New Judgment on Trade Union Freedom of Expression

This post is written by Dirk Voorhoof*

The European Court of Human Rights delivered a new and remarkable judgment on trade union freedom of expression. In Szima v. Hungary the European Court concluded that a criminal conviction of a leader of a police trade union for having posted critical and offensive comments on the Union’s website was to be considered necessary in a democratic society for the prevention of disorder or crime,  and more precisely of preserving order in the armed forces.

The applicant in this case, Ms Judit Szima, is a retired senior police officer – a lieutenant colonel – who was at the material time the chairperson of Tettrekész Police Trade Union. Between May 2007 and July 2009 she published a number of writings on the Trade Union’s website, which was effectively under her editorial control, concerning outstanding remunerations due to police staff, alleged nepotism and undue political influence in the force, as well as dubious qualifications of senior police staff. Szima wrote inter alia that it was proven “that the Hungarian Police’s primary objective is first and foremost not to maintain public order for the taxpaying citizens but to uphold the reign of current political leaders who have led Hungary into economic and moral distress”. She also wrote that “the uninhibited infringements of the law committed by senior police officers placing themselves above the law go unpunished” and that “a chaotic and highly unprofessional leadership is ruining the rest of the Police’s reputation from day to day”.

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