HomeInsightsEuropean Court of Human Rights finds infringement of Article 10 in relation to libel proceedings concerning newspaper article about Maltese MP

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The applicant, Michael Falzon, was a Maltese national. His case before the ECtHR involved his having been found guilty of libel after writing an opinion piece that had criticised an MP.

The applicant was a former Member of Parliament and Government minister. He wrote an opinion piece in Maltatoday in May 2007 about the fact that a current MP, also called Michael Falzon, had personally asked the Commissioner of Police to investigate an allegedly threatening email he had received. Mr Falzon MP began defamation proceedings, which he won, and the applicant was ordered to pay 2,500 euros in damages. The applicant appealed, but the appeals were dismissed, ultimately by the Constitutional Court in January 2013.

Relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicant argued that the courts had failed to distinguish between facts and value judgments and submitted that his criticism had been directed towards a politician and had concerned a matter of public interest.

The ECtHR considered that in the defamation proceedings the domestic courts had not appropriately performed a balancing exercise between the need to protect the MP’s reputation and the Convention standard, which required very strong reasons for justifying restrictions on debates on questions of public interest.

The domestic courts’ decisions were very narrow in scope, the ECtHR said. They had reiterated what, in their view, was implied by the impugned statements and requiring proof thereof, and upheld the right to reputation without explaining why this outweighed the freedom of expression of Michael Falzon, and without taking into consideration other factors relevant to this balancing exercise. This did not, therefore, fulfil the obligation incumbent upon the courts to adduce “relevant and sufficient” reasons that could justify the interference at issue, the ECtHR said. There had accordingly been a violation of Article 10 of the ECHR. (Falzon v. Malta (application no. 45791/13) (20 March 2018) — to read the judgment in full, click here).