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Hughes Abstract

Global Institute for Freedom and Awareness

Collaborative Research on Institutional Dynamics in Open Societies

Public Figures and the Role of the European Court of Human Rights

Kirsty Hughes, Lecturer in Law, University of Cambridge

The European Court of Human Rights distinguishes between public figures exercising public functions and public figures not exercising such functions (mere celebrities). The Court has held that even politicians are entitled to keep private those details of their lives that do not relate to their official role. It has also held that celebrities are entitled to less privacy than private individuals, but more privacy than those exercising official functions.

It is difficult to determine the implications of these different categories given that in practice the Court applies the same principles to both politicians and celebrities. What is apparent from the case law is that Article 8 ECHR may protect both categories of public figures from revelations ranging from the anodyne to the salacious. However, in addition to the uncertainty surrounding the categories and principles used in the Court's jurisprudence a further layer of uncertainty arises from the fact that the Court is increasingly deferring to the analysis of the member states. This has led to a number of inconsistent results in the Court's recent jurisprudence on the privacy of public figures.

This paper will consider whether any sense of principle can be located in the Court's jurisprudence in this area, and whether there is a continuing role for the Court in striking the balance between privacy and freedom of expression in the context of public figures.