Full case report

Eerikäinen & Ors v Finland

Reference Application no. 3514/02
Court European Court of Human Rights

Judge Bratza J President, Garlicki, Bonello, Mijovic, Hirvella, Bianku and Vucinic JJ

Date of Judgment 10 Feb 2009


Summary

Freedom of Expression – Privacy – European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 Article 10 – Freedom of the press – Reporting on pending criminal proceedings – Photos – Public interest


Facts

The first complainant was a journalist. The second complainant was the editor-in-chief of the third complainant publisher. They complained that their right to freedom of expression had been breached by a court order to pay damages for reporting on pending criminal proceedings. The first complainant had previously written an article about criminal proceedings that had been brought against a business woman (X) charged with fraud. A court held that, given that X had been only a suspect at the time and the criminal case against her had been pending, it had been wrongly alleged that she had obtained pension payments by fraud. C appealed. On X’s further appeal, the Supreme Court found the complainants not guilty of defamation but in violation of her Art 8 right. C submitted that the article was on a matter of general interest and that they had not intended to reveal any private information.


Issue

Whether an order to pay damages for reporting on pending criminal proceedings in a manner that revealed private information concerning X was a violation of the Complainants’ freedom of expression.


Held

Finding a breach of Art.10: Art 10 did not guarantee a wholly unrestricted freedom of expression even where the press coverage relates to matters of serious public concern. In this case, the reporting on the criminal proceedings concerned a matter of legitimate public interest and its purpose was to contribute to a public discussion. It was not evident that the Supreme Court in its analysis regarding whether X’s privacy had been invaded attached importance to the fact that the information was based on the public prosecutor’s bill of indictment or that the article clearly stated that X had merely been charged. Nor did the Supreme Court analyse the significance of the fact that the photographs had been taken with the intention of publication with X’s consent. The grounds relied on were insufficient to justify the interference with C’s Art 10 right, in terms of a pressing social need.


Comment

The European Federation of Journalists was invited by the President of the Court to intervene in this case via the written procedure. The Federation’s submissions, at [36] – [41] of the judgment, are of interest for the reason that they provide a comparison of the varying restrictions on the publication of photos of persons subject to pending criminal proceedings placed upon the media across six different European member states.


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