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Are the Royals Right to Ask the Paparazzi to Leave Their Children Alone?

18/08/2015 17:06 BST | Updated 17/08/2016 10:59 BST

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were right to draw attention in an open letter to the unscrupulous tactics paparazzi use to snap their children. But in my experience as a privacy lawyer it's not just the paps parents in the public eye need to worry about. English newspapers still resort to underhand methods to gain scoops.

For example, earlier this year a distressed new mother (who happens to be part of a Hollywood couple) phoned me. She was hosting friends round when her intercom buzzed. On the video screen she saw a lady with her head down holding a bunch of flowers who cheerfully announced: "Hi I'm here to see [name of the mother]".

The sleep-deprived new mum was about to buzz her up before realising she didn't recognise her so asked who she was. The woman replied: "It's Deborah, from [name of leading newspaper], wanting to wish you and [name of father] congratulations on the new baby." Had the mother been less vigilant, seconds later this journalist would have been in her home.

Trojan Horse tactics are reminiscent of the days when hacks posed as doctors to photograph 'Allo Allo' actor Gordon Kaye as he recovered in hospital from brain surgery. While such cases are less common now privacy laws have strengthened, trying to live a private life in the public eye remains a huge challenge.

It's argued that people whose career depends on being in the public eye have no right to object to photos taken of them without permission. In other words, the entitled are not entitled to complain. But this Faustian pact argument has numerous problems.

First, we are not just talking about the personal lives of reality stars who crave publicity, for whom I have little sympathy. Those in the public eye - an ever expanding group defined by the press - include sportspeople, businessmen, artists and campaigners. The logical conclusion of the Faustian pact approach is that a successful career means surrendering privacy. What a depressing society we would have if this were the case. Imagine the job spec for the first man on the moon: "Astronaut wanted. Must have interest in family being papped outside their house. Also knowledge of space travel."

Many of those in the public eye are there not through careers but as a result of tragedy or even heroism, like the 7/7 hero whose phone was repeatedly hacked by the News of the World. The media can shove people into the public eye but shouldn't be allowed to take away their rights.

Further, even if people willingly relinquish parts their privacy, for example talking about their private lives while promoting a product, their families should still be off-limits. Where do you draw the line otherwise? Are grandchildren also fair game? What about elderly relatives? One of my clients was horrified when his mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's, was repeatedly phoned at her care home by a journalist asking what her son had been like as a child.

So the Royals are completely right to raise awareness of these issues. I'm not convinced by the argument that the paparazzi poses a security threat - I imagine Britain's top security team can distinguish between paps and predators. But the intrusion into family life is real and unjustified. As the press's own code of practice states: "Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life."