You probably don’t need us to tell you that the Tate Modern is one of London’s great cultural destinations; with the most recognisable gallery in the city welcoming millions of visitors each year.
We know it as one of the finest free attractions in the world (with plenty of brilliant additional exhibitions to boot), but since 2016, part of the gallery has been the subject of a court case.
A viewing platform up high on the tenth floor opened that very year, allowing visitors to step out for a view – which, in addition to the view across the city, involves a view into the luxury apartments that neighbour the landmark.
In February 2020, the claim by five owners of four of the Neo Bankside flats was dismissed by the Court Of Appeal and suggested that the five residents filing action should “lower their solar blinds”.
This decision was overturned by the Supreme Court with a three-to-two ruling, saying that even if visitors to the gallery do not intend to look inside the properties, the viewing platform is a “clear case of nuisance”.
Lord George Leggatt, the lead judge in the ruling, said that hundreds of thousands use the platform each year and it was “not difficult to imagine how oppressive living in such circumstances would feel for any ordinary person — much like being on display in a zoo”.
It has been stated that the viewing platform is not a “normal” use of the land by the Tate Modern: “It is not an answer to a complaint of excessive noise to say that the victim should buy earplugs,” added Lord George Leggatt.
Speaking to The Guardian Donal Nolan of the ruling, professor of private law at the University of Oxford, said it was “a historic decision in that it is the first time that English law has recognised that a visual intrusion from neighbouring land can amount to the tort of private nuisance (and hence a violation of property rights)” and that the impact would “depend on how broadly or narrowly other courts interpret the decision”.
The case has now been returned to the High Court to determine a solution for the owners of the flats. The viewing gallery is currently close, and if no on agreement can be found with the parties it may be forced to do so permanently.