AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF
Application no. 34438/04
by John Olav EGELAND and Einar HANSEID
The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting on 22 November 2007 as a Chamber composed of:
Mr C.L. Rozakis, President,
Mr L. Loucaides,
Mrs N. Vajić,
Mr A. Kovler,
Mrs E. Steiner,
Mr S.E. Jebens,
Mr G. Malinverni, judges,
and Mr S. Nielsen, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 23 September 2004,
Having regard to the decision to apply Article 29 § 3 of the Convention and examine the admissibility and merits of the case together.
Having regard to the observations submitted by the respondent Government and the observations in reply submitted by the applicants,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicants, Mr John Olav Egeland and Mr Einar Hanseid, are Norwegian nationals who were born in 1951 and 1943, respectively. The first applicant lives in Bekkestua and the second applicant lives in Oslo. They are represented before the Court by Mr. K. Eggen, a lawyer practising in Oslo. The Government are represented by their Agent, Mrs F. Platou Amble, Attorney at the Attorney General’s Office (Civil Matters).
A. The circumstances of the case
The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.
At the material time, the first applicant was the Editor in Chief of Dagbladet and the second applicant was the Editor in Chief of Aftenposten, two major national newspapers in Norway. Their application has its background in the same case-complex as a previous application, P4 Radio Hele Norge ASA v. Norway ((dec.), no. 76682/01, ECHR 2003-VI). Like the latter, it concerns a complaint under Article 10 of the Convention about restrictions on media coverage of a major criminal trial, in this case concerning charges against four persons of triple murder, the so-called Orderud case, which took place before the Nes District Court (herredsrett) from 18 April to 15 June 2001. This was probably the most spectacular and media-focused criminal case in Norwegian history. The trial involved a son (A) and his wife (B), the wife’s half-sister (C) and a friend of the latter (D), who were charged with the murder of the son’s parents and sister, committed in a particularly brutal manner. Because of the great media interest in the case and since the hearing room was too small to host both members of the ordinary public and media representatives, special arrangements were made enabling the press to follow the trial at a press centre, set up in a sports hall, to which sound and pictures were transmitted live and shown on a television screen. On 6 May 2003 a Chamber of the former Third Section declared inadmissible as being manifestly ill-founded P4’s complaint that a refusal by the District Court, under section 131A of the Administration of Courts Act 1915 (domstolloven- hereinafter “the 1995 Act”), to grant its application for radio broadcasting directly from the court hearing room violated Article 10 of the Convention.
The present case concerns restrictions on the publication by the press of photographs taken of B without her consent outside the court house while leaving, shortly after having attended the District Court’s delivery of its judgment of 22 June 2001, convicting A, B and C of the charges and sentencing each of them to 21 years’ imprisonment and sentencing D to 2½ years’ imprisonment.
The delivery of the District Court’s judgment was broadcast live on TV by two leading national broadcasting companies, the NRK and the TV2. The broadcast did not contain any pictures of B.
In the proceedings summarised here below, the Supreme Court (in paragraph 12 of its judgment), relying on the District Court findings, described the circumstances in which the photographing of B had taken place as follows:
"The District Court has established as a fact that during the reading out of the judgment B realised that she would be found guilty, and that she suffered a physical reaction in the form of nausea. Because of this she went to the toilet, together with one of her defence counsels, Ms Y, Attorney at Law. Thereafter she entered a side room, where she cried and was in deep despair. Shortly afterwards she was notified that she had been rearrested, to be remanded in custody. The rumour had spread, and a large number of photojournalists were waiting outside the community hall. B left the building 20-30 minutes after the judgment had been pronounced, together with defence counsel, Ms Y, accompanied by a plain-clothes police officer who walked a few metres behind them. On the way to the unmarked police car, which was parked 20-30 metres from the exit, she was photographed a number of times...”
On 22 June 2001 Dagbladet published and extra edition featuring a photograph covering two thirds of a page, showing B, holding a handkerchief to her face, and her lawyer Y, taken in a side angle from behind. The picture was part of an article, entitled “The farm dispute led to homicide”. An article underneath was entitled “Tense atmosphere before verdict”. The caption stated “Arrested: [B] was this morning sentenced to 21 years of prison. Here, while crying, she is guided out of the premises by her lawyer [Y]”.
On 23 June 2001 Dagbladet published a smaller photograph showing B seated inside an unmarked police car. The picture is part of an article entitled “Broken”, with an accompanying text: “The heavy trip, [B] is lead out of the [court house] and taken to Lillestrøm police station.”
On 23 June 2001 Aftenposten published a photograph covering one fifth of a page, showing B crying outside the court house, taken from the front holding a handkerchief, while her lawyer Y walks next to her and makes a deprecating gesture toward the photographer. A person walks behind, identified as a plain clothes police officer. Underneath the caption states: “21 years. [B] has realised it now – that freedom will not be the outcome. She is supported on the way out by defence counsel Y.” The picture appeared next to an article entitled “Firm, clear – and appealed”, commenting on the judgment. Below on the same page featured another article entitled: “The words are merciless- they fall like needles against the dense silence. Twisting around”. This photograph had been purchased and published by a number of newspapers throughout the country.
In the above-mentioned issues Dagbladet and Aftenposten reported on the District Court’s judgment and on the arrest. The prospects of arrests in the event of conviction had been an issue of discussion in the above newspapers during the weeks before.
B had not given her consent for photographs to be taken of her; on the contrary her lawyer Y attempted to prevent it. The authorisation to broadcast the delivery of the judgment had only concerned the reading out of the judgment as such.
On 6 July 2001 B’s defence lawyer, F.S., reported the applicants and three of the photographers to the police for violation of section 131A of the 1915 Act, which led to charges being brought against them.
On 15 October 2003 the Nedre Romerike District Court acquitted the defendants of the charges, giving inter alia the following reasons:
“The District Court must stress that the general rule must still be that the taking of photographs of convicted persons on their way out of the court premises is prohibited, as is the publication of such images, but that the prohibition will not apply where entirely special considerations so indicate.
In the assessment of the District Court such entirely special and weighty considerations are present in this case. In this regard the District Court notes that [B] had been convicted of a horrific crime involving the triple homicide of the parents and sister of her husband. As has already been noted this crime, and the investigation and subsequent court hearing of the crime were the subject of an unprecedented degree of attention on the part of the media and the general public. A further important point for the Court is that [B]’s identity had been revealed some considerable time earlier. Photographs of her had appeared in all the country’s newspapers numerous times during the course of the investigation and in connection with the trial before Nes District Court. During the period prior to the trial in the District Court, [B] very rarely consented to being photographed. Nevertheless, the press took a number of photographs of her without her knowledge. However, the situation was different during the almost eight week long trial. According to the information provided, [B] and her husband consented to being photographed once per week during the trial. The photographs taken during these photo sessions appeared almost daily in the country’s biggest newspapers and on various television channels. The issue of protection against identification through photographs was accordingly not an argument raised in this case. ...
A key consideration underlying the prohibition against the taking of photographs in section 131A is to protect the accused or convicted person against portrayal in situations in which their self-control is reduced. In this case [B] had been sentenced to the strictest penalty permitted under the law for the triple homicide and was in a form of shock. On the other hand, the weight of this consideration is somewhat reduced by the fact that the taking of photographs did not take place until 25-30 minutes after the end of the court hearing in which judgment was pronounced. In the meantime she had had the opportunity to compose herself in a side room to the courtroom, in the presence of her two defence counsel and members of her family.
In the assessment of the District Court it is doubtful whether of themselves these circumstances are sufficient for it to be necessary to limit the application of the prohibition with the result that publication must be considered permissible pursuant to Article 10 § 2 of the ... Convention ... . However, the court views this in the context of the fact that an arrest situation must be said to have existed at this time. [A], [B] and [C] were all arrested by the police during the minutes following the pronouncement of judgment while they were in the side rooms to the court premises in the company of their defence counsel. Two of the photographs that formed the basis for the penalty charge notices in this case depict [B] as she crosses the 20 - 30 metres between the court premises and the police car that would take her to the police station in Lillestrøm. The third photograph depicts her seated inside the unmarked police vehicle. It is clear that the arrest question had been discussed in a number of mass media during the day’s preceding the pronouncement of judgment. There was speculation about whether in the event of a conviction the police would arrest the convicted persons or whether they would remain at liberty awaiting the appeal proceedings before the High Court that most people expected would come, whatever the outcome in the District Court. As noted earlier, the various editorial boards discussed what the significance of the prohibition against the taking of photographs would be in the event of an arrest situation. This issue was also discussed amongst the photojournalists who gathered at the exit from the court premises when it became known that three of the convicted persons had been rearrested. Based on the information on the case presented before the District Court it must be assumed that justifiable doubt exists about whether any photographs whatsoever would have been taken of the convicted persons on this occasion had they not been arrested.
An arrest of this nature must be regarded as a new situation in terms of fact and law. This was an event that was awaited with considerable interest by the media and the general public. Interestingly, in the wake of the arrest, there was discussion amongst centrally placed lawyers about whether it was correct to arrest the convicted persons or not. The District Court regards the arrest as a new situation and an event that the mass media could legitimately cover as a news item using both words and images. In the assessment of the District Court the arrest aspect of the situation overshadows the fact that the convicted persons were on their way out of the court premises. Aftenposten’s feature on 23 June 2001 notes on the front page, on which [B] is shown being escorted into the prison building, that an arrest took place immediately after judgment had been pronounced. The arrest is also described in detail in the extra edition of Dagbladet on 22 June 2001. The Court’s assessment of the photographs to which the penalty charge notices apply is that it is made clear to the reader that the intention of the photographs is to illuminate the situation surrounding the arrest.
As a general rule there is no prohibition against taking photographs of arrest situations. Notwithstanding the fact that the arrest in this case was undramatic with no use of physical force on the part of the police and with the use of plain-clothes officers and unmarked police vehicles, the decisive point as regards the news aspect and the communication needs of the media must be that these arrests marked a provisional end to a criminal case that had been the subject of extensive discussion. The three defendants who prior to the trial before Nes District Court had been at liberty for over a year were immediately arrested and subsequently remanded in custody. As a result of subsequent developments in the case, these three have not been out of prison since their arrest on 22 June 2001.
The District Court accordingly finds having assessed the situation in its entirety that entirely special considerations are present such that the prohibition against the taking of photographs in section 131A of the 1915 Act cannot entail criminal liability for the journalists and editors charged in this case. All five defendants will accordingly be acquitted.”
The Public Prosecutor appealed against the applicants’ acquittal (not that of the photographers) directly to the Supreme Court.
By a judgment of 23 March 2004 the Supreme Court convicted the applicants of having published the impugned photographs in violation of sections 131A and 198 (3) of the 1915 Act and sentenced each of them to pay NOK 10,000 in fines, failing which the fines were to be converted into 15 days’ imprisonment. The Supreme Court rejected a claim by B for compensation of non-pecuniary damage. Its reasoning, stated by Mrs Justice Stabel and joined in the main by the other members of the formation, included the following:
“(13) The District Court held that B had not given her consent to being photographed. On the contrary, Y made active attempts on her behalf to prevent the taking of photographs. I find in addition that the consent that the District Court gave for the pronouncement of the judgment to be transmitted live on television applied only to the reading of the judgment. It is in any event clear that the authority of the Court to grant an exemption from the prohibition against the taking of photographs in section 131A(2) of the 1915 Act applies only during the trial itself. This provision will accordingly not apply in our case.
(14) The question in this case is whether it constituted a breach of section 131A of the 1915 Act and thus a criminal offence pursuant to its section 198 (3) to publish photographs of a weeping B, distraught and dissolved in tears, leaving the court premises having been convicted of aiding and abetting in a triple homicide. If this question were to be answered in the affirmative, a further question would arise as to whether the enforcement of the prohibition would be contrary to ... Article 10 of the Convention, cf. section 3 of the Human Rights Act. ...
(15) It is the second sentence [of section 131A(1)] that is of interest in our case. ...
(16) The question is: What restrictions will follow from the phrase ‘on the way into or out of the court hearing’. I agree with the District Court that the restrictions on the taking of photographs will apply only ‘in the immediate vicinity of the court premises, i.e. normally up to the car parking area, and that the special protection that follows from section 131A will not apply after the accused has driven away from the court premises’. The District Court concluded that the provision therefore also encompassed B as she made her way out of the courtroom and into the waiting vehicle. I agree with this. I also agree with the District Court that the fact that she was under arrest at the time does not render the provision inapplicable.
(17) I must accordingly conclude that the photographs in question contravene the prohibition against the taking of photographs in section 131A .... I must therefore examine whether ... Article 10 of the Convention would nevertheless lead to a different outcome.
(18) On the subject of the general balancing of interests I refer to the discussion in Supreme Court’s judgment in the Valebrokk case (2003)... . The Supreme Court held by three votes to two that the filming by TV2 of one of the convicted persons following the pronouncement of judgment in the Baneheia case did not constitute a punishable offence. The majority found, with the support of the minority, that the general rule must be that the taking of photographs in the courtroom was prohibited, including after the court had adjourned, but that this restriction would not apply ‘where entirely special considerations suggest that the taking and publishing of photographs must be permitted’.
(19) The majority held that the purpose of the prohibition was to protect the ‘reputation or rights’ of the accused or convicted person, and that accordingly the Act pursued a legitimate aim. Although enforcement of the restrictions on the taking of photographs would generally constitute a serious interference pursuant to Article 10 § 1, it ought to be considered whether the interference nevertheless was necessary in a democratic society according to Article 10 § 2. The point of departure must be that it was generally important to protect accused and convicted persons against exposure through the taking of photographs in the courtroom, both during the hearing itself and in immediate connection with the hearings. The majority noted that most countries had prohibitions against the taking of photographs, although the scope and wording varies. By way of conclusion, paragraph 62 noted that:
‘The reality of this is a general rule prohibiting the taking of photographs in the courtroom after court session has been adjourned, and a prohibition against the publication of the photographs, although the prohibition will not apply if warranted by entirely special considerations. The prosecution has argued that a rule of this nature would undermine the prohibition against the taking of photographs. It is of course true that a rule with certain limitations will be less absolute. Even so, a rule of this nature will not give the news media a ‘free hand’ to take and publish photographs when deemed expedient. The prohibition against the taking of photographs is supported by weighty and genuine considerations, not least in the situation immediately after the pronouncement of a judgment. Accordingly, in such a situation, strong reasons will have to be adduced for it to be accepted that it is required to photograph the convicted person and to put these pictures on display.’
(20) The view that the prohibition against the taking of photographs does not violate Article 10 would appear to be supported by the inadmissibility decision of 6 May 2003 rendered by the European Court in P4 Radio Hele Norge ASA v. Norway (dec.), no. 76682/01, ECHR 2003-VI. ...
(21) The European Court found the application to be ’manifestly ill-founded’. The Court held that the prohibition against recording and broadcasting must to some extent be viewed as an interference with the freedom of expression provided for in Article 10 § 1. Nevertheless, the Court held that there was no common ground in the legal systems of the Contracting States with regard to radio and television transmission from court proceedings. The balance between the need for openness and the need for court proceedings to be conducted without disturbance could be resolved in various ways. Moreover ... the Court held:
‘Depending on the circumstances, live broadcasting of sound and pictures from a court hearing room may alter its characteristics, generate additional pressure on those involved in the trial and, even, unduly influence the manner in which they behave and hence prejudice the fair administration of justice. ...’
(22) The Court also held that the national authorities, particularly the courts, were best placed to assess whether in the individual case the broadcasting of proceedings would conflict with the ’fair administration of justice’. By way of conclusion the Court noted that on this point the Contracting States must enjoy a ’wide margin of appreciation’. Thus the general rule provided for in section 131A of the Administration of Courts Act, which applies equally to broadcasting and the taking of photographs, was not found to be problematic in relation to Article 10 of the Convention.
(23) ...It must be assumed that the margin of appreciation with regard to measures that are considered necessary with a view to securing ‘fair administration of justice’ is relatively broad.
(24) The opinions expressed in this decision must also have a bearing in relation to section 131A(1), second sentence, of the 1915 Act. The interests that the prohibition against the taking of photographs seeks to safeguard have been summarised in the following way in a note on the case by the Director General of Public Prosecutions:
-Protection against identification through the taking of photographs.
- Protection against portrayal in photographs in situations in which the subject’s control is reduced.
- The safeguarding of one of the fundamental requirements for due process of law, namely that it should inspire trust and show consideration towards the persons involved. An accused or convicted person who has to force his or her way through press photographers and television teams may - quite apart from the issues of protection of personal integrity that arise - feel this to be a considerable additional burden.
- The need to protect the dignity and reputation of the courts. Since in general it is the courts that require the presence of the accused, which of itself may be burdensome, it is important that the courts should at the same time ensure that accused persons receive fair and considerate treatment. A failure to do so will affect not only the accused person him or herself, but also the court, which is required to ensure that the accused is treated in a considerate way in and in the vicinity of the court premises.
(25) This means that in addition to privacy considerations the prohibition against the taking of photographs is supported by entirely central principles for due process. Although the need to safeguard the openness of proceedings, including satisfactory opportunities for an active and alert press, is a central consideration, this means that a balancing of interests must be conducted. The legislators conducted this balancing of interests with the introduction of section 131A of the 1915 Act, and the penal provision in section 19(3), in connection with the enactment of the Criminal Procedure Act of 22 May 1981 nr. 25. It is apparent from the legislative history that the background to this was that the existing legislation, including the Photography Act of 1960, was not found to afford the accused and convicted persons sufficient protection against being treated as ‘fair game’ by the press, particularly in cases of major interest to the public.
(26) I should add that the provision has not been regarded as a problem in relation to Article 10 of the Convention. Doubt on this point has mainly attached to other aspects of the new Article 390C of the Criminal Code, which was enacted with the legislative change of 4 June 1999 nr. 37, but which has not yet entered into force. This provision entails an extension of the prohibition against the taking of photographs, inter alia in relation to suspected persons in the custody of the police. Given the position of our case, I will not discuss this in further detail.
(27) Accordingly I will now move on to consider whether in our case there exist entirely special considerations, cf. the Valebrokk decision, according to which the prohibition against the taking of photographs must yield to the freedom of expression. In paragraph 63 of the judgment in that case (HR-2003-00037-A63) the majority attached weight to the fact that the case - the harrowing child killings in Baneheia - had attracted extensive public interest and that the identity of the convicted person was known. It was also noted that the photographs might reveal something significant - in a negative sense - about his personality. The decisive point, however, which was discussed in paragraph 64, was that the photographs were by their nature corrective in that they showed a different and more unaffected reaction to the judgment than had been publicly expressed by defence counsel. This was viewed as information to which the public had a right in a case such as this.
(28) Applied to our case it is clear that the Orderud case, too, was horrifying and was the subject of enormous public interest. Moreover, B’s identity was already widely known when the photographs were taken. However, the photographs of B were in my view of an entirely different nature. The reaction that she displayed to the judgment - distress and sobbing - must be characterised as normal and expected in the circumstances. She was in a situation in which she had reduced control, in immediate connection with her conviction by the District Court - in other words she was within the core area of what the prohibition against the taking of photographs is intended to protect. The decisive point must therefore be whether other elements were present that would give the press the right to take the photographs and the public the right to see them.
(29) The decisive point as regards the District Court’s acquittal was that the arrest - which took place directly after judgment was pronounced - was perceived as a new situation in fact and in law. According to the District Court the arrest was an event that it was legitimate for the mass media to cover, including with the aid of photographs. In my view there are no grounds for maintaining that the arrest meant that ‘entirely special considerations’ applied. An arrest after a conviction by a court is not entirely unusual and would not have been unexpected in a serious homicide case such as the Orderud case, in which the accused persons had been at liberty throughout the trial. Moreover, I cannot conclude that the considerations that justify the protection against the taking of photographs in and around the court premises should be any less in such a situation. As long as the photographs do not show something entirely special, for example relating to the procedures of the police during the arrest itself, the protection must in my view remain the same.
(30) [The applicants’] defence counsel has argued forcibly that the shocking offences of which B was convicted and the extensive public interest in the case, gave the media a right and a duty to inform, even if this was contrary to the interests of the convicted persons. Moreover, in today’s media-based society this information would not be complete without photographs, which suggested that the scope of the prohibition against the taking of photographs should be limited. In my view the protection afforded to the convicted person pursuant to section 131A of the 1915 Act must in principle apply regardless of the nature of the case and of the media interest that the case evokes. In practice, persons who have been convicted of very serious and sensational crimes will usually not be able to avoid being identified. Nevertheless, the other considerations justifying the prohibition against the taking of photographs will be present, frequently to a greater degree than in the case of other convicted persons.
(32) I have accordingly concluded that the District Court’s acquittal is not based on a correct application of the law. The case has been sufficiently elucidated for the Supreme Court to render a new judgment, cf. Section 345 second paragraph of the Criminal Procedure Act. The Defendants have not objected to this. I find that [the applicants] must be convicted in accordance with the indictment and that the sentence proposed by the prosecution, a fine of NOK 10,000, in the alternative a prison sentence of 15 days, is appropriate for both parties.
(33) I will conclude by considering the criminal injuries compensation claim.
(34) B has filed a claim for damages for non-pecuniary loss, not to exceed NOK 50,000, from each of the accused. She submits that given their convictions for breaches of sections 131A and 198(3) of the 1915 Act, the preconditions for awarding damages pursuant to section 3-6(1), last sentence, of the Damage Compensation Act will also have been met. I agree that this may frequently be the case. However, I will not consider this further since this involves a ‘may’ provision and I do not find that there are sufficient grounds to award economic compensation in this case.
(35) It will be clear from my comments on the question of penalty that considerations of protection of personal privacy have not been dominant in my assessment. Moreover it is clear from B’s testimony that she was not even aware that the photographs had been taken. The violation lies solely in the publication of the photographs, which were not particularly conspicuous in relation to what had been published about her otherwise. This case has first and foremost revolved around the drawing of boundaries between the information work of the press and key principles of legal process. Given this situation it is my view that criminal sanctions against the editors in the form of fines will be sufficient for the purpose of emphasising that that boundary was transgressed and that there are no grounds for awarding damages.”
B. Relevant domestic law
Section 131A, as in force at the material time, of the Administration of Courts Act 1915 (domstolloven) provided:
“During oral proceedings in a criminal case, photographing, filming and radio - or television recordings are prohibited. It is also prohibited to take photographs or make recordings of the accused or the convicted on his or her way to, or from, the hearing or when he or she is staying inside the building in which the hearing takes place, without his or her consent.
If there are special reasons for doing so, the court may in the course of the proceedings make an exception from the [above] prohibition if it can be assumed that it would not unduly affect the examination of the case and no other reasons militate decisively against doing so. Before authorisation is given the parties should have an opportunity to express their views.”
Section 198(3) provided that the taking of photos or recordings made in breach of section 131A is punishable by the imposition of fines.
The applicants complained under Article 10 of the Convention that the Supreme Court’s judgment of 23 March 2004 entailed an interference with their right to freedom of expression that was not supported by sufficient reasons and was therefore not “necessary” within the meaning of this provision.
In so far as is relevant, Article 10 of the Convention reads:
“1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. ...
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, ... for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, ... or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”
A. Submissions of the parties
1. The Government’s arguments
The Government did not dispute the Supreme Court’s judgment of 23 March 2004 entailed an interference with the applicants’ freedom of expression, was prescribed by law and pursued a legitimate aim.
As to whether the interference was necessary in a democratic society the Government maintained that even though the Orderud case had been horrifying and the subject of enormous public interest, the photographs in question had been of limited public interest. B’s identity had been well known to the public at the time when the photographs had been taken. The arrest of the four freshly convicted persons admittedly represented developments of public interest, as was also recognized by the Supreme Court. However, a crucial fact for the assessment of the present case was that the impugned photographs had not been primarily used to illustrate the arrest. Rather than contributing to any debate of public interest, the sole purpose had been to satisfy readers’ curiosity about B’s emotional reaction to her conviction, which showed nothing abnormal or unexpected. Thus the impugned reporting in the present case fell outside the function of the press to serve as a public watchdog.
While not contesting the Court’s powers to make its own interpretation of the pictures in the context that they had been published, knowledge of national conditions was an important element in assessing the degree of public interest in a given subject. In the Government’s opinion, the national Supreme Court was better placed than the Court to assess this matter.
The Government maintained that although B’s previous co-operation with the press was a valid argument with regard to her general protection against being photographed, this consideration did not apply in the present case. The pictures had been taken shortly after she had been found guilty of having wilfully murdered three persons and sentenced to 21 years’ imprisonment. B had throughout the proceedings claimed her innocence. Both the fact that she had been found guilty and that she had been imposed the maximum penalty according to Norwegian law were clearly life-altering decisions for her, resulting in shock and utmost despair.
It was, in the Governments view, undisputable that, despite her previous co-operation with the press, in this particular situation B was entitled to the same protection against being photographed as any other person who had been convicted. She was in a situation of reduced self-control, which was precisely the kind of situation in which the prohibition was designed to afford protection. Convicted persons had, even in serious criminal cases like the present one, a legitimate right to be protected from being photographed in situations of reduced self-control. Without such a prohibition undignified situations could easily arise in which accused and convicted persons would have to force their way past photographers waiting outside the court room or in the immediate premises. Like in Von Hannover v. Germany, (no. 59320/00, § 68, ECHR 2004-VI), an additional element was that the photographs had been taken without B’s consent. The Government stressed that any person, including persons considered as public figures, had a legitimate interest in protection against being photographed in certain situations. This was certainly the case of convicted persons.
The Government, referring to the Court’s ruling in P4 Radio Hele Norge ASA v. Norway (dec.), no. 76682/01, ECHR 2003-VI, maintained that a wide margin of appreciation should apply in the instant case. The Supreme Court had furthermore presented relevant and sufficient reasons for accepting the interference.
The interference in this case had been of rather trivial nature in that it had only involved a restriction on the newspaper’s choice as to the means of imparting information. B’s reaction could have been appropriately described by words. The extent of the restriction had also been limited. According to Section 131A of the 1915 Act, the prohibition had included only the immediate vicinity of the court premises, i.e. normally up to the car parking area. Photographing beyond that point was not prohibited. Thus, the prohibition had entailed only a minor interference with the applicants’ freedom of expression. Accordingly, even the arrest could be illustrated in another way, for example by photographing B at the police station or in prison.
The Government further pointed out that rules which limited the right of the press to cover court proceedings could be found in the national legal systems of several European States. Sweden and Denmark had corresponding rules to those that applied in Norway.
In light of the above and, in particular, due process considerations and the need to protect the person concerned in a situation of reduced self-control following her conviction, the interference with the applicants’ freedom of expression was “necessary in a democratic society” within the meaning of Article 10 § 2 of the Convention.
2. The applicants’ arguments
The applicants did not dispute that the impugned interference was prescribed by law and pursued a legitimate aim.
As to whether the interference was necessary in a democratic society, the applicants did not contest that, generally, there would be weighty reasons for prohibiting the taking of photographs of defendants in criminal cases in court or on their way to or from the court. However, they argued that the reasons relied on by the Supreme Court in imposing the restrictions on the publication of the impugned photographs, although they were relevant, were not sufficient for the purposes of the necessity test to be carried out under Article 10 § 2 of the Convention.
The disputed pictures of B had been taken when she was arrested by the police, about half an hour after she had been convicted and sentenced in open court to the maximum statutory penalty for aiding and abetting triple murder. The delivery of the judgment had been broadcast live. Not only had there been a great public interest in the case as a whole but the arrest of B had marked a new development in the case of which the public had the right to be informed. The public interest had not laid in her identity, which had already been well known, but in the fact that she had been arrested and taken into police custody after being free for the last 18 months.
The applicants disputed the Government’s argument to the effect that pictorial reporting on a subject of public interest could only be regarded as covered by that interest if it showed something special or unexpected. In any event, when assessing the degree of public interest in the pictures at issue, regard should also be had to the fact that B’s own lawyer had been reported by the press to have stated that the arrest had been an unnecessary harassment by the police. Furthermore, the legitimacy of the arrest had been discussed in public by legal professionals, rendered by Dagbladet on 23 June 2001 and had definitely represented a turning point in the Orderud case.
The crucial question was not, as the Government claimed, whether the pictures had been of public interest, which they where, but whether there were sufficiently pressing needs to ban their publication. Neither the interests of B nor the interests of fair administration of justice required such a ban in the present case.
As to B’s interests, the Government had attached decisive weight to the fact that she had not consented to being photographed. However, it was contrary to press freedom to grant persons who, like B, had played a central role in issues of great public interest the opportunity to govern press coverage of such issues through their own consent. It would imply that B could use her consent to get media coverage when it suited her case and at the same time restrict media coverage by withholding consent when circumstances were less favourable to her or if she disliked the particular media coverage. B had actually made active use of the press when it suited her interests. This was especially so when she was released from custody in 1999. Due regard should also be given, as the District Court had done, to the fact that during the trial B and her husband had made themselves available to the press for photo sessions once a week. By having done so the public interest in her person had been increased and the need to protect her privacy had decreased.
In addition, as also noted by the District Court, the contents of the photographs could not be considered to have been particularly offensive or defamatory.
As regards the alleged interests pertaining to fair administration of justice, Government’s arguments were exclusively of a general nature and failed to substantiate why publication of the pictures would harm such interests. The applicants would not dispute that B, when she was leaving the court building, had been in a situation that fell within the prohibition in section 131A of the 1915 Act. However, the Supreme Court, which had dealt with the matter only in a general manner, had failed to assess any particular need relating to the particular photographs or to her specific circumstances. In the applicants’ opinion these were not such that the interference with their freedom of expression could be justified by the interests of protecting B’s privacy. The pictures had not been taken in court or immediately after the verdict or in the court building, but outside the court building half an hour after the verdict. There was no prohibition against taking photographs of an arrest, and it was exactly this latter circumstance that had motivated the taking and publishing of the pictures. In that sense, B had been outside the intended core protection area of section 131A.
In the applicant’s view, none of the general justifications for the prohibition in section 131A of the 1915 Act had applied with any or much strength in this case. Firstly, B had since long been identified and so protecting her against identification would have been futile. As to the second consideration – the need to protect the convicted person or the accused from being photographed in situations of reduced self control, the applicants stressed that B had left the court room when she understood that she was about to be convicted and had naturally reacted to the conviction. Before the pictures had been taken, she had spent more than half an-hour alone with her family and lawyers to gather herself. The Supreme Court had stated that the interests of protection of personal privacy had not been predominant. This was illustrated by the fact that none of the other persons convicted had complained about pictures having been taken of them and been published. Also the third consideration - to ensure that legal proceedings as far as possible inspire confidence in and show consideration for the persons involved - carried limited weight compared to the considerable public interest in the case generally and in the arrest of B specifically. To allow the taking and publishing of the pictures in the present case would not have undermined the prohibition in section 131A of 1915 Act. As to the fourth reason, the applicants stressed that the pictures had been taken in a parking area outside the court house and that it had been difficult therefore to see how they could have prejudiced the dignity and reputation of the judiciary.
The applicants emphasised that, contrary to what was suggested by the Supreme Court, none of the considerations relied on by the European Court in P4 Radio Hele Norge ASA, cited above, for allowing States a wide margin of appreciation applied in the present case. Whereas the disputed restriction in the former case had not involved the prohibition of publication of specific expressions, but only limitations of a more trivial nature on the freedom to report from the proceedings by the means of live radio broadcasting, the present case concerned criminal conviction of members of the press for publication of specific expressions, notably pictures that documented the arrest of B. Referring to the Court’s judgment in News Verlags GmbH & Co.KG v. Austria, (no. 31457/96, ECHR 2000-I), the applicants argued that pictorial reporting should be judged by the same standards as written articles in the media.
Finally, the applicants submitted that the interference complained of had been disproportionate to the legitimate aim pursued. In their view, the Supreme Court had erroneously adopted an approach which was the inverse of the one implied by Article 10 of the Convention. According to the Supreme Court, the question had not been whether there existed weighty reasons to justify the interference but, the other way round, whether there had existed very special considerations warranting the prohibition in section 131A to yield to the freedom of expression as protected by Article 10. In finding that a photograph must show something special in order to fall within the protection of Article 10, the Supreme Court had failed to have due regard to the freedom of speech. The application of such a norm constituted a serious infringement of the freedom of the media to report on serious criminal court cases.
In short, the applicants submitted, the disputed interference with the applicants’ right to freedom of expression was not offset by any weighty countervailing interests pertaining either to B’s interest of privacy or to considerations of fair administration of justice.
B. Assessment by the Court
The Courts considers, in the light of the parties’ submissions, that the complaint raises serious issues of facts and law under the Convention, the determination of which should depend on an examination of the merits. The Courts concludes therefore that the complaint is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention. No other ground for declaring it inadmissible has been established.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Decides to discontinue the application of Article 29 § 3 of the Convention;
Declares the application admissible, without prejudging the merits of the case.
Søren Nielsen Christos Rozakis
EGELAND AND HANSEID v. NORWAY DECISION
EGELAND AND HANSEID v. NORWAY DECISION