London’s apartment-dwellers have won their right to privacy in the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court. But some lawyers believe the decision may create future trouble.
Residents of the Neo Bankside apartment complex live across from the Tate Modern art gallery. When they moved in, they didn’t know that their lives would become one more piece of art on display.
In 2016, the Tate gallery added a new building to its campus. This pyramid-shaped construction featured a viewing platform. Tourists from around the world could stand outside to see across the London cityscape—and directly through the glass walls of the apartments next door.
The Tate is one of London’s biggest tourist attractions. Over five million tourists visit the gallery every year. Many of them go to the viewing platform. Some take photographs of the apartments next door. They even post the photos to social media. They stare into living rooms with zoom lenses and binoculars.
“It is not difficult to imagine how oppressive living in such circumstances would feel for any ordinary person,” writes UK Supreme Court Justice George Leggatt. “Much like being on display in a zoo.”
When residents complained, gallery officials told them to put up window blinds or curtains. So the apartment residents took their case to the High Court—and lost. They appealed (challenged) the decision. The Court of Appeal also sided with the gallery.
Finally, the case went to the UK Supreme Court.
On February 1, the Supreme Court made its ruling. The gallery had violated the “common law of private nuisance.” Common law comes from legal precedents (decisions the court has made before). This specific law protects UK citizens from “unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of land.”
“It is beyond doubt that the viewing and photography which take place from the Tate’s building cause a substantial interference with the ordinary use and enjoyment of the claimants’ properties,” writes Justice Leggatt.
In other words: The viewing platform makes it impossible for Neo Bankside residents to live a normal life in their homes. The Tate Modern must shield the apartments from peeping tourists.
It’s a win for privacy—but what will it mean for the future? In a city like London, new buildings pop up all the time. Often, those buildings overlook apartments. You can have only so much privacy in a city of glass walls and skyscrapers. Some lawyers worry about a wave of “copycat cases.” Will apartment owners go to court whenever a new building appears nearby?
That future will depend on the courts. For now, residents of Neo Bankside can live beside the art gallery without becoming a tourist attraction.
Do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame? — Proverbs 25:8
(The Tate Modern viewing platform (left) overlooks nearby apartments (right). Victoria Jones/PA via AP)