Nilsen and Johnsen v Norway: ECHR 25 Nov 1999

The court considered a complaint that the Norwegian defamation law interfered with the applicant’s freedom of speech, and placed an unfair burden of proof on them in defending themselves. One of the defamatory phrases under consideration was ‘deliberate lie’.
Held: The allegation was required to be proved as a fact but, as it happened, there was no factual basis for it. What is objectionable is any rule which requires defendants, and especially journalists, to ‘prove’ opinions as though they were capable of objective verification. Freedom of expression is applicable ‘not only to information or ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no ‘democratic society’.’


23118/93, (1999) 30 EHRR 878, [1999] ECHR 134


Worldlii, Bailii


European Convention on Human Rights 10

Cited by:

AppliedKeays v Guardian Newspapers Limited, Alton, Sarler QBD 1-Jul-2003
The claimant asserted defamation by the defendant. The parties sought a decision on whether the article at issue was a comment piece, in which case the defendant could plead fair comment, or one asserting fact, in which case that defence would not . .
CitedNilsen, Regina (on the Application of) v Governor of HMP Full Sutton and Another Admn 19-Dec-2003
The prisoner complained that having written an autobiography, the manuscript materials had been withheld, and that this interfered with his rights of freedom of expression.
Held: Such an action by the prison authorities was not incompatible . .
CitedLowe v Associated Newspapers Ltd QBD 28-Feb-2006
The defendant sought to defend the claim for defamation by claiming fair comment. The claimant said that the relevant facts were not known to the defendant at the time of the publication.
Held: To claim facts in aid of a defence of fair . .
CitedSpiller and Another v Joseph and Others SC 1-Dec-2010
The defendants had published remarks on its website about the reliability of the claimant. When sued in defamation, they pleaded fair comment, but that was rejected by the Court of Appeal.
Held: The defendants’ appeal succeeded, and the fair . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Human Rights, Defamation

Updated: 04 June 2022; Ref: scu.165781