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Freedom or Feardom of Expression of Judges? Exploring the ‘Chilling Effect’ on Judicial Speech

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 July 2023

Mohor Fajdiga
Affiliation:
University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, email: mohor.fajdiga@pf.uni-lj.si
Saša Zagorc
Affiliation:
University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, email: sasa.zagorc@pf.uni-lj.si

Abstract

Freedom of expression of judges – ‘Chilling effect’ of measures taken against judges (and prosecutors) – Silence or modification of speech – Rule of law crisis – ‘Chilling effect’ as one of the circumstances determining the proportionality of an interference with freedom of expression – Flexible approach in determining the sources of the ‘chilling effect’ – Little attention devoted by the Court to the quality of legislative enactment – Measures may not have imminent repercussions for a given judge, may be light, and may take the form of a threat – ‘Chilling effect’ may extend from one legal profession to another – ‘Chilling effect’ explains why the Court affords greater protection of freedom of expression to prominent judges – Greater consistency in the Court’s application of the ‘chilling effect’ argument would be welcome – First step of an ambitious research quest to determine whether judges feel free to express their opinions, or live in a state of feardom.

Type
Article
Copyright
© The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the University of Amsterdam

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References

1 ECtHR (GC) 23 June 2016, No. 20261/12, Baka v Hungary.

2 M. Gałczyńska, ‘Attack of the Disciplinary Commissioners on Judge Żurek. “They Are Ridiculing Themselves”‘ (Rule of Law 1 June 2022) https://ruleoflaw.pl/attack-of-the-disciplinary-commissioners-on-judge-zurek-they-are-ridiculing-themselves/, visited 9 June 2023.

3 ECtHR 16 June 2022, No. 39650/18, Żurek v Poland.

4 ‘Chilling effect’ was born in US Supreme Court decisions in the 1950s and 1960s. It was embraced by national, regional, and global actors at large. See, for example, UNHRC, General Comment No. 34: Article 19: Freedoms of opinion and expression, 102nd session, Geneva, 11-29 July 2011, para. 47; IACtHR 3 September 2012, Uzcátegui et al. v Venezuela.

5 H. Bosmajian, Metaphor and Reason in Judicial Opinions (Southern Illinois University Press 1992).

6 The first article dedicated to the ‘chilling effect’ dates back to 1968: unknown author, ‘The Chilling Effect in Constitutional Law’, 69 Columbia Law Review (1969) p. 808. F. Schauer, ‘Fear, Risk and the First Amendment: Unravelling the “Chilling Effect”‘, 58 Boston University Law Review (1978) p. 685; D. Solove, ‘A Taxonomy of Privacy’, 154 University of Pennsylvania Law Review (2006) p. 477; L. Kendrick, ‘Speech, Intent, and the “Chilling Effect”‘, 54 William & Mary Law Review (2013) p. 1633; R.A. Sedler, ‘Self-Censorship and the First Amendment’, 25 Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy (2012); M. Youn, ‘The Chilling Effect and the Problem of Private Action’, 66 Vanderbilt Law Review (2013) p. 1471; J.W. Penney, ‘Understanding Chilling Effects’, 106 Minnesota Law Review (2022) p. 1451.

7 R.Ó. Fathaigh, ‘Article 10 and the Chilling Effect : A Critical Examination of How the European Court of Human Rights Seeks to Protect Freedom of Expression from the Chilling Effect’ (dissertation, Ghent University 2019) http://hdl.handle.net/1854/LU-8620369, visited 9 June 2023; T. Baumbach, ‘Chilling Effect as a European Court of Human Rights’ Concept in Media Law Cases’, 6 Bergen Journal of Criminal Law & Criminal Justice (2018) p. 92; J. Townend, ‘Freedom of Expression and the Chilling Effect’, in H. Tumber and S. Waisbord (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Media and Human Rights (Routledge 2017) p. 73.

8 L. Pech, ‘The Concept of Chilling Effect: Its Untapped Potential to Better Protect Democracy, the Rule of Law, and Fundamental Rights in the EU’ (Open Society Foundations 2021) https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/publications/the-concept-of-chilling-effect, visited 9 June 2023.

9 W. MacKay, ‘Judicial Free Speech and Accountability: Should Judges Be Seen but Not Heard?’, 3 National Journal of Constitutional Law (1993) p. 159; H.P. Lee (ed.), Judiciaries in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge University Press 2011); S. Shetreet and S. Turenne, Judges on Trial: The Independence and Accountability of the English Judiciary, 2nd edn. (Cambridge University Press 2013); S. Dijkstra, ‘The Freedom of the Judge to Express His Personal Opinions and Convictions under the ECHR’, 13 Utrecht Law Review (2017) p. 1; D. Kosař and K. Šipulová, ‘The Strasbourg Court Meets Abusive Constitutionalism: Baka v. Hungary and the Rule of Law’, 10 Hague Journal on the Rule of Law (2018) p. 83; J. Jahn, ‘Social Media Communication by Judges: Assessing Guidelines and New Challenges for Free Speech and Judicial Duties in the Light of the Convention’, in M. Elósegui et al. (eds.) The Rule of Law in Europe: Recent Challenges and Judicial Responses (Springer 2021) p. 137; A. Seibert-Fohr, ‘Judges’ Freedom of Expression and Their Independence: An Ambivalent Relationship’, in M. Elósegui et al. (eds.) The Rule of Law in Europe: Recent Challenges and Judicial Responses (Springer 2021) p. 89; S. Dijkstra, Walking the Tightrope: The Judge and His Freedom to Express His Personal Opinions and Convictions (Eleven International Publishing 2023).

10 Fathaigh’s dissertation examines judicial free speech along with the freedom of expression of lawyers as one of the categories of cases analysed. Given the important recent developments in the European Court of Human Rights’ case law and the fundamentally different roles of judges and lawyers, his insights can be valuable, but are not sufficient: Fathaigh, supra n. 7.

11 See e.g. Schauer, supra n. 6.

12 See, e.g., D. Bar-Tal, ‘Self-Censorship as a Socio-Political-Psychological Phenomenon: Conception and Research’, 38 Advances in Political Psychology (2017) p. 37; A.F. Hayes et al., ‘Validating the Willingness to Self-Censor Scale: Individual Differences in the Effect of the Climate of Opinion on Opinion Expression’, 17 International Journal of Public Opinion Research (2005) p. 443.

13 Sedler terms this self-censorship good: Sedler, supra n. 6, p. 14.

14 Schauer, supra n. 6, p. 698. S. Bedi, ‘The Myth of the Chilling Effect’, 35 Harvard Journal of Law & Technology (2021) p. 268 at p. 273.

15 We understand inertia as passivity, which results from a lack of awareness of the importance of freedom of expression and a lack of incentives to speak out.

16 E. Noelle-Neumann, ‘The Spiral of Silence A Theory of Public Opinion’, 24 Journal of Communication (1974) p. 43.

17 Penney, supra n. 6, p. 1469.

18 Kendrick, supra n. 6, p. 1678. Bedi, supra n. 14, p. 274; Townend, supra n. 7, p. 77–78. Penney recently argued that such conventional understanding of the ‘chilling effect’ is insufficient and proposes an alternative theory of the ‘chilling effect’ that relies on social science insights. He claims that the ‘chilling effect’ has a productive side in the sense that it may encourage speech, if this is the social norm in a particular context: Penney, supra n. 6. However, the influence of his recent work has not yet reached the courts.

19 Kendrick, supra n. 6, p. 1639, 1649. Kendrick notes that the idea of deterrence forms the basis of other legal doctrines, such as the exclusionary rule in criminal proceedings.

20 Joint dissenting opinion of Judges Costa and Thomassen in ECtHR (GC) 10 June 2003, No. 33348/96, Cumpănă and Mazăre v Romania, para. 7; Arnett v Kennedy, 416 U.S. 134 (1974) p. 134 (Marshall J., dissenting).

21 Schauer, supra n. 6, p. 696-701; Kendrick, supra n. 6, p. 1645, 1654.

22 Schauer, supra n. 6, p. 700-701; Kendrick, supra n. 6, p. 1652.

23 In the US context, authors use the term ‘unprotected’ speech to describe speech which, by definition, has no societal value and thus does not come under the ambit of the First Amendment.

24 Fathaigh, supra n. 7, p. 250, 374, points to ECtHR 25 November 2008, No. 23373/03, Biriuk v Lithuania, and ECtHR 23 June 2016, No. 22567/09, Brambilla and Others v Italy.

25 Cf. Pech, supra n. 8, who defines the ‘chilling effect’ as inherently negative.

26 Schauer, supra n. 6, terms this a benign ‘chilling effect’. See also Townend, supra n. 7, p. 77.

27 Of course, under the assumption that there is no alternative legislative solution that would further the governmental interest to the same extent while having a weaker ‘chilling effect’.

28 Kendrick, supra n. 6, p. 1683. Schauer, supra n. 6, uses the term invidious chilling effect.

29 ECtHR 8 December 2020, No. 33794/14, Panioglu v Romania, para. 123; ECtHR 8 December 2005, No. 40485/02, Nordisk Film & Tv A/S v Finland.

30 Schauer, supra n. 6, p. 692-701.

31 As shown by Fathaigh, the European Court of Human Rights embraced the ‘chilling effect’ argument under the influence of the jurisprudence of the US Supreme Court, where the ‘chilling effect’ doctrine was born. See Fathaigh, supra n. 7, p. 17-38.

32 Wieman v Updegraff, 344 U.S. 183, 195 (1952); Gibson v Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, 372 U.S. 539 (1963). See also Townend, supra n. 7, p. 74.

33 New York Times Co. v Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 271-272 (1964).

34 Gertz v Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 342 (1974).

35 Schauer, supra n. 6, p. 708.

36 Cf. Penney, supra n. 6, p. 1475, 1476, 1512, 1513.

37 Schauer, supra n. 6, p. 702, 703, 732.

38 Ibid., p. 732.

39 In the words of the Court, the ‘chilling effect’ ‘works to the detriment of society as a whole’: Baka, supra n. 1, para. 167; ECtHR (GC) 15 December 2005, No 73797/01, Kyprianou v Cyprus, para. 174.

40 Fathaigh, supra n. 7, p. 367; Baumbach, supra n. 7, p. 92.

41 Schauer, supra n. 6, p. 692, points to other ‘affirmative’ rights and positive guarantees such as freedom of association, the right to counsel, and equality. See also Pech, supra n. 8, p. 9-10.

42 Even on speech itself: Penney, supra n. 6, p. 1511-1513.

43 Townend, supra n. 7, p. 78; Schauer, supra n. 6, p. 709.

44 Fathaigh, supra n. 7, p. 352, found that between 1959 and 2018 more than 70% of the judgments in which the European Court of Human Rights refer to the ‘chilling effect’ concerned Art. 10.

45 Schauer, supra n. 6, p. 692, 704, 705; D.A. Farber, ‘Free Speech without Romance: Public Choice and the First Amendment’, 105 Harvard Law Review (1991) p. 554.

46 Townend, supra n. 7, p. 73.

47 Kendrick, supra n. 6, p. 1638.

48 Bedi, supra n. 14, p. 281-284; Penney, supra n. 6, p. 1462.

49 Kendrick, supra n. 6, p. 1638.

50 Added by the authors.

51 Kendrick, supra n. 6, p. 1633; Bedi, supra n. 14.

52 Penney, supra n. 6, p. 1461.

53 Kendrick, supra n. 6, p. 1685-1687.

54 However, the Court sometimes refers to the ‘chilling effect’ also when determining the victim status, the existence of the interference or the question of whether the interference was prescribed by law. Here the ‘chilling effect’ seems to be used to justify the Court’s scrutiny of situations where concrete measures have not (yet) been taken or have failed to produce any meaningful consequences for the applicant. An example from the field of freedom of expression of judges is ECtHR (GC) 28 October 1999, No. 28396/95, Wille v Liechtenstein (see Fathaigh, supra n. 7, p. 355-358).

55 Baka, supra n. 1, paras. 162-165. Cf. ECtHR (GC) 27 June 2017, No. 931/13, Satakunnan Markkinapörssi Oy and Satamedia Oy v Finland, paras. 125-126. See also ECtHR, Guide on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Registry of the ECtHR 2022), https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Guide_Art_10_ENG.pdf, visited 9 June 2023.

56 UN Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, adopted by the Judicial Group on Strengthening Judicial Integrity, November 2002, para 4.6.

57 ECtHR (GC) 23 April 2015, No. 29369/10, Morice v France, para. 129.

58 Baka, supra n. 1, para. 164; ECtHR (GC) 28 October 1999, No. 28396/95, Wille, supra n. 54, para. 64; ECtHR 5 August 2020, No. 3594/19, Kövesi v Romania, para. 201; ECtHR 26 February 2009, No. 29492/05, Kudeshkina v Russia, para 93; ECtHR 9 July 2013, No. 51160/06, Di Giovanni v Italy, para. 80.

59 Wille, supra n. 54, para. 67, Baka, supra n. 1, para. 165.

60 Baka, supra n. 1, para. 166.

61 Ibid., para. 162; ECtHR 31 January 2008, No. 38406/97, Albayrak v Turkey, para. 42; ECtHR 15 October 2020, No. 965/12, Guz v Poland, para. 84.

62 Kudeshkina, supra n. 58, para. 90; Baka, supra n. 1, para. 167.

63 ECtHR 30 June 2020, No. 58512/16, Cimperšek v Slovenia; paras. 66-69; ECtHR 9 March 2021, No. 76521/12, Eminağaoğlu v Turkey, para. 148.

64 E.g. Baka, supra n. 1, para. 165.

65 In ECtHR 9 March 2021, No. 1571/07, Bilgen v Turkey, para. 79, the Court emphasised that judges are loyal to the rule of law and democracy and not to the holders of state power. This was reiterated in ECtHR (GC) 15 March 2022, No. 43572/18, Grzęda v Poland, para. 264.

66 Baka, supra n. 1, para. 171; Kövesi, supra n. 58, para 207; ECtHR 19 October 2021, No. 40072/13, Miroslava Todorova v Bulgaria, para. 175.

67 See Dijkstra, supra n. 9; Baka, supra n. 1, ECtHR 11 December 2018, No. 26238/10; Brisc v Romania, Kövesi, supra n. 58.

68 Baka, supra n. 1, para. 149–151; Kövesi, supra n. 58, para 189.

69 See Pech, supra n. 8.

70 Wille, supra n. 54.

71 Before Wille, the European Commission for Human Rights found no violation of the freedom of expression of a judge who had distributed political leaflets concerning the 1980 riot in Zurich: EComHR 7 May 1984, No. 10279/83, E. v Switzerland.

72 In ECtHR (GC) 27 March 1996, No. 17488/90, Goodwin v the United Kingdom – a grand chamber judgment concerning the protection of journalistic sources – the Court explicitly mentioned and applied the ‘chilling effect’ concept for the first time. In ECtHR 8 July 1986, No. 9815/82, Lingens v Austria, para. 44, the ‘chilling effect’ was not explicitly mentioned, but was at the heart of the Court’s reasoning. See also ECtHR 8 October 1991, No. 14644/89, Times Newspapers Ltd. and Neil v the United Kingdom.

73 Wille, supra n. 54, para. 50.

74 Kudeshkina, supra n. 58.

75 See supra fn. 58.

76 E.g. Panioglu, supra n. 29. See, mutatis mutandis, Nordisk Film & Tv A/S, supra n. 29.

77 Fathaigh, supra n. 7, p. 358, mentions three cases: ECtHR (GC) 14 September 2010, No. 38224/03, Sanoma Uitgevers B.V. v the Netherlands; ECtHR 13 September 2018, Nos. 58170/13, 62322/14 and 24960/15, Big Brother Watch and Others v the United Kingdom; and ECtHR 25 October 2011, No. 27520/07, Altuğ Taner Akçam v Turkey.

78 Panioglu, supra n. 29, paras. 54, 79 and 107.

79 ECtHR 1 March 2022, No. 16695/19, Kozan v Turkey.

80 Ibid., para. 32.

81 Ibid., paras. 53-57.

82 Eminağaoğlu, supra n. 63, para. 130.

83 Penney, supra n. 6, p. 1504. J.W. Penney, ‘Internet Surveillance, Regulation, and Chilling Effects Online: A Comparative Case Study’, 6 Internet Policy Review (2017).

84 Schauer, supra n. 6, p. 696.

85 Kozan, supra n. 79, para. 68; Guz, supra n. 61, paras. 95-96.

86 Panioglu, supra n. 29, paras. 120, 123.

87 In ECtHR (GC) 17 December 2004, No. 33348/96 Cumpănă and Mazăre v Romania, paras. 114, 118, the Court recognised the ‘chilling effect’ as evident, despite there not being ‘any significant practical consequences for the applicants’. For more examples, see Fathaigh, supra n. 7, p. 364–366.

88 ECtHR 29 June 2004, No. 62584/00, Harabin v Slovakia. This is also confirmed by Pech, supra n. 8, p. 26, 29 and Bárd, who refers to ECJ (GC) 23 November 2021, Case C-564/19, IS (Illégalité de l’ordonnance de renvoi): P. Bárd, ‘In Courts We Trust, or Should We? Judicial Independence as the Precondition for the Effectiveness of EU Law’, 27 European Law Journal (2022) p. 1.

89 Harabin, supra n. 88.

90 ECtHR 28 June 2022, No. 36584/17, M.D. and others v Spain.

91 Ibid., paras. 83–91.

92 Youn, supra n. 6; Penney, supra n. 6, p. 1475-1477.

93 ECtHR 10 January 2019, Nos. 65286/13 and 57270/14, Khadija Ismayilova v Azerbaijan, paras. 159, 160.

94 Ibid.

95 ECtHR (GC) 7 December 1976, No. 5493/72, Handyside v the United Kingdom, para. 49; Wille, supra n. 54, para. 43; Baka, supra n. 1, para. 140.

96 Kövesi, supra n. 58, para. 209; Miroslava Todorova, supra n. 66, para. 176.

97 ECtHR (GC) 12 February 2008, No. 14277/04, Guja v Moldova, para. 95.

98 Ibid.

99 Wille, supra n. 54, para. 50

100 E.g. Baka, supra n. 1, para. 173.

101 For example, the cases Baka, supra n. 1 and Kövesi, supra n. 58 are similar in many aspects. However, the Court limited the personal scope in Baka only to other judges and court presidents (para. 173), whereas in Kövesi the Court held that the ‘chilling effect’ must have affected not only the applicant but also other prosecutors and judges (para. 209).

102 See, e.g., Kövesi, supra n. 58; Baka, supra n. 1, para. 166; and Miroslava Todorova, supra n. 66, paras. 173-177.

103 Wille, supra n. 54, para. 64; Eminağaoğlu, supra n. 63, paras. 135, 139.

104 Wille, supra n. 54, para. 64.

105 Żurek, supra n. 3, para. 222.

106 As was the case in, for example, Kövesi, supra n. 58; Baka, supra n. 1; and Wille, supra n. 54.

107 Miroslava Todorova, supra n. 66, paras. 173-177.

108 Żurek, supra n. 3, para. 227.

109 See, mutatis mutandis, ECtHR (GC) 15 November 2018, Nos. 29580/12, 36847/12, 11252/13, 12317/13, and 43746/14, Navalnyy v Russia, para. 152.

110 Penney, supra n. 6, p. 1501, 1509.

111 Cimperšek, supra n. 63, paras. 66-69; Eminağaoğlu, supra n. 63, para. 148.

112 Adoption of Protocol No. 15 amending the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Strasbourg, 2013.

113 Miroslava Todorova, supra n. 66, para. 177.

114 Di Giovanni, supra n. 58; Albayrak, supra n. 61; Brisc, supra n. 67; ECtHR 8 October 2020, No. 41752/09, Goryaynova v Ukraine.

115 ECtHR 17 February 2015, No. 28727/11, Kudeshkina v Russia (No. 2), para. 78.

116 Kudeshkina, supra n. 58.

117 ECtHR, No. 20592/21, Bakaradze v Georgia (communicated in October 2021); ECtHR, No. 63029/19, Sarisu Pehlivan v Turkey (communicated in November 2019); ECtHR, No. 26360/19, Manole v Moldova (communicated in June 2020); ECtHR, No. 46238/20, Morawiec v Poland (communicated in July 2022); ECtHR, No. 27444/22, Gąciarek v Poland (communicated 10 July 2022); ECtHR, No. 6904/22, Wrobel v Poland (communicated in April 2022); ECtHR, No. 51751/20, Tuleya v Poland (No. 2) (communicated in July 2021); and ECtHR, No. 21181/19, Tuleya v Poland (communicated in September 2020). The Court has decided that all cases relating to judicial reforms in Poland are to be treated as urgent (category I) (ECtHR (Press Unit), ‘Poland – Press Country Profile’, p. 8, https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/CP_Poland_ENG.pdf, visited 9 June 2023).

118 ‘The state of having freedom, but being afraid of expressing it’ (Urban Dictionary: ‘Feardom’), https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=feardom, visited 9 June 2023; ‘The state of living in fear or being subject to laws and policies based on fear’ (Wordspy: ‘Feardom’), https://wordspy.com/words/feardom/, visited 9 June 2023.