Case of European Court of Human Rights, February 24, 1997 (case De Haes and Gijsels v. Belgium)

Resolution Date:February 24, 1997

Information Note on the Court’s case-law No.

February 1997

De Haes and Gijsels v. Belgium - 19983/92

Judgment 24.2.1997

Article 10

Article 10-1

Freedom of expression

Freedom to impart information

Judgment against journalists for defamation of magistrats: violation

Article 6

Civil proceedings

Article 6-1

Fair hearing

Equality of arms

Fairness of the proceedings against the journalists: violation

[This summary is extracted from the Court’s official reports (Series A or Reports of Judgments and Decisions). Its formatting and structure may therefore differ from the Case-Law Information Note summaries.]


Judgment complained of amounted to an "interference" with applicants' exercise of their freedom of expression, had been "prescribed by law" and had pursued at least one of the legitimate aims referred to in Article 10 § 2 (protection of reputation or rights of others).

Regard being had to seriousness of allegations, applicants had not failed in their professional obligations by publishing what they had learned about the case of the notary X – the information published had not been put in doubt by the judges and Advocate-General who had brought the defamation proceedings, except in one instance.

Essentially, the journalists had been found liable for having made unproved statements about the private life of the judges and Advocate-General who had brought proceedings and for having concluded from these that they had not been impartial in their handling of the case in question.

Distinction between facts and value judgments – judgment complained of related not so much to the allegations reported as to the comments which those had inspired the journalists to make – alleged political sympathies could be regarded as potentially lending credibility to the idea that they were not irrelevant to the decisions being criticised – allusion to past history of father of one of the judges unacceptable but only one of the elements in the case.

Accusations against the judges and Advocate-General amounted to an opinion – comments severely critical but proportionate to the stir and indignation caused by the matters alleged – necessity of interference not shown, except as regards allusion to past history of father of one of the judges.

Conclusion: violation (seven votes to two).


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