Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Sunday Times Case case brief summary

The Sunday Times Case case brief summary (1979, Euro Court on Human Rights)

Summary:  Distillers marketed a drug, a sedative given to pregnant women. It was discovered that it led to deformities in the fetus, and was subsequently taken off the market. There was a suit against Distillers by 389 plaintiffs, and they were in the midst of settling. The Sunday Times then decided to publish information on Distiller's actions prior to the public discovery of how harmful the drug was, and in that article, promised another article the next week detailing facts, which would strongly indicate Distiller's negligence. Distiller sought a an injunction against publishing of the article. The court granted the injunction, on the reasoning that "it might prevent the due and impartial administration of justice by affecting and prejudicing the mind of the tribunal itself, by affecting witnesses who were to be called or by prejudicing the free choice and conduct of a party to the litigation."

Procedural History:  The Times appealed,and the Court of Appeals discharged the injunction. Court said that public interest outweighed the potential prejudice to the party, and the law did not prevent comment when litigation was dormant.  Then, another appeal.

Discussion:  Court here says that freedom of speech shouldn’t be infringed, but it could not be allowed where there could be real prejudice to the administration of justice, and also importantly, the case was not dormant, but still active.

Lord Reid says the publication should be postponed for the time being in light of the circumstances.  Times then applied for the discharge of the injunction, claiming in constituted a breach of Art 10 of the Convention.  Art 10 - right to freedom of expression w/o interference by public authorities. Also says it's subject to "such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society…. For maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary."  There was interference by public authorities (the injunction)

Issue: Was the interference of freedom of expression necessary in a democratic society for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary?

Answer:  No. 

Holding: Violation of Art 10  the Court deciding that, though prescribed by law and for the purpose of maintaining the authority of the judiciary, the restriction was not justified by a 'pressing social need' and could not therefore be regarded as 'necessary' within the meaning of Article 10(2).

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