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Violation of a whistle-blower’s freedom of expression as a result of his criminal conviction
In Grand Chamber judgment in the case of Halet v. Luxembourg (application no. 21884/18) the European Court of Human Rights held, by a majority (twelve votes to five), that there had been:
- a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case concerned the disclosure by Mr Halet, while he was employed by a private company, of confidential documents protected by professional secrecy, comprising 14 tax returns of multinational companies and two covering letters, obtained from his workplace. Following a complaint by his employer, and at the close of criminal proceedings against him, Mr Halet was ordered by the Court of Appeal on appeal to pay a criminal fine of 1,000 euros, and to pay a symbolic sum of 1 euro in compensation for the non-pecuniary damage sustained by his employer.
In view of its findings as to the importance, at both national and European level, of the public debate on the tax practices of multinational companies, to which the information disclosed by the applicant had made an essential contribution, the Court considered that the public interest in the disclosure of that information outweighed all of the detrimental effects arising from it. Thus, after weighing up all the interests concerned and taking account of the nature, severity and chilling effect of the applicant’s criminal conviction, the Court concluded that the interference with his right to freedom of expression, in particular his freedom to impart information, had not been “necessary in a democratic society”.
A legal summary of this case will be available in the Court’s database HUDOC