The Fourth Section of the Court of Human Rights today handed down judgment in the case of Pal v UK  ECHR 990, a case arising out of the arrest and prosecution of journalist Dr Rita Pal for harassing another journalist (referred to in the judgment as AB). It was held that this was a violation of Dr Pal’s Article 10 rights.
The factual background is remarkable. On 1 July 2014 Dr Pal wrote an article on the website, World Medical Times, which expressly referred to AB. It contained links to, inter alia, a judgment of the Bar Council concerning AB and a newspaper article concerning his representation at an Employment Tribunal, for which, according to the applicant, he was heavily criticised. The article ended with an invitation to readers to send the applicant any information they had about AB. On 23 November 2014 Dr Pal published a number of messages on Twitter which did not name AB but clearly referred to him. On 9 December 2014 AB complained again to the police about the contents of the article and the tweets.
On 18 December 2014 the Metropolitan Police arrested Dr Pal in Birmingham on suspicion of harassment. She was handcuffed, driven to London and detained 7 hours. On 22 January 2015 Dr Pal was charged with an offence of harassment but this prosecution was discontinued by the CPS in August 2015. According to the CPS file review, the article published by the applicant was “an informative piece” which was “derived simply from other information within the public domain” and was “presented by a journalist with a view to present facts than [sic] that must be permitted with freedom of speech rights under art 10”. The CPS further considered that the Tweets, which did not mention AB by name, could not amount to harassment.
Dr Pal’s made civil claims against the Metropolitan Police but they were dismissed by HHJ Freeland QC in January 2018. Permission to appeal was granted by Nicklin J in August 2018 ( EWHC 2837 (QB)) but her appeal to the High Court was dismissed by Goose J in November 2018 ( EWHC 2988 (QB)).
In its unanimous judgment the Fourth Section noted that it had not been established that the arresting officer, the officer responsible for deciding to charge the applicant, or the domestic courts had balanced Dr Pal’s right to freedom of expression and either AB’s right to respect for his private life and reputation or the need to prevent disorder or crime in accordance with the criteria for balancing rights .
In the absence of any findings by the domestic courts the Court concluded that the reasons given by the national authorities to justify the interference with the applicant’s Article 10 rights were neither relevant nor sufficient and there was a breach of Article 10. Dr Pal was awarded the sum of €2,500 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.