Reference: Application no. 14277/04
Court: European Court of Human Rights
Judge: Costa P, and Rozakis, Bratza, Zupanèiè, Lorenzen, Tulkens, Bonello, Casadevall, Maruste, Traja, Botoucharova, Pavlovschi, Garlicki, Gyulumyan, Mijoviæ, Villiger, and Hirvelä JJ
Date of judgment: 12 Feb 2008
Summary: European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms - ECHR - Article 10 - Freedom of Expression - Civil Servants - Confidential Information – Whistleblowing - Dismissal - Necessary in a democratic society
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The complainant (G) complained to the European Court of Human Rights under Art.10 ECHR about his dismissal from the Prosecutor General’s Office for divulging two letters to a newspaper that allegedly disclosed political interference in pending criminal proceedings brought against a number of police officers. The letters had been written by the deputy speaker of Parliament and a deputy minister. Photographs of these letters were published by a newspaper, accompanying an article which commented on the deputy speaker’s alleged attempts to protect the police officers. Subsequently G was dismissed on the basis that the letters had been secret and that he had failed to consult the heads of other departments of the office before handing over the letters, in breach of the press department’s internal regulations.
Whether G’s dismissal was an interference of his freedom of expression that was necessary in a democratic society.
The public interest in having the information about undue pressure and wrongdoing within the office was so important in a democratic society that it outweighed the interest in maintaining public confidence in the office. There was no reason to believe that G was motivated by a desire for personal advantage and found that he had acted in good faith. The heaviest sanction possible, dismissal, had been imposed on G, which not only had negative repercussions on G’s career but could also have had a serious chilling effect on other civil servants and discourage them from reporting any misconduct. Given the importance of the right to freedom of expression on matters of general interest, of the right of civil servants and other employees to report illegal conduct and wrongdoing at their place of work, the interference with G’s right to freedom of expression, in particular his right to impart information, was not “necessary in a democratic society”, in violation of Art.10. G was awarded EUR 10,
The European Court of Human Rights used this case to reiterate that open discussion of topics of public concern, such as the separation of state powers and the independence of investigating authorities, was essential to democracy and it was of great importance for civil servants and more genrally members of the public not to be discouraged from voicing their opinions on such matters.