THE BLOG

Why the Courts Were Right to Protect the Privacy of Paul Weller's Children

23/11/2015 12:09 GMT | Updated 20/11/2016 10:12 GMT

This week was a good one for privacy, which is not something we've been able to say often recently.

The Court of Appeal has upheld a ruling forcing Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Mail Online, to pay damages to the children of singer, Paul Weller. The case concerned photos published in 2012 of the Weller family out on a shopping trip in California. A paparazzo followed them, took photos without their consent and, when confronted, assured the parents that the children's faces would be obscured. But the Mail Online didn't pixelate the children's faces when they ran the photos, much to the family's distress.

Part of the newspaper's argument was that the photos were innocuous and taken in a public place. But the court ruled that the children had a reasonable expectation of privacy when out on family outings like the shopping trip. In determining the balance to be struck between the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression, the pendulum swung in favour of privacy.

The Court of Appeal has confirmed the previous ruling was the correct one. There was no public interest in the photos and just because the children's father is well-known, that doesn't mean the children lose any rights of privacy.

There are many good points in the court's judgment, which should comfort anyone trying to raise a family whilst having a career that puts them in the public eye.

One of the best parts is the rejection of the argument that the photos were harmless as they just showed the family doing normal family things. That's precisely the issue with these kind of paparazzi photos. It's because such events are not newsworthy that the families should be left alone. It's fair enough to print photos of children if their parents take them to a red-carpet event where they know there will be photographers present. But trips to the park, or to the shops, or to playgroups should be off limits.

Another welcome aspect is the dismissal of the argument that because it was lawful to take the photos under Californian law, the Mail Online could publish them in England. Instead, the Court has affirmed that what matters when publishing over here is English law. Again, that's completely right. We have a different attitude towards privacy than our friends across the pond and if actions have consequences over here, English law should apply.

The only downside of the decision is that the damages are very low - £10,000 in total. The real deterrent to newspapers is the risk of having to pay more legal costs in the future.

Hopefully, further litigation won't be needed though and this decision will help reinforce privacy rights of children in this country.