European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights

Court backs Switzerland over journalist’s publication of pedophilia allegations

A decision by Swiss authorities to fine a journalist for breaching the secrecy of judicial investigation into alleged pedophilia did not violate European human rights law.

The decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Y. v. Switzerland (application no. 22998/13) was confirmed on 6 June.

The court held, unanimously, that there had been:

no violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights in a case which concerned the sanction against the applicant, Y, a journalist who revealed information covered by the secrecy of a judicial investigation.

The applicant’s magazine article concerned criminal proceedings against a “leading property manager” on charges of paedophilia.

The journalist criticised the fact that the accused had been released, citing extracts from the prosecution’s appeal against the decision of the investigating judge to end the pre-trial detention. The article went on to describe the alleged facts in detail.

As was the case in the domestic courts, the European court took the view that while the protection of the accused’s private life had not played a decisive role in the weighing up of the various interests, the fact that the article had contained a considerable amount of detailed information and extracts from the complainant’s statement to the police had constituted a breach of the privacy of those concerned and did not contribute to a public debate on the functioning of the justice system.

The court lastly found that the fine – which had been paid on behalf of the journalist by the magazine’s director – was a sanction for breaching the secrecy of the criminal investigation and protected the administration of justice, the rights of the accused to a fair trial and the rights of the complainant and presumed victims to respect for their private life. Sanctions for breaches of the secrecy of a criminal investigation were general in scope and were not intended solely for persons actually under investigation. The matter fell with the state’s margin of appreciation.

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