Reference: Application no. 39311/05
Court: European Court of Human Rights
Judge: Tulkens P., Barreto, Zagrebelsky, Jociene, Popovic, Sajo, Karakas
Date of judgment: 28 Apr 2009
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Criminal proceedings - Right to respect for private life - Article 8, European Convention on Human Rights - Freedom of expression - Article 10, European Convention on Human Rights - Political campaign - Value judgments
The Applicant was a Member of Parliament and candidate in the 2002 Hungarian parliamentary elections. He filed a criminal complaint against LH, the chairman of the opposition party, who had signed a flyer which alleged that the Applicant had regularly voted against the interests of his region. When the public prosecution was dismissed by the Attorney General, the Applicant brought a private prosecution against LH in the District Court. The District Court dismissed the indictment, holding that the statement was a value judgment in respect of which the limits of acceptable criticism were wider for a politician.
Whether the Hungarian authorities had failed to protect the Applicant’s rights under Article 8 of the Convention.
The choice of measures used by Contracting States to secure compliance with Article 8 falls within its margin of appreciation so long as there is an effective legal system in place which protects the notion of ‘private life’. Furthermore, where Article 8 rights are asserted in relation to an expression, the protection granted by the State should take into consideration its obligations under Article 10.
The Court was satisfied that the Hungarian courts’ decision was in conformity with Convention standards. It accepted the authorities reasoning that the applicant was a politician active in public life and that the expression of a negative opinion about the applicant’s public activities during election period was constitutionally protected. A limitation on freedom of expression for the sake of the Applicant’s reputation in the circumstances of the present case would have been a disproportionate interference with Article 10.
The Court conducted an interesting analysis of Article 8. It considered that there was a clear distinction between the notions of ‘personal integrity’ and ‘reputation’, the two concepts not always overlapping. An applicant’s personal integrity was something that would always be protected by Article 8 (applying Von Hannover) whereas, contrary to its indications in previous decisions, an applicant’s reputation would be likely to be protected only in cases where the allegations had a “direct effect” on the applicant’s private life so as to undermine his or her personal integrity.