Violating human dignity during a public debate is not acceptable22 January 2018
As emphasized by the Constitutional Court in its recent decision: the freedom of expression enjoys extraordinary protection in the scope of debating public affairs, as it is a requirement under the formation of democratic public opinion that all citizens of the society should be able to express their thoughts freely. Accordingly, the expression of opinions about public affairs can only be restricted in a limited scope when it violates the unrestrictable essence of human dignity that determines the human status, i.e. if it is aimed at humiliating the human core of the other person. The freedom of expression shall not be applicable to such communications.
In the base case, the petitioner, as the head of a new institute of historical research, expressed his position in an interview about the deportations to Kamianets-Podilskyi in 1941. The defendant of the base case, who was also a historian, criticised, in the programme of a news television, the statement made by the petitioner and he also criticised the political ideology followed by the petitioner and the historical research institute headed by him. A day later the petitioner refined his position that had been explained earlier and apologised in public to those who had been insulted by his statement. The petitioner then turned to court, complaining about the defendant’s statement and he asked for the establishment of the injury of his reputation and human dignity. Following a judgement in favour of the defendant, he subsequently filed a constitutional complaint to the Constitutional Court.
The Constitutional Court first examined whether the higher level of constitutional protection allowing the debating of public affairs was applicable to the defendant’s statement challenged by the petitioner. As the statements made by the petitioner and the defendant were connected to the processing of the historical past, the debate was considered to be one in the public interest. Next the Constitutional Court examined whether the defendant’s expression of opinion was a statement of fact or a value judgement and the Court established that it expressed a value judgement. Finally the Constitutional Court established: the criticism expressed by the defendant did not fell outside the scope of protecting the freedom of expression, i.e. it was not merely aimed at humiliation.
It should be underlined that the Constitutional Court could only examine whether the courts that had acted in the base case had realised the fundamental rights’ aspects of the case and whether the challenged decision had any deficiency of consideration that might have resulted in the violation of the Fundamental Law. As in the present case the Constitutional Court could not identify such a deficiency, it has rejected the constitutional complaint.
Judges Dr. István Balsai, Dr. Egon Dienes-Oehm, Dr. Imre Juhász, Dr. Béla Pokol, Dr. László Salamon, Dr. Mária Szívós and Dr. András Varga Zs. attached dissenting opinions to the decision. The full text of the decision of the Constitutional Court is available on the Constitutional Court’s website (alkotmanybirosag.hu).
Budapest, 22 December 2017