European Court of Human Rights

Castells v. Spain

14 E.H.R.R. 445

The applicant was an elected representative of an opposition party in Spain. He published in a weekly magazine an article criticizing the government. He was convicted of insulting the government, and was disqualified from public office. During his trial, the Spanish courts ruled that evidence on the truth of the applicantís statements was inadmissible. The applicant complained that his prosecution and conviction violated his freedom of expression within the meaning of Article 10 of the Convention and discriminated against him within the meaning of Article 14 of the Convention, because similar material by other authors had been published with impunity.


Held, unanimously:

that the court had jurisdiction to consider the Governmentís preliminary objection, but that it be dismissed;

that there had been a violation of Article 10;

that it was not necessary also to consider the case under Article 14, taken together with Article 10;

that, as regards the non-pecuniary injury alleged, the judgment constituted sufficient just satisfaction for the purposes of Article 50;

that the Kingdom of Spain pay to the applicant, within three months, 3,000,000 pesetas for costs and expenses;

that the remainder of the applicantís claims be dismissed.

Freedom of expression: interference. (Art 10).

The prosecution and conviction of the applicant for insulting the government interfered with the applicantís freedom of expression, in particular because he was denied the ability to establish the truth of the challenged statements.

Freedom of expression: prescribed by law. (Art. 10).

The fact that a statutory provision is subject to differing interpretations and may apply to various situations, some of which have not yet be determined, and in casu is applied reasonably to a novel circumstance, does not detract from the provision being described by law.

Freedom of expression: legitimate aims. (Art. 10).

The proceedings against the applicant were instituted for the prevention of disorder because, as indicated by the national court concerned, during the social unrest obtaining at the relevant time, the security of the state could have been threatened by attempts to discredit democratic institutions.

Freedom of expression: necessary in a democratic society. (Art. 10).

Freedom of expression is an essential foundation of a democratic society. It is applicable to all information and ideas, whether inoffensive or offensive, shocking and disturbing. This is particularly true when ideas are voiced by an elected representative. Freedom of the press is also essential within certain prescribed limits, to disseminate information and ideas and to stimulate debate on matters of political and public interest. The limits of permissible criticism of government may be subject to measures, even of a criminal nature, to enable the government to react appropriately to defamatory, false and bad faith accusations for the purpose of preservation of public order. In casu, the denial to the applicant of his ability to adduce evidence of the truth of his statements was an unnecessary interference with his right to freedom of expression, in light of the applicantís good faith attempts to show his statements were susceptible to verification and regardless of the possible outcome of the case had such evidence been heard.