Freedom of expression, as enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (hereafter the ECHR), is one of the fundamental foundations of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for the progress and development of every human being. States must not only refrain from interfering with this right but must also take measures to protect it effectively. Restrictions on the freedom of expression are provided for in paragraph 2 of Article 10 of the ECHR, which must be interpreted to the letter, and the need for any restrictions convincingly demonstrated. In particular, any intervention of a public authority in the right to expression must be provided for by law, be necessary for a democratic society and must pursue one of the purposes referred to in paragraph 2. The European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter ECtHR) examines this intervention and decides whether it is proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued and whether the grounds relied on by national authorities to justify it are pertinent and sufficient. Failure to satisfy these conditions results in a violation of Article 10.
On March 11, 2021, the decision of the ECtHR in the case of Dimitrios v. Greece (appeal no. 62639/12) was published, concluding that Greece had violated Article 10 of the ECHR in this case. See the decision as posted in the HUDOC database here and the press release of the ECtHR here.
The ECtHR, noting from the outset that the applicant’s conviction by the civil courts constituted an interference with the exercise of the latter’s right to freedom of expression, examined whether or not this interference complied with the requirements of Article 10 paragraph 2 of the ECHR. With regard to the nature of the phrases used in the article, the ECtHR considered that, given their context, they constitute an evaluative judgment rather than a fact which can be proved objectively. The Court also notes that, as is apparent from the judgments, the national courts did not examine the remarks in question in the general context of the case in order to assess the applicant’s intention.
Finally, with regard to the proportionality between the amount awarded and the reputational damage caused, the ECtHR found that the Greek courts had taken the evidence into account in a very general way and that they didn’t carry out, for example, an analysis of the applicant’s financial situation.
The ECtHR concluded that: a) the national authorities did not provide appropriate and sufficient reason to justify conviction and the damages imposed, b) the penalty imposed was not proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued and c) this conviction did not correspond to an “imperative social need” and was therefore not necessary in a democratic society. It therefore held that there had been a violation of the applicant’s right to freedom of expression and that Greece should pay the applicant EUR 25,000 in non-pecuniary damages and EUR 2,000 in costs and expenses.
Respect for fundamental rights is one of the key components of a state that is governed by the rule of law. The fundamental rights that every citizen should enjoy are enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. It is a primary and indisputable obligation of the state to respect these rights.
In this case, however, the European Court of Human Rights found that the applicant’s right to the freedom of expression had been violated. In particular, it was considered that the applicant’s conviction by the civil courts constituted an interference with his right to freedom of expression, which, not being included in the restrictions provided for in paragraph 2, constituted a violation of Article 10 of the ECHR.
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