Europese Hof voor de Rechten van de Mens, 28 oktober 2003

(mrs. Costa, Loucaides, Bîrsan, Jungwiert, Butkevych, Thomassen, Mularoni)


Dit arrest is uitvoerig besproken door Taru Spronken (Advocatenblad 12 maart 2004, p. 172-174). Het arrest is eveneens gepubliceerd in Mediaforum, januari 2004, p. 13-16, m.nt. GJK. Omdat in die publicaties de naam van de advocaat in kwestie al is genoemd, wordt hij hier niet als ‘mr. X’ aangeduid.

Een klacht over de wijze waarop een advocaat, bij de uitoefening van zijn beroep, zich heeft uitgelaten over derden heeft betrekking op zijn vrijheid van meningsuiting, terwijl daarnaast de aanspraak van zijn cliënt op een eerlijk proces in het geding is. Zelfs een door de tuchtrechter gegrond bevonden klacht zonder dat een maatregel wordt opgelegd vormt een beperking van de vrijheid van de advocaat. In zo een geval dient te worden vastgesteld of die beperking noodzakelijk is in een democratische samenleving.

– EVRM artikelen 6, 10

– Advocatenwet artikel 46 (3.3.1 Grievende uitlatingen)

– Gedragsregel 31



De cliënt van mr. Steur, B., wordt verdacht van het ten onrechte ontvangen van een socialeverzekeringsuitkering.Mr. Steur staat zijn cliënt bij zowel in de daarop gevolgde strafzaak als in de procedure die strekt tot terugvordering van eerder ontvangen uitkeringen. In de terugvorderingsprocedure besteedt mr. Steur aandacht aan de verklaring die B. heeft afgelegd tegenover W., een opsporingsambtenaar. In zijn pleitnota zegt mr. Steur daarover:

‘De verklaring van B. zoals die op schrift is gesteld kan niet op andere wijze zijn verkregen dan door hem op onacceptabele wijze onder druk te zetten om aldus een belastende verklaring te verkrijgen, de reikwijdte waarvan niet of onvoldoende is begrepen door B. gegeven de afwezigheid van een tolk.’

W. dient een klacht in tegen mr. Steur, welke klacht door de Raad van Discipline Den Haag gegrond wordt bevonden omdat mr. Steur aldus een kwalificatie van het gedrag had gegeven van W. die niet door feitelijkheden werd ondersteund. De raad ziet af van het opleggen van een maatregel.Het Hof van Discipline bevestigt de uitspraak. Mr. Steur dient een klacht in bij het EHRM.

Overwegingen van het EHRM:


The Court acknowledges that no sanction was imposed on the applicant – not even the lightest sanction, a mere admonition. Nonetheless, the applicant was censured, that is, he was formally found at fault in that he had violated the applicable professional standards. This could have a discouraging effect on the applicant, in the sense that he might feel restricted in his choice of factual and legal arguments when defending his clients in future cases. It is therefore reasonable to consider that the applicant was made subject to a ‘formality’ or a ‘restriction’ on his freedom of expression. The Court would draw a parallel to its findings in the case of Nikula v. Finland, (no. 31611/96, 21 March 2002). In that case, the Finnish Supreme Court had in fact waived the sentence imposed on the applicant but this did not prevent the Court from finding that Article 10 was applicable (loc. cit., § 30). It follows that the Court may make the same finding in the present case.

It was not in dispute that the decisions complained of were ‘prescribed by law’ and that they were intended to protect ‘the reputation or rights of others’. Discussion centred on whether they could be considered ‘necessary in a democratic society’ in pursuit of the said legitimate aim.

The applicant, in his observations submitted at the admissibility stage, argued in the first place that his statement that Mr B. had been placed under unacceptable pressure had been based on objective circumstances and was supported by a statement made by Mr B. to the investigating judge. Consequently, the Disciplinary Appeals Tribunal ought not to have found the applicant at fault for the sole reason that he had not been able to quote his client’s statement in support already when he first made the allegation in question. More generally, he expressed the view that in a democratic State an advocate should be entitled, at all stages of proceedings, to make any argument possible based on information obtained from his client. The Government, relying on Peree v. the Netherlands (dec.), no. 34328/96, replied that it was not the Court’s task, in exercising its supervisory function, to take the place of the national authorities, but rather to review under Article 10 the decisions they had taken pursuant to their power of appreciation. They also prayed in aid Wingerter v. Germany (dec.), no. 43718/98, in which the Court had dismissed as manifestly ill-founded the complaint of a lawyer reprimanded for a statement in written appeal submissions dismissing judges, public prosecutors and lawyers in a particular locality collectively as incompetent. Turning to the facts of the case, the Court notes that the applicant was found to have committed a disciplinary offence by stating that his client had apparently been pressured by a police officer, Mr W., into signing a confession of wrongdoing. The confession in question had been obtained in a criminal investigation for social security fraud, and was relied on by the competent authorities in parallel civil proceedings for recovering from the applicant’s client the moneys paid in excess of his entitlements. It was in these latter proceedings that the applicant made the impugned statement.

In its above-mentioned Nikula judgment, the Court stated the applicable principles as follows (loc. cit., §§ 44-45, case-law references omitted): ’44. In exercising its supervisory jurisdiction, the Court must look at the impugned interference in the light of the case as a whole, including the content of the remarks held against the applicant and the context in which she made them. In particular, it must determine whether the interference in question was “proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued” and whether the reasons adduced by the national authorities to justify it are “relevant and sufficient”. In doing so, the Court has to satisfy itself that the national authorities applied standards which were in conformity with the principles embodied in Article 10 and, moreover, that they based themselves on an acceptable assessment of the relevant facts.

45. The Court reiterates that the special status of lawyers gives them a central position in the administration of justice as intermediaries between the public and the courts. Such a position explains the usual restrictions on the conduct of members of the Bar. Moreover, the courts – the guarantors of justice, whose role is fundamental in a State based on the rule of law – must enjoy public confidence. Regard being had to the key role of lawyers in this field, it is legitimate to expect them to contribute to the proper administration of justice, and thus to maintain public confidence therein (…).’

The special duties of lawyers led the Court to conclude in the same judgment that, in certain circumstances, an interference with counsel’s freedom of expression in the course of a trial might raise an issue under Article 6 of the Convention with regard to the right of an accused client to receive a fair trial (loc. cit., § 49).

Earlier, the Court pointed out that the special nature of the profession practised by members of the Bar must be considered. In their capacity as officers of the court they are not only subject to restrictions on their conduct, as pointed out in the Nikula judgment (see paragraph 36 above); they also benefit from exclusive rights and privileges which may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction – among them, usually, a certain latitude regarding arguments used in court – but their conduct must be discreet, honest and dignified (Casado Coca v. Spain, judgment of 24 February 1994, Series A no. 285-A, p. 19, § 46). The Court notes that the applicant’s criticism during the trial was aimed at the manner in which evidence was obtained by an investigating officer exercising his powers to interrogate the applicant’s client in a criminal case and while the latter was in custody. As the Court has noted with reference to public prosecutors (see Nikula, cited above, § 50), the difference between the positions of an accused and an investigating officer calls for increased protection of statements whereby an accused criticises such an officer. This applies equally in this case, where the way in which such evidence was gathered was criticised in civil proceedings in which that evidence was to be used. It is clear that the applicant’s statement was of a nature to discredit a conscientious police officer such as Mr W. claimed to be. However, the Court reiterates in this context that the limits of acceptable criticism may in some circumstances be wider with regard to civil servants exercising their powers than in relation to private individuals (see Nikula, cited above, § 48). Although it cannot be said that civil servants are deprived of all protection against offensive and abusive verbal attacks in relation to the exercise of their duties (cf. Janowski v. Poland [GC], no. 25716/94, § 33, ECHR 1999-I), it has to be taken into account that in the present case the criticism was strictly limited to Mr W.’s actions as an investigating officer in the case against the applicant’s client, as distinct from criticism focusing on Mr W.’s general professional or other qualities. Moreover, the criticism was confined to the courtroom and did not amount to a personal insult. The applicant’s submission was based on the fact, as apparent, that his client had not fully understood his incriminating statement, given the absence of an interpreter during the interrogation. The submission was entirely consistent with a later statement which the applicant’s client made to the investigating judge on 5 December 1994 (see paragraph 16 above), and thus before Mr W. lodged his complaint against the applicant and before the Disciplinary Council and the Disciplinary Appeals Tribunal considered the case.

The Court notes in this context, firstly, that the domestic disciplinary authorities did not attempt to establish the truth or falsehood of the impugned statement and, secondly, that they do not at any time seem to have addressed the question whether it was made in good faith; in other words, the applicant’s honesty in acting as he did was never called into question.

In these circumstances the Court is not convinced by the argument of the Disciplinary Appeals Tribunal that the mere fact that the applicant was able to cite information obtained from his client only after making the impugned statement made his action blameworthy. It is true that no sanction was imposed on the applicant but, even so, the threat of an ex post facto review of his criticism with respect to the manner in which evidence was taken from his client is difficult to reconcile with his duty as an advocate to defend the interests of his clients and could have a ‘chilling effect’ on the exercise of his professional duties (see, mutatis mutandis, Nikula, § 54). In the Court’s view, therefore, no sufficient reasons have been shown to exist for the interference in question. The restriction on the applicant’s right to freedom of expression therefore fails to answer any ‘pressing social need’.

There has accordingly been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention.



The Court unanimously holds that there has been a violation of Article

10 of the Convention;




Bij uitzondering wordt in deze rubriek een uitspraak geplaatst van een andere instantie dan een tuchtrechtelijke. Het gaat om een uitspraak van het Europees Hof voor de Rechten van de Mens, die via internet te vinden is op het adres, application no. 39657/98. De concrete aanleiding voor deze uitzondering is dat aan het EHRM de vraag werd voorgelegd of uitlatingen van een advocaat, in rechte gedaan, vallen onder de door art. 10 EVRM beschermde vrijheid van meningsuiting. In lid 1 van art. 10 wordt ‘de vrijheid een mening te koesteren en de vrijheid om inlichtingen over denkbeelden te ontvangen of door te geven, zonder inmenging van overheidswege en ongeacht grenzen’, vastgelegd. Lid 2, waarin wordt bepaald in welke gevallen die vrijheid aan beperkingen onderhevig kan zijn en dat in de uitspraak in kwestie een rol speelde, luidt: ‘Daar de uitoefening van deze vrijheden plichten en verantwoordelijkheden met zich brengt, kan zij worden onderworpen aan bepaalde formaliteiten, voorwaarden, beperkingen of sancties, welke bij de wet worden voorzien en die in een democratische samenleving nodig zijn in het belang van ‘s lands veiligheid, de bescherming van de openbare orde en het voorkomen van strafbare feiten, de bescherming van de gezondheid of de goede zeden, de bescherming van de goede naam of de rechten van anderen om de verspreiding van vertrouwelijke mededelingen te voorkomen of om het gezag en de onpartijdigheid van de rechterlijke macht te waarborgen.’

De consequentie van dit voorschrift, zo blijkt uit de uitspraak, is dat ook de tuchtrechter, behalve over de bijzonderheden van het geval zelf, uitdrukkelijk zal hebben te beslissen of zijn negatief oordeel over de wijze waarop de advocaat zich heeft uitgelaten ‘noodzakelijk in een democratische samenleving’ is. Als bijzonderheid moet daaraan worden toegevoegd dat het EHRM die toetsing ook noodzakelijk acht wanneer, zoals in dit geval, de tuchtrechter zich beperkt tot de vaststelling dat sprake is van een overtreding van artikel 46 Advocatenwet en afziet van het opleggen van een maatregel.

Als tweede bijzonderheid mag worden genoemd dat het EHRM ook gewicht toekent aan de specifieke rol van de advocaat als het gaat om het voldoen aan de eisen van een eerlijk proces, zoals voorgeschreven in artikel 6 EVRM.


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