By a majority (4 votes to 3), that there had been a violation of Article 10. The French Courts had failed to distinguish between the information which formed part of a debate of general interest and that which pertained merely to the sphere of Prince Albert’s private life. There was no reasonable relationship of proportionality between the restrictions on the applicants’ right to freedom of expression and the legitimate aimed pursued.
The Court set out well-known general principles from its Article 10 case-law and the essential role of “watch-dog” played by the press in a democratic society. It reiterated that those in political positions had to display greater tolerance, Lopes Gomes Da Silva v Portugal (2002) 34 EHRR 56 and Artun and Güvener v Turkey no. 15510/01 considered.
Having regard to the margin of appreciation enjoyed by national courts, the Court applied the criteria set out in von Hannover v Germany (No.2) (2012) 55 EHRR 15 and Axel Springer AG v Germany  ECHR 227 as relevant for the balancing exercise between Articles 8 and 10:
- Contribution to a debate of general interest
A distinction had to be made between the core message of the article and the details contained therein. Even if, under the current state of the Constitution of Monaco, the child could not succeed to the throne, his very existence was such as to interest the public and notably the citizens of Monaco. In the context of a hereditary constitutional monarchy the birth of a child was of particular interest. In addition, the Prince’s behavior could be an indicator of both his personality and ability to perform his functions properly, Ruusunen v Finland n.73579/10 considered. The need to protect Prince Albert’s private life had to be balanced against the debate on the future of the hereditary monarchy. The matter being one of political importance, there had been a legitimate public interest in knowing of the child’s existence and being able to debate the possible implications it had on Monegasque political life.
The Court noted that the article contained as well elements relating exclusively to the private, or even intimate, life of Prince Albert and C, to which it made clear its analysis on public interest did not apply.
- Notoriety of the person concerned and the subject matter of the report
As Head of State, Prince Albert had evidently been a public figure at the time where the interview had been published. The Court reminded that it was not just Prince Albert’s private life that had been at stake, but equally that of C and of the child. It was difficult to conceive how the private life of a person – in this case, Prince Albert – could be an obstacle to the claims of another person – his son – seeking to affirm his existence and to make his identity known to the world. C had consented to the publication on her own behalf and on that of her son.
- Method of obtaining the information and its veracity
Unlike previous cases before the Court where the press had itself investigated and discovered information (see Von Hannover (No.2) and Axel Springer), it was C, one of the individuals directly concerned, who had taken the initiative to bring the information to the press’s attention. Similarly, the photographs accompanying the article had been taken by C, in the privacy of her apartment, in circumstances which were not adverse to Prince Albert nor to the child. The Court further noted that Prince Albert had only challenged the publication, rather than the authenticity, of the photographs.
The fact that the interview had been initiated by C and that she had willingly handed over the photographs to the magazine was an important factor to take into consideration when balancing the protection of private life against freedom of expression.
- Content and consequences of the publication
Over a million copies had been printed of the Paris-Match issue in question. The Court noted, however, that the content of the interview with C and a number of photographs had already been published by the Daily Mail on 3 May 2005 and by the German weekly magazine Bunte on 4 May 2005. In such circumstances, although the article had certainly had significant repercussions, the information it contained was no longer confidential. The Court further pointed out that article contained no defamatory allegations and that Prince Albert had not questioned the truth of the claims made therein.
- Severity of the sanction imposed
The Court observed that in addition to the considerable sum of EUR 50,000 granted by way of damages, the applicants had been required to publish a statement, occupying one third of the cover page.
- Effect of the publication on those concerned
The Court noted that, in making the disclosure, C had sought to obtain public recognition of her son’s status and of Prince Albert’s paternity, both crucial factors in enabling her son to emerge from secrecy. In doing so, she had revealed information that had not been necessary and fell within the sphere of Prince Albert’s private life.