ECtHR: freedom of expression breached by judicial finding of defamation against Romanian politician who criticised another politicians’ conduct
Today, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has given its judgment in Monica Macovei v. Romania (application no. 53028/14), a case on the freedom of expression in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Romanian courts’ finding that the applicant, a politician, was liable for defamation against another politician.
The case concerns the statements made by the applicant depicting the work of two other politicians as both lawyers and as members of parliament as a ‘typical act of corruption by political influence’. One of the concerned parliamentarians brought a case against the applicant before the Romanian courts – which held her liable for defamation, ordered her to pay damages, and to have the final judgment published in newspapers at her own cost.
In its judgment today, the ECtHR considered that the applicant’s statements were a mix of value judgment and statement of fact which were capable of causing the affected person serious prejudice in both his professional and his social environment. However, the ECtHR stressed that the applicant did not intend to make a gratuitous attack on the other politician, but to make a general point about corruption in the context of her support for a law to prevent people working as lawyers and members of parliament at the same time. In this regard, specific mention was made of the fact that the contested statements were directed not at the affected person’s private activities but rather at his conduct in his political capacity, that is, as an elected parliamentary representative. This was a matter of legitimate concern to the general public and the authorities had a particularly narrow margin of appreciation in assessing the need for the interference with the applicant’s freedom of expression.
Today’s judgment therefore concludes that there was a breach of the applicant’s freedom of expression, noting in particular that the Romanian court of appeal failed to strike a fair balance between the competing rights at stake (freedom of expression and right to respect for reputation) and that the penalty it imposed on the applicant had a chilling effect on her freedom of expression.
The judgment is available here.