Tuesday, September 14, 2010

EGMR - Sanoma Uitgevers: Große Kammer stärkt Schutz journalistischer Quellen (und dreht Kammer-Urteil einstimmig um)

"Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and the safeguards to be afforded to the press are of particular importance." So leitet der EGMR seine allegmeinen Erwägungen in dem heute verkündeten Urteil der Großen Kammer im Fall Sanoma Uitgevers ein.

Es geht in diesem Fall um Fotos, die Journalisten - nach Zusicherung der Vertraulichkeit - anlässlich eines illegalen Straßenrennens gemacht hatten. In der Folge verlangte die Polizei die Herausgabe der  Fotos, da sie zur Identifizierung einer Bande dienen konnten, die es unter Gewaltanwendung und mit Schaufelladern auf das Knacken von Bankomaten abgesehen hatte; die Polizei hatte die Herausgabe der Fotos erst verlangt, als es bei einem solchen Bankomatenraub zur Anwendung einer Schusswaffe kam. Mit Urteil vom 31.03.2009 hatte die dritte Kammer des EGMR mit knapper Mehrheit von 4 zu 3 Stimmen keine Verletzung des Art 10 EMRK festgestellt und betont, dass auf die Umstände im Einzelfall abzustellen ist und sich der Fall in wesentlichen Punkten von den Fällen Ernst and Others, Roemen and Schmit und Voskuil unterschied (zum Kammer-Urteil siehe schon hier, sowie hier im ECHR-Blog).

Die Große Kammer kam - einstimmig - zu einem anderen Ergebnis, wobei der Kernpunkt der Entscheidung in der - nach Ansicht der großen Kammer des EGMR mangelhaften - gesetzlichen Grundlage liegt, die in den Niederlanden für einen Eingriff vorgesehen ist. Die Entscheidung obliegt nämlich in den Niederlanden einem Staatsanwalt, nicht aber einem unabhängigen Richter. Hier die zentralen Argument des Urteils:
88. Given the vital importance to press freedom of the protection of journalistic sources and of information that could lead to their identification any interference with the right to protection of such sources must be attended with legal procedural safeguards commensurate with the importance of the principle at stake. ...
90.  First and foremost among these safeguards is the guarantee of review by a judge or other independent and impartial decision-making body. The principle that in cases concerning protection of journalistic sources “the full picture should be before the court” was highlighted in one of the earliest cases of this nature to be considered by the Convention bodies (British Broadcasting Corporation, quoted above (see paragraph 54 above)). The requisite review should be carried out by a body separate from the executive and other interested parties, invested with the power to determine whether a requirement in the public interest overriding the principle of protection of journalistic sources exists prior to the handing over of such material and to prevent unnecessary access to information capable of disclosing the sources' identity if it does not.
91.  The Court is well aware that it may be impracticable for the prosecuting authorities to state elaborate reasons for urgent orders or requests. In such situations an independent review carried out at the very least prior to the access and use of obtained materials should be sufficient to determine whether any issue of confidentiality arises, and if so, whether in the particular circumstances of the case the public interest invoked by the investigating or prosecuting authorities outweighs the general public interest of source protection. It is clear, in the Court's view, that the exercise of any independent review that only takes place subsequently to the handing over of material capable of revealing such sources would undermine the very essence of the right to confidentiality.
92.  Given the preventive nature of such review the judge or other independent and impartial body must thus be in a position to carry out this weighing of the potential risks and respective interests prior to any disclosure and with reference to the material that it is sought to have disclosed so that the arguments of the authorities seeking the disclosure can be properly assessed. The decision to be taken should be governed by clear criteria, including whether a less intrusive measure can suffice to serve the overriding public interests established. It should be open to the judge or other authority to refuse to make a disclosure order or to make a limited or qualified order so as to protect sources from being revealed, whether or not they are specifically named in the withheld material, on the grounds that the communication of such material creates a serious risk of compromising the identity of journalist's sources (see, for example, Nordisk Film & TV A/S v. Denmark (dec.), no. 40485/02, cited above). In situations of urgency, a procedure should exist to identify and isolate, prior to the exploitation of the material by the authorities, information that could lead to the identification of sources from information that carries no such risk (see, mutatis mutandis, Wieser and Bicos Beteiligungen GmbH v. Austria, no. 74336/01, §§ 62-66, ECHR 2007-XI).
93.  In the Netherlands, since the entry into force of Article 96a of the Code of Criminal Procedure this decision is entrusted to the public prosecutor rather than to an independent judge. Although the public prosecutor, like any public official, is bound by requirements of basic integrity, in terms of procedure he or she is a “party” defending interests potentially incompatible with journalistic source protection and can hardly be seen as objective and impartial so as to make the necessary assessment of the various competing interests.
94.  According to the guideline of 19 May 1988, under B (see paragraph 37 above), the lawful seizure of journalistic materials required the opening of a preliminary judicial investigation and an order of an investigating judge. However, following the transfer of the power to issue surrender orders to the public prosecutor under Article 96a of the Code of Criminal Procedure, this guideline no longer served as a guarantee of independent scrutiny. As regards the quality of the law, it is therefore of no pertinence to the case before the Court.
95.  It is true, nonetheless, that the applicant company asked for the intervention of the investigating judge and that this request was granted. For the respondent Government and the Chamber the involvement of the investigating judge was considered to satisfy the requirement of adequate procedural safeguards.
96.  The Court, however, is not satisfied that the involvement of the investigating judge in this case could be considered to provide an adequate safeguard. It notes, firstly, the lack of any legal basis for the involvement of the investigating judge. Being nowhere required by law, it occurred at the sufferance of the public prosecutor.
97.  Secondly, the investigating judge was called in what can only be described as an advisory role. Although there is no suggestion that the public prosecutor would have compelled the surrender of the CD-ROM in the face of an opinion to the contrary from the investigating judge, the fact remains that the investigating judge had no legal authority in this matter - as he himself admitted (see paragraph 21 above). Thus it was not open to him to issue, reject or allow a request for an order, or to qualify or limit such an order as appropriate.
98.  Such a situation is scarcely compatible with the rule of law. The Court would add that it would have reached this conclusion on each of the two grounds mentioned, taken separately.
99.  These failings were not cured by the review post factum offered by the Regional Court, which was likewise powerless to prevent the public prosecutor and the police from examining the photographs stored on the CD-ROM the moment it was in their possession.
100.  In conclusion, the quality of the law was deficient in that there was no procedure attended by adequate legal safeguards for the applicant company in order to enable an independent assessment as to whether the interest of the criminal investigation overrode the public interest in the protection of journalistic sources. There has accordingly been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention in that the interference complained of was not “prescribed by law”.
Dass der Staatsanwalt von sich aus die Ermittlungen an einen unabhängigen Richter abgibt, ohne dazu gesetzlich verpflichtet zu sein, reicht damit nicht aus, um Art 10 EMRK zu erfüllen. Erinnert mich das an etwas?

Update: Wirklich lesenswert ist die zustimmende Sondermeinung des niederländischen Richters Egbert Myjer, in der er erklärt, weshalb er, der in der Kammerentscheidung mit der Mehrheit gestimmt und keine Verletzung des Art 10 EMRK festgestellt hatte, nunmehr mit allen anderen Richtern der Großen Kammer eine Verletzung des Art 10 festgestellt hat.
Und noch ein Hinweis auf ein weiteres Urteil vom heutigen Tag: im Fall  Dink gegen Türkei hat der EGMR auch eine Verletzung des Art 10 EMRK festgestellt (siehe mehr dazu auf der Übersichtsseite)

Update 19.9.2010: das Urteil Sanoma Uitgevers wird auch besprochen im ECHR-Blog und auf cearta.ie.

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