MOOC FOE1x | 3.8.2 Case Summary: Wegrzynowski and Smolczewski v. Poland

MOOC FOE1x | 3.8.2 Case Summary: Wegrzynowski and Smolczewski v. Poland

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– Let’s focus on a case
from the European Court. It’s a case which involved
two Polish lawyers. They brought their case alleging
violation of their right to privacy because of a
libelous online article. In 2002, those lawyers
had won a libel case against a daily newspaper on the ground that an article alleging
that they had made a fortune was largely based on gossip. In 2004, the lawyers
brought another lawsuit against the newspaper
because the article remained accessible online through
the newspaper’s website. And so they requested that
the article be removed from the website. They went to court in Poland. The Polish court ruled against them. It held that removing the
article from the website would amount to censorship
and to rewriting history. It was of the opinion, the Polish Court that removing the online
article will be disproportionate to the needs that they
were seeking to achieve. They also suggested that the
applicant could have considered other options beside removing the article. For instance, they could
have asked for the article on the internet to be
supplemented by a footnote or with a link informing the
readers about the judgment in the original libel proceeding. The lawyers were not
happy with the finding of the Polish Court and
so they brought their case to the European Court, not
of course under Article 10 because it’s not for them
freedom of expression issue. It’s a freedom of privacy issue. But the European Court ruled against them and for freedom of expression,
for freedom of the newspaper. It accepted that the
Polish state had complied with its obligation to strike a balance between the rights
guaranteed by Article 10, freedom of expression,
and the rights guaranteed by Article Eight, freedom of privacy. The court agreed that the
removal of the online article for the sake of the applicant’s reputation in the circumstance of the present case would have been disproportionate
under Article 10 of the convention. And it did rule that
is was disproportionate because a rectification
or an additional comment on the website would have
been a sufficient and adequate response to the problem
that the two Polish lawyers were facing. Indeed, the Polish Court
had already pointed out that it would be desirable to
add a comment to the article on the website informing the public that a court had found
the article to libelous. By so doing, the Polish
Court had been aware of how important publication
on the internet was for the effective protection
of individual rights and how important it was
to make full information about judicial decisions. So the Polish Court, according
to the European Court, had actually acted in the best
interest of the two rights, privacy and freedom of expression. And so it ruled for the Polish state and against the two lawyers.

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