The partner of the French President, Valerie Trierweiler, has won a privacy claim against the authors and the publisher of the book La Frondeuse (“The Rebellious One”). On 5 June 2013, the 17th Civil Chamber of the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris ordered the authors and publishers to pay the sum of €10,000. The magazine Point de Vue was also ordered to pay €3,000 in damages. Ms Trierweiler’s spokesman said the damages would be donated to charity.
The book, co-written by journalists Alix Bouilhaguet and Christophe Jakubyszyn and published in October 2012, alleged that whilst still married Ms Trierweiler had simultaneous relationships with both François Hollande (before he was president) and conservative MP Patrick Devedjian. It claimed that both men were aware they were “sharing” Ms Trierweiler but when Mr Devidjian refused to leave his wife, she chose Mr Hollande over him, before finally divorcing her husband in 2010.
According to the authors, these relationships were mentioned in order to inform readers about a political matter, a kind of “gentleman’s agreement” between Mr Hollande and Mr Devedjian. It was said that there was an attempt at political reconciliation in 1994, via a letter to Edouard Balladur (the then Prime Minister) that Mr Hollande was going to entrust to Mr Devedjian.
However, Mr Hollande denied that existence of such a letter and the Court described the claim that Mr Hollande wanted to meet Mr Balladur as being “highly speculative and of relatively limited current political importance”.
The defendants had argued that providing details about the relationship was in the public interest. However the Court ruled that referring such a relationship “could only be legitimate if the information was true”, which had not been proved. Furthermore, the authors had provided “particularly intimate details which were not of the least legitimate political or general interest.”
The Court noted that Ms Trierweiler is a public figure, that she “used an office at the Elysee palace and accompanied the head of state on his travels”. In these circumstances, as with all public figures, the protection of private life was less strict. The Court accept that “in certain specific circumstances the revelation of a fact of a private nature, such as an adulterous relationships, could be legitimate”.
But, in realtion to the interview the magazine Point de vue, promoting the book the reference to an alleged relationship between Ms Trierweiler and a “particularly old” right wing politician did not serve a legitimate public interest and had no relevance to French politics and democratic debate. If, however, the President of the Republic had an adulterous relationship which had an impact on political life, this could be disclosed in the press without sanction.
In relation to the book Ms Trierweiler attacked the passages relating to her divorce and her family life with her children. The authors claimed that the information was “trivial” and was based on conversations with Ms Trierweiler.
The Court did not agree. It said that relating an emotional scene between a mother and her infant son and feelings during difficult divorce proceedings was not inconsequential. As a result, the Court awarded damages to Ms Trierweiler and ordered the publication of an insert in any new edition of the book, summarising the terms of its judgment.
However, the Court pointed out that emails and texts between the authors and Ms Trierweiler show that she had, up to a point, cooperated in writing the book. As a result, the relevant passages about family life did not constitute an interference with private life.
The claim for libel by Mr Devedjian was, however, dismissed and he was ordered to pay a total of €6,000 in legal fees. The court found that the imputation of an adulterous relationship was not defamatory. Mr Devedjian said that he would appeal.
It was decided that Ms Trierweiler’s defamation claim would be dealt with at a later date and it has been subsequently announced that she will not be pursuing it.
Ms Trierweiler’s lawyer, Frederique Giffard, welcomed the decision which he said “confirms that every person has the right to be protected against the morbid curiosity and unfounded rumors.”
Olivier Pardo, a lawyer representing the publisher Editions du Moment, said:
“It is a real progress in French law for the court to find that it is legitimate to debate freely and openly the real or supposed relationship of the First Lady with the head of the Opposition … The ruling means that you can talk publicly about the rumours concerning Valérie Trierweiler but that you cannot state in an affirmative manner that Mr Hollande and Mr Devedjian shared the same woman, because that touches their intimacy and is a breach of privacy.”