Independent Newspapers v. Ireland: €1.25 million defamation award against newspaper violated Article 10

The European Court’s Fifth Section has unanimously held that a damages award made against an Irish newspaper for defamation violated the right to freedom of expression, under Article 10 of the European Convention. While the judgment in Independent Newspapers v. Ireland concerned Irish defamation law prior to reforms brought about in 2009, it is still significant for signalling to Irish courts that unpredictably high damages have a “chilling effect,” and require the “most careful scrutiny” and “very strong justification.” Continue reading

Polish mayor’s private prosecution of local journalist for insult violated Article 10: Ziembiński v. Poland (No. 2)

By Ronan Ó Fathaigh

The European Court’s Fourth Section has held in Ziembiński v. Poland (No. 2) that a newspaper editor’s conviction for describing local government officials as “dim-witted” and a “numbskull” violated the editor’s Article 10 right to freedom of expression. The judgment may prove decisive for future prosecutions of journalists under article 216(2) of Poland’s criminal code, which makes it a specific offence to “insult” a person “through the mass media,” and carries a possible one-year prison sentence. Tragically, however, the editor, Maciej Ziembiński, passed away two years ago aged 70, and did not live to see the Court’s finding that his conviction violated the European Convention.

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Kurski v. Poland: Ordering politician to publish apology for defaming Polish newspaper violated Article 10

By Ronan Ó Fathaigh

The European Court’s Fourth Section has held that a successful civil action by a newspaper against a Polish politician for alleging the newspaper had an “agreement” with an oil corporation to finance the newspaper’s “mass propaganda” against his political party, violated the politician’s freedom of expression. The opinion in Kurski v. Poland dealt with the unusual, but not rare, situation when a newspaper launches defamation proceedings against a politician for damaging its reputation, and the broader issue of ordering publication of apologies.

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Protestor’s arrest and conviction for disobeying a police order violated Article 11

By Ronan Ó Fathaigh

The European Court’s First Section has unanimously held that a protestor’s arrest and conviction for failing to obey a police order violated his Article 11 right to freedom of assembly, despite the demonstration being unlawful. The First Section’s opinion in Mammadov v. Azerbaijan tackled the difficult issue of how police officers are supposed to respond to unlawful demonstrations, and whether protestors who participate in such demonstrations, but remain peaceful, may still be arrested.

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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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