ECtHR Grand Chamber on lawyers' freedom of expression

01 May

Important observations on freedom of expression for lawyers have been made by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.

The Court said that lawyers had a special role in the administration of justice and in ensuring that the courts enjoyed public confidence.

It stated that freedom of expression was applicable to lawyers, adding: "It encompasses not only the substance of the ideas and information expressed but also the form in which they are conveyed...Lawyers are thus entitled, in particular, to comment in public on the administration of justice, provided that their criticism does not overstep certain bounds...

"The question of freedom of expression is related to the independence of the legal profession, which is crucial for the effective functioning of the fair administration of justice... It is only in exceptional cases that restriction - even by way of a lenient criminal penalty - of defence counsel's freedom of expression can be accepted as necessary in a democratic society...

"A distinction should, however, be drawn depending on whether the lawyer expresses himself in the courtroom or elsewhere."

The comments were made in the case ofMorice v France which has its roots in the death in 1995 of Bernard Borrel, a French judge on secondment to Djibouti, whose body was found 80 kilometres from Djibouti City.

Olivier Morice, Advocat, a member of the Paris Bar, acted for M Borrel's widow, and in a newspaper interview he was fiercely critical of two judges who had been appointed initially to conduct a judicial investigation into the death but who were later removed. M Morice was convicted of complicity in the offence of public defamation of a civil servant, and fined and ordered to pay damages to the judges.

However, the ECtHR has held that the conviction was disproportionate interference with M Morice.s right to freedom of expression, and the French Government was ordered to pay him more than EUR 33,000.

The judgement is at
and a section on "The status and freedom of expression of lawyers" begins at paragraph 132.