LONDON (AP) – Britain’s Supreme Court says people who live in glass houses also have a right to privacy.
The court ruled on Wednesday that a viewing platform at London’s Tate Modern art gallery made residents of luxury glass-walled apartments next door feel like animals in a zoo, and impeded “the ordinary use and enjoyment” of their homes.
The judges overturned earlier lower court rulings which sided with Tate Modern in the long-running privacy battle between the gallery – one of London’s biggest tourist attractions – and residents of four flats in the neighboring Neo Bankside complex.
Judge George Leggatt said the platform was visited by hundreds of thousands of people a year, who “regularly take pictures of the inside of the flats and sometimes post them on social media.”
“It is not difficult to imagine how oppressive living in such conditions would feel to any ordinary person – much like being put on display in a zoo,” he wrote in the court’s majority ruling.
“There is no doubt that the viewing and photography that takes place from the Tate’s building causes a substantial interference with the ordinary use and enjoyment of the plaintiffs’ property.”
The court ruled that the gallery violated “the common law of private nuisance”. Three judges supported the majority decision and two dissented.
Tate Modern opened in 2000 in a former power station on the south bank of the River Thames. It helped transform the surrounding Bankside neighborhood from a riverside into an arts and nightlife center with luxury apartment towers.
The viewing terrace is part of a pyramid-shaped extension opened at the gallery in 2016, which sees more than 5 million visitors a year. Neo Bankside was completed a few years earlier.
Lawyers for the residents argued that the platform on the 10th floor, which is used by more than half a million gallery visitors a year, constitutes an “unrelenting” invasion of residents’ privacy. They said gallery visitors subjected the apartments to “intense visual scrutiny”, with some using binoculars and zoom lenses to get a better look.
The gallery said residents could solve the problem by closing their blinds or putting up curtains – and judges at the High Court and Court of Appeal agreed.
But the High Court found that the viewing platform was an “abnormal” use of Tate Modern’s land, and the beleaguered residents had a point.
“The plaintiffs cannot be compelled to live every day behind net curtains or with their blinds drawn to protect themselves from the effects of intrusion caused by the abnormal use the Tate makes of its land,” the judges said.
The residents demanded that the gallery shield their apartments from view, or to pay compensation. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the High Court to decide on the appropriate remedy.