Facts: The Applicant is the founder and owner of the publishing company “Metskaitliai”. In 2000 a Member of the Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) distributed a public announcement, stating that the texts published in “Lithuanian Calendar 2000” insulted persons of Polish, Russian and Jewish origin. In the same year the Vilnius City Second District Court found, relying mainly on expert opinion, that the Applicant promoted ethnic hatred by distribution of the material and thus a breach of the Code of Administrative Law Offences had occurred. The Court imposed on Mrs Balsytė-Lideikienė an administrative fine and ordered the confiscation of all copies of “Lithuanian Calendar 2000”.
Mrs Danutė Balsytė-Lideikienė appealed, claiming in particular a violation of Article 10 of the Convention. She also alleged a breach of her defence rights as caused by the absence of experts. In May 2001 the Supreme Administrative Court reviewed the case and dismissed the appeal.
Issue: The case was brought to the Court to decide whether there is a violation of Articles 6 § 1 (Right to a fair trial) and 10 (Freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Holding: Yes, there has been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
No, there has been no violation of Article 10 of the Convention.
Court’s Rationale: The Court emphasizes the importance of the experts’ opinions and the fact that when finding the Applicant guilty, the national courts directly relied on their conclusions and reports and quoted professionals. The Court concluded that the Applicant had not been given the opportunity to question the experts in order to subject their credibility to scrutiny or cast any doubt on their conclusions. For these reasons, the Court held that there had been a violation of Article 6 of the Convention.
Moreover, the Court paid special attention to the specific language used in “Lithuanian Calendar 2000”. Due to the experts a one-sided description of particular nationalities (especially Poles and Jews) and relations between particular nations “hindered the consolidation of civil society and promoted national hatred”. The Court concluded that the domestic authorities, in the circumstances of the case, had not overstepped their margin of appreciation by considering that there was a pressing social need to take measures against Mrs Balsyte-Lideikiene.
Finally, the Court noted that even though the confiscation measure imposed on the Applicant could be deemed relatively serious and that the fine was only a warning, this was the mildest administrative punishment available. Furthermore, the Court considered that the interference with the Applicant’s right to freedom of expression could thus reasonably be considered necessary in a democratic society for the protection of the reputation or rights of others within the meaning of Article 10 § 2 of the Convention. Consequently the Court held that there had not been a breach of Article 10 of the Convention.
Just satisfaction: Mrs Balsyte-Lideikiene was awarded 2,000 Euros in respect of non-pecuniary damages and 1,645 Euros for costs and expenses.