Defend Truth


The assault on the Princess of Wales’s privacy is beyond the pale and should not be tolerated


Anthony Norton is the founder and managing director of boutique regulatory law firm Nortons Inc. He is a Rhodes scholar, and has a Master’s in Law from Oxford University.

It leaves a grave sense of disquiet that the Princess of Wales felt it necessary to release a touching video announcement about her cancer treatment to try to put an end to the at-times vicious and often incorrect speculation about her state of health.

Almost 30 years ago I completed a Master’s thesis at Oxford University titled “To what extent does the English common law protect privacy interests?” The thesis was in response to the tabloid media’s feeding frenzy in respect of the private lives of public figures.

Nothing was sacrosanct and the feeling at the time was that English law was ill-equipped and underdeveloped to provide any form of recourse against the blatant invasion of privacy and salacious gossip mongering of the tabloid press.

One of the central elements of my thesis was pointing out that French law by comparison was far more rigorous in protecting public figures’ private lives and in particular had developed the concept that “intimate” aspects of an individual’s life were worthy of protection.

Indeed, the comparison between the approach adopted by the English courts and the French courts at the time was stark. The French courts had assiduously protected the private lives of various public figures, whereas in England public figures were fair game for a voracious media.

Over the last 30 years, the law in England has evolved to some extent to afford much greater protection to the private lives of public figures, but is still insufficiently applied to act as a significant deterrent to blatant invasions of privacy.

A case in point is the recent media frenzy relating to the Princess of Wales’s state of health following her recent abdominal surgery. An individual’s health is intrinsically a deeply private and personal matter.

Generally speaking, even in the case of high-profile public figures, this type of information should be protected from publication, unless the person concerned intentionally decides to publish it or in exceptional circumstances there may be public safety and security reasons for doing so.

An exceptional circumstance of this kind, which comes to mind, related to the recent hospitalisation of the United States defence secretary, Lloyd Austin. In his particular case there could conceivably have been some legitimate public interest in the fact that he had been hospitalised and in the potential duration of his hospitalisation, given his pivotal role within the United States government in relation to the safety and security of the United States.

However, no exceptional circumstances of this kind apply in the context of the recent health issues affecting the Princess of Wales, and even in the case of Lloyd Austin the extent of public revelations relating to his condition should have been kept to the bare minimum necessary.

It leaves a grave sense of disquiet that the Princess of Wales felt it necessary to release a touching video announcement about her cancer treatment in order to try and put an end to the at times vicious and often incorrect speculation about her state of health.

Having recently undergone serious abdominal surgery myself, the last thing that I would have wanted to do was to film myself explaining the nature of my treatment and my current condition for public consumption. I also have two young children and anyone who has undergone a serious medical procedure will understand the anxiety and distress that this may cause to the entire family, particularly to young children who may not understand all of the complexities and ramifications associated with complex medical treatment.

No idle conjecture

One should also not be naive in thinking that some of the public speculation about the Princess of Wales’s condition is simply idle, ill-informed conjecture.

Many of the so-called media personalities and influencers who have recently publicised their theories about the Princess of Wales’s state of health, use the resulting publicity either to generate income or additional notoriety or in some cases a combination of both. The same is true of the media, the greater the interest that can be generated through these stories, the more hits they will have on their sites and the greater the advertising revenue that they will derive.

The net result is that public figures like the Princess of Wales are faced with a serious conundrum in circumstances like these. Do they maintain a dignified silence in an attempt to protect their privacy in the face of social media speculation of the kind the Princess of Wales has recently experienced, with the risk that this may only feed the never ending speculation.

Alternatively, does one adopt the approach the Princess of Wales has chosen; which is to provide insights into her condition and treatment and appeal for privacy in the hope that this will curtail the social media gossip mongers?

It is a difficult decision to make and there is often a delicate balance which has to be struck if one is going to make a public announcement of the kind the Princess of Wales did, in providing sufficient information to limit the speculation, but at the same time not encourage further invasive inquiries and comments.

At the very least the British public, the government of the United Kingdom and the legal community need to close ranks and make it clear that invasions of privacy of this kind will not be tolerated and that enforcement action will be taken if vicious rumour mongering, which has no factual reality, continues to be perpetrated by various individuals and entities.

A wonderful case in point was the successful defamation action in the United States against Alex Jones, who was ordered to pay $473-million in punitive damages in respect of his untrue comments about the 2012 Sandy Hook mass school shooting. Jones and the parent company of his website were ordered to pay dozens of relatives of the Sandy Hook victims compensatory damages for falsely claiming that actors staged the shooting as part of a plot on the part of the United States’ government to undermine Americans’ rights to own guns.

Ultimately the only language some of these so-called media personalities and influencers understand is when they are hurt in their pocket. I am sure that were any substantial damages to be awarded in matters like those affecting the Princess of Wales, that this may serve as some form of deterrence to those intent on profiting from wild and pernicious speculation of this kind.

Ultimately, those who choose to spread malicious rumours about the Princess of Wales’s health have little shame and are unlikely to apologise for the harm they have done. It would restore a little sense of justice if the law was more responsive to these types of situations.

Public figures like the Princess of Wales should not feel compelled to have to resolve these types of situations with public announcements about their state of health. DM


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  • David Peddle says:

    A pity no one has has seen fit to comment on this matter which I believe has gone beyond the pail!
    I suspect part of the problem is the development of a clear case of wokenism in the UK amongst the Govt officials, political leaders and the so called Free Press! That the media have been able to run riot over the common herd and indeed public figures, so ably illustrated above, is disgraceful!
    Fear of being held up as anti ‘the right of the public to know’ and indeed ‘we have a duty to our readers to explain all,’ while making as much money out of the matter as is possible!
    Utterly disgraceful and reprehensible that the Brit Govt has not seen fit to rein in these unsavoury attacks on peoples lives!

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