published a picture of Sarah Fergusson and Princess Bea that the royal family had hoped to use on their Christmas card.

princess diana

Princess Diana was hounded by the paparazzi. Parallels between Kate and Diana were drawn by the palace after the incident

The second time the royal lawyers began proceedings was after the paper leaked Her Majesty’s Christmas broadcast in 1993. The paper ended up settling out of court again, with a £200,000 payment to charity.

Even if Kate and Wills if they succeed with their injunction, it won’t stop foreign papers from publishing the pictures. Chi, a gossip magazine owned by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi published a feature alongside the pictures asking if Kate's breasts were natural or fake. The magazine ran under the headline 'la regina e nude' - the Queen is nude.