Eerikäinen and Others v. Finland

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ARTICLE 19

10 Feb 2009

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10 February 2009, Application No. 3514/02 (European Court of Human Rights)

Theme Other content restrictions
 Sub Issues Privacy
 Test Provided by law
 Penalty Equivalent of €3,364 for non-pecuniary damage
 Decision Violation of Article 10
 Jurisdiction European Court of Human Rights (Finland)


Facts

The applicants published an article concerning criminal proceedings which were still pending before a district court. The defendant was charged with various counts of tax fraud and aggravated fraud for allegedly deceiving the Social Insurance Institution and insurance companies. The article concerning the criminal proceedings did not mention the name of the accused. However, along with the first article, a second article, which had previously been published with the consent of the accused, was also published which divulged the name and two photographs of the accused. This second article was in no way relevant or related to the criminal proceedings; other than the fact that both articles concerned the accused.

Civil proceedings were taken against the applicants in a district court and it was ruled that suffering via defamation had occurred; the applicants were made to pay a financial penalty. Both parties appealed to the Helsinki Court of Appeal, where the original decision was quashed when the court rules that there was neither defamation nor invasion of privacy. The accused appealed to the Supreme Court of Finland, which ruled that there had been an invasion of privacy, based upon the photographs included in the article.

At this point, the applicants complained to the European Court of Human Rights that there was a violation of their freedom of expression under Article 10 of the Convention.

Held

The Court found that the interference was prescribed by law and pursued a legitimate aim. This brought the Court to the final issue whether the interference was necessary in a democratic society.

Necessity

As a test for this necessity, the Court set out to determine:

Whether the “interference” complained of corresponded to a “pressing social need”, whether it was proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued and whether the reasons given by the national authorities to justify it are relevant and sufficient. (Paragraph 59)

The Court then went on to examine the relevancy and sufficiency of the reasons given by the Supreme Court for the interference. In doing so, they examined if the Supreme Court’s ruling struck a fair balance between the public’s interests and the rights of the respondent, while conforming to the principles of Article 10.

The Court considers that the general subject matter which was at the heart of the article concerned – namely, the abuse of public funds – was a matter of legitimate public interest, having regard in particular to the considerable scale of the abuse. From the point of view of the general public's right to receive information about matters of public interest, and thus from the standpoint of the press, there were justified grounds supporting the need to encourage public discussion of the matter in general. (Paragraph 68)

The Court observed that it was not clear that the Supreme Court, in its ruling on an invasion of privacy, attached enough importance to the fact that the article concerning the ongoing trial was based on a bill prepared by the public prosecutor. Also, it was not clear that importance was attached to the fact that the article clearly stated that the applicant had merely been charged.

Furthermore, the Court pointed out that it is not apparent what amount of significance the Supreme Court attached to the publication of the photographs of the respondent along with her name. The Supreme Court also failed to allot significance to the fact that the photographs had been taken with the respondent’s consent and with the intention of being published, even though the photographs were originally to be published in a different context.

Based on its finding that the Supreme Court attributed undue significance to some vital issues in the case, the European Court found that the grounds relied upon by the Supreme Court were relevant but not sufficient to justify the interference with the applicants’ right to freedom of expression.


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