The purpose of defamation laws is to protect the reputations of individuals against injury. At the same time, the concept of defamation has to be thought in relation to freedom of expression and public debate. If laws governing defamation/reputation are overly broad, they become susceptible to misuse and abuse and a negative impact on public debate. In the laws of the majority of the Council of Europe member states defamation is defined both as a civil wrong and a criminal offence. In other words, a person can either be sued for compensation by the affected person or be criminally prosecuted by the state. There is a general consensus among the different specialised bodies of international and regional organisations that not only the application of criminal sanctions but also the mere fact that such sanctions could be applied have substantial undesirable effects on freedom of expression and information. The European Court of Human Rights has delivered a voluminous case-law relating to freedom of expression and defamation. Council of Europe is revising a study from 2012, to provide a detailed, yet accessible, analysis of this body of jurisprudence.

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Freedom of expression and defamation (2016)

This study explores a range of substantive and procedural issues that the Court has considered, and clarifies the concept of defamation, positioning it in relation to freedom of expression and public debate.

It explains how overly protective defamation laws can have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and public debate, and discusses the proportionality of defamation laws and their application.

"Everyone has the right to freedom of expression"

Art. 10 European Convention on Human Rights

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