Tourancheau & July v France
Reference: Application No. 53886/00
Court: European Court of Human Rights
Judge: Rozakis (President), Loucaides, Costa, Tulkens, Lorenzen, Vajic, Botoucharova (Judges), Nielsen (Registrar)
Date of judgment: 24 Nov 2005
Summary: Human rights - Freedom of expression - Art 10, ECHR - murder - criminal proceedings pending - newspaper article about case reproducing unpublished evidence - conviction of editor and journalist - whether human rights infringed
Two young persons, A & B, were each accused of stabbing a young girl to death. Whilst charges were pending the applicants published an article in “Liberation” giving an account of the case based on the text of evidential material supplied to B, and read out by her to the journalist. The applicants were prosecuted and convicted, and fined 10,000 Francs each, for breach of a statute of 1881 prohibiting the publication of any criminal charges or case papers prior to their being read in public session. Domestic appeals were dismissed, and the applicants applied to Strasbourg, asserting the convictions were in breach of Article 10 ECHR. They claimed the law was a dead letter in practice, imprecise and obsolete, and served no legitimate aim, and that their convictions were unnecessary and disproportionate.
Were the measures taken against the applicants (1) prescribed by law (2) legitimate in their aims (3) necessary and proportionate?
By a majority of 4:3, that (1) the law was sufficiently precise and predictable; the journalists could and should have foreseen its application; (2) the law served the legitimate aims of protecting reputation, the impartiality of the courts and the integrity of the trial process: Worm v Austria (1997) applied; (3) whether the article was prejudicial and could influence the trial court were matters within the domestic courts’ margin of appreciation, but the Court agreed that the article tended to inculpate A and exculpate B, and was capable of influencing a jury.
Per the minority: there was a breach of Art 10 as (1) the law was vague and its application unpredictable; (2) it did not serve a legitimate aim, as prejudice to the trial process was not required; (3) prejudice was not established on the facts.
It has been rare for contempt of court cases to reach Strasbourg. This one was a narrow and controversial decision with a powerful dissent. Two key differences between majority and minority views lay in (a) their attitude to an absolute prohibition on dissemination of evidence before trial (b) their willingness, or not, to concede a generous margin of appreciation to the domestic courts on the question whether prejudice was caused. The article was published 20 months before trial, and would be unlikely to attract contempt proceedings in the UK.