Court of Human RightsThe Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has dismissed the application in the case of Animal Defenders International v United Kingdom.  In a decision made by a majority of 9 votes to 8, the Grand Chamber held that the UK’s ban on political advertising in the broadcast media was not a violation of Article 10 of the Convention.

Judgment ([2013] ECHR 362) was handed down by the Grand Chamber this morning, more than a year after the original hearing. The majority attached considerable weight to the fact that the ban had been upheld by parliamentary and judicial bodies and their decision that it was “necessary to prevent the distortion of crucial public interest debates” [116]  The Court also thought that it was important that the prohibition was specifically circumscribed to address the risk of distortion [117].  It noted that there was not European consensus as to how to regulate paid political advertising and this suggested that a wide margin appreciation should be allowed [123].  Finally, it noted that other media were open to the applicant [124].

The UK judge, Sir Nicholas Bratza, delivered a concurring opinion which he noted that the role of the Strasbourg Court was not to carry out its own balancing test.

The dissenting judges noted that the case was almost identical to previous cases before the Court where the outcome had been a finding of violation.

The decision is likely to be welcomed by many sections of the British political and media establishment.  Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is reported to have said that this issue was “outside the court’s remit” while the Daily Mail previewed the decision under the headline “Britain faces threat of US-style political TV ‘attack’ adverts”. 

The Inforrm case preview can be found here.  We will publish a full case comment in due course.