A not-so-private affair

Family Law|June 29th 2016

With all the doom and gloom in the air at the moment, I thought I would find something a little lighter to write about. How about a celebrity wedding?

If not quite a fairy tale, the wedding between well-known journalist, producer and television presenter Günther Jauch and his bride Dorothea Sihler-Jauch was still a pretty fancy affair. It took place in July 2006 in the Friedenskirche in Potsdam, with the reception being held in the Belvedere, an ancient palace surrounded by an English garden, also in Potsdam. Among the 180 wedding guests were well-known journalists, television presenters and sports personalities. The mayor of Berlin also attended.

Now, the bride and groom realised that there was likely to be considerable media interest in the wedding, and they were clearly not happy about that. Accordingly, they instructed their legal representatives to inform the relevant newspapers beforehand that they did not wish any reports to appear containing details of the wedding. In addition, both locations were closed to the public and only invited guests were allowed inside.

Well, we all know that there are members of the media who will not be put off by such restrictions. Sure enough:

“On 13 July 2006 the magazine Bunte, a so-called “people’s magazine” with a circulation of approximately 650,000, published an article about the wedding. The article was announced on the cover of the magazine and illustrated with several photographs. Besides photographs of wedding guests and old photographs of the [bride and groom], one photograph showed the [bride] on her wedding day, taken before the wedding ceremony inside the restricted area. It was (erroneously) captioned “NEWLY WED Thea Sihler after the wedding vows”.”

The article also gave details about the wedding, including the nature of the catering, the drinks, the bride and groom’s outfits, the music and the decoration of the church. In addition it included quotes from the address given by the priest, and from the speeches of the groom and the bride’s father, as well as an excerpt from an intercessory prayer recited by one of the bride and groom’s children.

Needless to say, the bride and groom were not best pleased. Accordingly, they each brought proceedings against the magazine, seeking damages. Unfortunately for them both sets of proceedings were dismissed, on the basis that the wedding was an event of public interest. It involved one of the most famous and popular television presenters in Germany, who had a strong influence on shaping public opinion, and had taken place at popular locations. Most of the contents of the article constituted information that was generally discussed and of interest in the context of a wedding, and the photograph did not show the bride in a negative light. In any event, the 180 guests were not bound to confidentiality, and the bride and groom had to accept that certain information would be communicated to persons who were not invited, and to the general public.

Both bride and groom appealed, but their appeals were rejected. Accordingly, they took their cases to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), essentially complaining that their right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights had been insufficiently protected by the domestic courts, because their claims for damages had been denied.

The ECHR was not sympathetic. It found that the national courts had carefully balanced the bride and groom’s right to respect for their private life with the magazine’s right to freedom of expression. They had also acknowledged the fundamental importance of the degree to which the groom was well-known, the level of interference, and the general public interest in the wedding. The ECHR concluded that there were no strong reasons to substitute its view for that of the domestic courts, and that, in denying the claims for damages, the domestic courts did not fail to comply with their obligation to protect the bride and groom’s right to respect for private life. Accordingly, there was no violation of Article 8.

I realise that this decision may not be of earth-shattering importance. Still, if you are a celebrity contemplating your forthcoming nuptials, perhaps you should bear it in mind.

The full report of the ECHR judgment, Sihler-Jauch and Jauch v Germany, can be found here.

Photo of the Friedenskirche, Church of Peace in Potsdam, Germany by Till Krech via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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