In the case of Fleury v. France of 11 May 2010, the European Court of Human Rights held that the freedom of expression of a politician, member of the opposition on municipal level, had not been violated by his criminal conviction for defamation of a public official, the mayor of the municipality.
The ruling of the Court in this case baffled me. Quite frankly, I do not agree with the judgment, nor do I understand it as it does not seem to fit into the extensive protection the Court offers to political speech. In that context, it is all the more remarkable that the judgment has been ruled unanimously. I have heard people describing the section that passed this judgment, the Fifth Section, as being one of the more conservative sections of the Court. I have also heard people argue that, upon examination of the case-law of the Court, it becomes apparent that this section hardly ever finds a violation against France. Could there lie an element of truth in this strong statement? This case would surely suggest so. And if that is the case, it is unacceptable and quite damaging to a Court that is expected to offer consistency throughout its jurisprudence and is regarded by many – also inside the Court itself – as playing a vital role in the harmonization of human rights protection in Europe.