Thursday, May 14, 2009

Free speech vs. the jury trial system

There's an interesting case brewing here - it involves a jury foreman who spoke out to the media to voice his concern over the safety of a manslaughter verdict against a child carer who allegedly shook a child so violently it died. The conviction apparently relied entirely on circumstantial evidence and testimony of expert witnesses, and is itself currently being appealed.

See here for full text of the judgment.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Newspaper readers have Article 19 right to receive information

A new decision by the UN Human Rights Committee finds that every reader of a newspaper has an Article 19 right to "receive" the newspaper and material published by it. The case was brought by a newspaper editor whose paper was closed down, together with one of its readers. The Committee held:

"[T]he Committee is of the opinion that the application of the procedure of registration and re-registration of “Oina” did not allow Mr. Mavlonov, as the editor, and Mr. Sa’di, as a reader, to practice their freedom of expression, as defined in article 19, paragraph 2. The Committee notes that the State party has not made any attempt to address the authors’ specific claims, including Mr. Mavlonov’s reference to the decision of the Commission which suggests that the content of the “Oina” is the reason for the denial of the re-registration (see paragraph 2.6 above). Nor has it advanced arguments as to the compatibility of the requirements, which are de facto restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, which are applicable to the authors’ case, with any of the criteria listed in article 19, paragraph 3, of the Covenant. The Committee therefore finds that the right to freedom of expression under article 19 of the Covenant, respectively, Mr. Mavlonov’s ability to publish “Oina” and to impart information, and Mr. Sa’di’s right to receive information and ideas in print, has been violated. The Committee notes that the public has a right to receive information as a corollary of the specific function of a journalist and/or editor to impart information. It considers that Mr. Sa’di’s right to receive information as an “Oina” reader was violated by its non-registration."

The Committee also finds an Article 27 (right to culture) violation, given that the newspaper was a Tajik language one.

There is a strong dissent by Sir Nigel Rodley and Rafael Rivas Posada who disagree that readers have a self-standing Article 19 right to receive information:

"We find the Committee’s literalist reading of the right to receiving information and ideas is unconvincing. The Committee’s position would require it to treat every potential recipient of any information or ideas that have been improperly suffered under article 19 as a victim in the same way as the person having been prevented from expressing or imparting the information or ideas. Thus, it could find itself dealing with communication from every reader or viewer or listener of a medium of mass communication that has been improperly closed down or whose content has been improperly suppressed. This is not a ‘floodgates’ argument. Rather it is evident that its literalist approach may simply not be the most plausible interpretation of article 19(2). For us, this aspect of Mr. Sa’di’s complaint smacks of actio popularis."

While the Committee's reasoning could have been more elaborate, I do disagree with Rodley and Rivas - for reasons that will become obvious when you read the case.

See Mavlonov and Sa'adi v. Uzbekistan.