Tesic v Serbia: ECHR 11 Feb 2014

ECHR Article 10-1- Freedom of expression
Applicant’s precarious financial situation as a result of award of damages for defamation against her: violation
Facts – In 2006 the applicant, a pensioner suffering from various illnesses, was found guilty of defaming her lawyer and ordered to pay him 300,000 dinars (RSD) in compensation, together with default interest, plus costs in the amount of RSD 94,120 (equivalent to approximately EUR 4,900 in all). In July 2009 the Municipal Court issued an enforcement order requiring two thirds of the applicant’s pension to be transferred to the lawyer’s bank account each month, until the sums awarded had been paid in full. After these deductions the applicant was left with approximately EUR 60 a month on which to live.
Law – Article 10: The impugned measures had undoubtedly constituted an interference with the applicant’s right to freedom of expression. They had been prescribed by law and had been adopted in pursuit of a legitimate aim, namely ‘for the protection of the reputation’ of another.
The damages plus costs awarded against the applicant were equal to a total of more than 60% of her monthly pensions. This sum was also very similar to the amount awarded in a separate civil suit concerning the same issue brought against, inter alia, the newspaper and the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, both of which were certainly more financially viable. Furthermore, it could not be said that the applicant’s statement in respect of her former counsel was merely a gratuitous personal attack. After all, the police had clearly seen some merit in the allegations. Moreover, the Government’s assertion that a discussion of a practising lawyer’s professional conduct was clearly of no public interest was in itself dubious, particularly bearing in mind the role of lawyers in the proper administration of justice. Finally but most strikingly, the municipal court had issued an enforcement order requiring two thirds of the applicant’s pension to be transferred to her lawyer’s bank account each month, notwithstanding that the applicable law had provided that that was the maximum that could be withheld, thus clearly leaving room for a more nuanced approach. By 30 June 2013 the applicant had paid a total of approximately EUR 4,350, but with accrued and future interest, she would have to continue with the payments for approximately another two years. In May 2012 her monthly pension was some EUR 170, so that after deductions she was left with approximately EUR 60 on which to live and buy her monthly medication, which at approximately EUR 44, she could no longer afford. This was a particularly precarious situation for an elderly person suffering from a number of serious illnesses. Therefore, the interference in question had not been necessary in a democratic society.
Conclusion: violation (six votes to one).
Article 41: EUR 6,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage; EUR 5,500 in respect of pecuniary damage.

4678/07 50591/12 – Legal Summary, [2014] ECHR 282
European Convention on Human Rights

Human Rights

Updated: 01 December 2021; Ref: scu.522580