CASE OF ARMONIENĖ v. LITHUANIA – Application no._36919/02

Posted on February 11, 2010

Facts: The Applicant, Judita Armonienė, is a Lithuanian national. The case concerned the Applicant’s right to effective protection of the right to private life and the state’s obligation to penalize acts damaging one’s reputation.

In 2002 a major Lithuanian newspaper disclosed information that the Applicant’s husband, Mr Laimutis Armonas, is HIV positive and that he has two children with a woman, who he was not married to and who also had AIDS.

The Lithuanian courts awarded him the maximum sum for non-pecuniary damage – about 2,900 €. The Applicant appealed, arguing that the adjudged sum of money was inappropriate and that there was a violation of her husband’s right to an effective domestic remedy.

Issue: The case was brought to the Court to decide whether the sum awarded in damages was a violation of the Applicant’s human rights under Article 8 of the ECHR – the right to respect for a family’s private life.

Holdings: Yes, there had been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.

Court’s rationale: The Court noted that the publication of the article about the HIV status of the Applicant’s husband and the information that he was the father of two children by another woman who was suffering from AIDS “cannot be deemed to contribute to any debate of general interest to society”. The Court emphasized that the family lived in a village rather than a big city, therefore such information could lead to opprobrium and the risk of ostracism. Furthermore, the Court states that the publication of such information in the biggest national daily newspaper could have a negative impact on the willingness of others to take voluntary HIV tests.

The Court agrees that a State enjoys a certain margin of appreciation in deciding how to interpret “respect” for private life in particular circumstances. However, the Court stated that facts such as the economic situation of the State should be taken into account when determining the sum of compensation. The imposition of financial limits is not in itself incompatible with a State’s positive obligation under Article 8 of the Convention, however, they cannot deprive the individual of his or her privacy and thereby empty the right of its effective content. In this regard compensation payments or fines which are too high may have a chilling effect on the freedom of the press and therefore constitute a breach of Article 10 of the Convention. Nevertheless, in the presented application, the severe legislative limitations failed to provide the Applicant with the protection that could have legitimately been expected under Article 8 of the Convention.

Just satisfaction: The court held that Lithuania was to pay the applicant the sum of 6,500 €.

Dissenting opinion: Judges Popović and Tsotsoria expressed a partly dissenting opinion and judge Zagrebelsky expressed a dissenting opinion, which are annexed to the judgments.

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