The Dangerous Implications of the “Naked Rambler” Case: On FEMEN Activists and Throwing Paint on Atatürk Statues

By Stijn Smet

On 28 October 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the numerous convictions of Mr. Stephen Peter Gough – better known as “the naked rambler” – for insisting on appearing naked in public at all times, did not violate Mr. Gough’s freedom of expression.

Quite a bit of ink has already been dedicated to Mr. Gough’s case and to explaining why the ECtHR judgment warrants criticism. Particularly worth highlighting are the insightful contributions by Hugh Tomlinson over at Inforrm’s Blog and Marko Milanovic on EJIL: Talk!. Here, I will not regurgitate their poignant critiques. Instead, I set out to question a few specifically troubling passages in the Court’s judgment by indicating the dangerous implications they could have for other, analogous situations.

But first, as tradition dictates, I will briefly summarise the facts of the case and highlight the relevant passages of the Court’s judgment.

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Imposing Costs on Newspaper in Successful Source-Protection Case Did Not Violate Article 10

By Ronan Ó Fathaigh

In the summer of 2009, the Irish supreme court issued a landmark opinion, overturning an order issued against a newspaper to answer questions about a leaked document it had received from an anonymous source. However, four months later, the same supreme court ruled that the newspaper was required to pay the legal costs of the government-created body that had sought the order, because the newspaper had destroyed its copy of the leaked document before the legal action had commenced. In a surprising majority opinion, the Fifth Section of the European Court has now ruled in Keena v Ireland, that the imposition of costs on the newspaper, even though its action was successful, was not a violation of Article 10.

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Conviction of journalist for reporting about sex abuses in a Christian rehabilitation centre violated Article 10 ECHR

By Flutura Kusari * and Dirk Voorhoof **

In Erla Hlynsdottir v. Iceland (no. 2), an Icelandic journalist had been convicted for defamation after reporting that the director of a Christian rehabilitation centre and his wife had been involved in sex games with patients of the centre. The European Court of Human Rights found a violation of Article 10 of European Convention on Human Rights, arguing that the national courts did not pertinently balance the right to freedom of expression with the right to reputation. According to the Court “the most careful scrutiny” is called for when the measures taken by national authorities are capable of discouraging the participation of the press in debates over matters of legitimate public concern. The Court also refers to “the essential function the press fulfils in a democratic society” as a central factor for its determination in the present case.

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Blanket ban on the right of military personnel to form and join a trade union violates Article 11 ECHR

This guest post was written by Isabelle Van Hiel, PhD Researcher and Teaching Assistant at the social law section of the Department of Criminology, Criminal Law and Social Law of the Law Faculty of Ghent University.

In two recent cases of 2 October 2014 the ECtHR had to decide on the freedom of association of military personnel. Although the Court already examined cases involving trade union freedom within the police and the civil service, it was the first time that the Court considered the specific situation of the armed forces.

In Matelly v. France (application no. 10609/10), an officer in the French gendarmerie which forms in France a part of the military, was forced to resign from an association named Forum gendarmes et citoyens. The forum was considered by the Director General of the National Gendarmerie as a trade-union-like occupational group, which was prohibited under Article L. 4121-4 of the Defence Code. In ADEFDROMIL v. France (application no. 32191/09) the Association de Défense des Droits des Militaires (ADEFDROMIL), a professional organisation for servicemen, complained about its denial of access to justice, as it was considered to be in breach of the same provisions of Article L. 4121-4 of the Defence Code. This article L. 4121-4 declares the existence of occupational organisations for military personnel as well as the membership of such organisations incompatible with the prescriptions of the military discipline[1].

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Religious signs in public schools: Belgian Council of State shows judicial bravery

Co-authored by Yousra Benfquih* and Saïla Ouald Chaib**

As in many other countries in Europe, the wearing of religious signs has been the topic of heated debate in Belgium. This has been the case for public servants, teachers, employees in private firms and the wearing of religious signs by pupils in school. It is the latter issue that was the subject of two recent judgments of the Belgian Council of State (Conseil d’Etat, Belgium’s highest administrative court), judgments that might prove to mark a watershed in the Belgian discourse on headscarf bans, freedom of religion and the right to education of pupils. (The judgments are in Dutch and can be found here and here)[1] The judgments are furthermore interesting because of their inclusive comprehension of neutrality through systematic reference to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. This post will start by briefly shedding light on the structure of the Belgian education system and the implementation of a ban on religious signs in Flanders. We will subsequently highlight the crucial parts of the judgments of the Council of State (hereafter ‘the Council’) and conclude with some reflections.

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Jeunesse v. the Netherlands: Quiet Shifts in Migration and Family Life Jurisprudence?

By Lourdes Peroni

Readers familiar with the Court’s case law on family life and immigration will know that applicants’ chances of success are slim if family life was formed at a time when those involved knew that the migration status of one of them was such that their family life would be precarious in the Contracting state. Where this is the case, the principle is that the expulsion of the non-national family member will amount to an Article 8 violation “only in exceptional circumstances” (Rodrigues da Silva and Hoogkamer v. the Netherlands, para. 39 and Nunez v. Norway, para. 70). The Court has been reluctant to find a violation where there are no “insurmountable obstacles” to enjoying family life elsewhere (Arvelo Aponte v. the Netherlands, para. 60 and Useinov v. the Netherlands, p. 9).

In the recent case of Jeunesse v. the Netherlands the Court’s Grand Chamber did find a violation of Article 8 despite the applicant’s awareness of her precarious residence status before starting her family life in the Netherlands and despite the absence of insurmountable obstacles for the family to settle in the applicant’s country of origin. So what was exceptional about the circumstances in Jeunesse? And what to make of the Court’s analysis of these exceptional circumstances? Might this analysis signal any shift or refinement in the Court’s approach to some issues in its immigration and family life jurisprudence? Continue reading

Ivinović v. Croatia: legal capacity and the (missing) call for supportive decision-making

Valeska David is a PhD Researcher at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University and a member of the Research Network “The Global Challenge of Human Rights Integration: Towards a Users’ Perspective.”

We have all heard about the so-called paradigm shift brought about by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The social model of disability and the duty of reasonable accommodation are some of the “conceptual innovations” reshaping human rights law. However, we know much less about what that means in practice. One field in which this question has utmost importance is that of legal capacity of persons with disabilities, particularly of those with intellectual, psychosocial and sensory impairments. The recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Ivinović v. Croatia, like other cases decided against the same state, deals with that issue: the legal capacity of persons with disability. The decision is part of a growing corpus of disability case law and is welcome for a number of reasons – which I briefly sketch here. Yet, in this post, I suggest looking at this judgment as somewhat of a missed opportunity. Continue reading