French court to rule Tuesday on topless Kate photos

Lawyers for the Royal Family are in court today, hoping to stop further publication of topless photos of Kate Middleton — a legal battle that begins the same day a new 26-page spread of the images hits newsstands.

French magazine's lawyer says Royal Family reaction overblown

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge appear relaxed during their nine-day Diamond Jubilee tour of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, even as a legal battle to contain topless photos of Kate begins in France. (Daniel Munoz/Associated Press)

Lawyers for the Royal Family are in court today hoping to stop further publication of topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge — a legal battle that begins the same day a new 26-page montage of the images hits newsstands in Italy.

The French court in Nanterre, on the outskirts of Paris, says it will decide on Tuesday whether to order an injunction halting further publication of the revealing photos of Prince William's wife Kate, which were originally published in French magazine Closer.

The decision came after an hour of arguments by lawyers for the royal couple and Mondadori, the Italian publishing house that owns Closer. 

French lawyer Aurelien Hamel argued that the intimate images of his clients have no place on the front of a magazine, adding that the scenes could have only been captured with an intrusive long lens.

He asked that the original digital images be confiscated and that a fine of €10,000 (over $12,775 Cdn) be imposed for each day of non-compliance.

The magazine’s lawyer Delphine Pando said the Royal Family's reaction is overblown, and that topless photographs are not shocking in the context of a modern society. 

The French suit did not deter Closer's Italian counterpart, Chi, from publishing an expanded spread of topless photos on Monday, which includes additional images not seen in the French series — including a shot of Kate putting sun cream on her backside.

Chi, which normally publishes on Wednesdays, fast-tracked the special edition to the first day of the week. Both publications are owned by Berlusconi's Mondadori publishing house.

The photos were taken while the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were on vacation at a relative's home in the south of France last month. Kate had been sunbathing at a relative's chateau in Provence when the photos were taken with a long lens from hundreds of metres away.

Lawyers also pursuing criminal charges

William's St. James's Palace called the photos a "grotesque" invasion of the couple’s privacy. 

Aurelien Hamelle, French lawyer for the British royal couple, arrives in court in Nanterre on the outskirts of Paris on Monday. (Francois Mori/Associated Press)

On Sunday, the palace added that the lawyers would file a criminal complaint against the unidentified photographer or photographers involved. The palace said it would be up to French prosecutors to decide whether to investigate and pursue a criminal case for breach of privacy or trespassing.

"We can confirm that a criminal complaint is to be made to the French Prosecution Department," said a palace spokeswoman.

"It concerns the taking of photographs of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge whilst on holiday and the publication of those photographs in breach of their privacy."

BBC News reports that the criminal route is an unusual step in the French system, "where most aggrieved parties are content with the damages awarded by the civil courts."

Lawyers for the duke and duchess seek to prosecute unnamed agents for having "deliberately infringed the private life of another," which under Article 226-1 of the French Criminal Code could result in a fine of up to up to €45,000 for a person, or five times that for a company, or a year in jail.

If the images continue to spread, the situation could be further complicated by legal differences between the countries involved.

St. James's Palace has not yet pursued legal action against the Irish tabloid that published the images over the weekend.

France's privacy laws are relatively strict, but the Irish Press Council, for instance, does allow the publication of photos taken in private places when the images can be proven to be in the public interest.

Italian magazine unapologetic

Chi editor Alfonso Signorini told The Associated Press over the weekend that he didn't fear legal action since the photos were already in the public domain following Closer's publication.

Royal couple focuses on tour

The storm over the photos erupted as William and Kate made an official tour of Singapore, Malaysia and the South Pacific.

Photographers documenting their tour have released photos of William and Kate smiling while receiving gifts from topless tribal dancers during their visit to the Solomon Islands.

He has also argued in other outlets that his publications have not broken any laws, and that the photos show how the Royal Family has modernized.

"I published them with a conviction that they are pictures of a modern contemporary duchess," Signorini told Sky News, adding that it is legal in Italy to take photographs on "a public thoroughfare" — a reference to the road bordering Lord Linley's Chateau d'Autet.

Signorini also argued in an editorial that instead of getting angry with the media, the Royal Family should "react with typical Anglo-Saxon humour, and say 'So what?'"

"If I had had more scandalous photos I would have willingly published them," he told Italy's Corriere della Sera on Monday.

Editorial decisions highlight inconsistencies

Legal considerations aside, the fallout over the photos has some observers discussing the different sensibilities among the countries involved in the sale and distribution of the images.

Analysis and commentary magazine The Week, for instance, points out that both England and Italy may be guilty of double standards with view to gender and "editorial decisions about what offends dignity or not."

The magazine points out that while Chi treats topless photos of women as relatively mild content in Italy, where editorials have poked fun at percieved British prudishness, the same publication has refused to publish compromising photos of powerful men.

Meanwhile in England, no British publication has run the photos and many of Britain's tabloids have lined up to denounce them as an invasion of the duchess's privacy.

The backlash following the topless-Kate photos, however, stands in contrast to how the Royal Family dealt with photos of Prince Harry partying naked in Las Vegas which appeared online last month and were later published in Britain's Sun tabloid.

The palace largely shrugged off the photos of Harry, apparently snapped during a game of strip billiards, and took no action against those who published them.

With files from the Associated Press