Full case report
Condé Nast Publications Ltd & Anor v UK
Reference Application no. 29746/05
Court European Court of Human Rights
Judge Casadevell (President) and Bratza, Bonello, Traja, Pavlovschi, Šikuta and Hirvelä (Judges)
Date of Judgment 8 Jan 2008
Human rights – Right to fair trial – Right to freedom of expression – Arts 6, 10, 18, ECHR – Civil procedure – Video conference link – Defamation – Claimant in libel proceedings giving evidence by video conference link
Film director Roman Polanski (‘RP’) had successfully applied to give evidence in his libel claim in the English High Court against the applicant, CN, by video conference link, despite being a fugitive from justice. He had pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl in the USA in 1977 but had fled the country before sentencing. He now lives in France. He was successful in his libel claim and a jury awarded him £50,000.
CN complained that the decision to allow RP to bring his claim and give evidence violated their rights under Articles 6, 10 and 18 of the Convention.
(1) Whether allowing RP to give evidence by video conference link had hindered the principle of equality of arms and rendered the proceedings unfair;
(2) Whether the libel proceedings had violated CN’s rights under Article 10; and
(3) Whether allowing RP to give evidence by video conference link was a violation of Article 10 taken in conjunction with Article 18, in that the restriction of CN’s free speech rights had been pursued with the purpose of assisting a convicted child rapist to evade justice.
Declaring the application inadmissible,
(1) A fugitive from justice did not lose his entitlement to protection of his right to reputation merely because of his status as a fugitive. RP’s fugitive status was irrelevant to the libel proceedings. Failure to provide a litigant with facilities available to other litigants on the basis of fugitive status would run counter to the ECHR guarantee of equal treatment inherent in the principle of equality of arms. CN had suffered little disadvantage whereas refusal of the relevant order would have caused RP to abandon his action.
(2) CN’s complaint under Art 10 was inadmissible on grounds of non-exhaustion of domestic remedies.
(3) CN’s Art 18 argument was misconceived. The purpose of the impugned order was to ensure the proper administration of justice by not restricting a procedural facility and the access to court of a particular litigant on the basis of his status and was unconnected with RP’s conviction.
A unanimous affirmation by the Strasbourg Court that an individual is not to be denied protection of their right to reputation on the basis of an irrelevant criminal conviction; the House of Lords had been split 3:2 on essentially the same issue.
Finers Stephens Innocent for the Applicants
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