Application Number 41841/12

European Court of Human Rights

[Judgment delivered in French]

The applicant, a lawyer, had made remarks after a trial which acquitted a gendarme who had killed a young man of foreign origin by referring to the all-White composition of the jury. He received a disciplinary penalty. The ECtHR found a violation of Article 10.


Theme(s): Ethnic hatred

Date: 19 July 2018

Description of applicant(s): Lawyer

Brief Description of Facts: The case originated in the acquittal in 2009 of a gendarme who had killed a young man from a community of foreign origin, living in a working class neighbourhood, during a car chase in 2003. A few minutes after the verdict, in response to a question from a journalist, the applicant, a lawyer who had been representing the victim’s father, stated that the acquittal was not a surprise, given the ethnic composition of the jury, which was exclusively composed of “whites.” He received a disciplinary penalty. The ECtHR found a violation of Article 10.

(Alleged) target(s) of speech: Whites

The Court’s assessment of the impugned speech: The Court found that the contested remarks had been made as part of a debate on the functioning of the criminal justice system, in the context of media coverage of the case. In this context, the Court did not consider them to be insulting or racially motivated.

Important paragraph(s) from the judgment:

Para.61: In the present case, the Court considers that the remarks for which the applicant was accused, which concerned the functioning of the judiciary, in particular the proceedings before the Assize Court with the participation of a jury, and the conduct of a criminal trial concerning the use of firearms by the police, were part of a debate of general interest. It was therefore for the national authorities to ensure a high level of protection of freedom of expression, along with a particularly narrow margin of appreciation.

Para. 64: The Court emphasized that by using the expression “white, exclusively white” in relation to the jury to explain that, with other circumstances, this element made acquittal possible, the applicant referred to an ethnic characteristic which was the subject of debates, criticisms and even prohibition because of the historical issues to which it is attached and the discrimination that it can still frequently conceal. However, it does not appear to the Court that the applicant intended to accuse the jurors of prejudice of a racial nature. Rather, it considers that the statement was linked to a fairly broadly developed analysis according to which the impartiality of judges, whether professional or lay, is not a disembodied virtue but the result of in-depth work leading them to undo themselves of unconscious prejudices that may be rooted in geographic or social origins.

ECHR Article: Article 10

Decision: Violation

Use of ‘hate speech’ by the Court in its assessment? No

Note! The translation from French to English is our own.