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Freedom of speech curtailed in Kraków’s Regional Court

The Regional Court in Kraków has imposed a new policy on contacts between court’s personnel and the media and journalists’ access to the court. In its comments to the proposed measures, the HFHR notes that the new policies may unreasonably limit the right to information, freedom of speech and violate the guarantees established in the Press Act.

Journalists access to Kraków’s Regional Court

The new policies were adopted by decision of the President and Manager of Regional Court in Kraków. Pursuant to this decision, all journalists who bring recording equipment to the court building must complete an entry form, disclosing such information as the time and exact location of their presence on the court’s premises. They also need to reveal the purpose of the visit, and in particular describe the material they are working on.

“The media have not only a right but also a duty to inform the public of how the justice system operates. Such information can only be disseminated if journalists can freely access courts”, says HFHR’s lawyer Konrad Siemaszko. “It’s highly doubtful if such an extensive disclosure obligation, and especially the duty to explain the purpose of a visit and describe the material that will be prepared following the visit, serves a legitimate aim and is necessary for maintaining the internal security and order at the Regional Court in Kraków”, Mr Siemaszko adds.

restrictions on staff’s right to give information to press

The decision of the President and Manager of Regional Court in Kraków imposes another controversial rule, namely the requirement that court personnel must obtain the management’s authorisation for all interviews or statements for the media. “In the opinion of the HFHR, this regulation severely restricts the freedom of speech of both journalists, who want to obtain information from the court employees, and that of the employees themselves. Moreover, this measure is clearly incompatible with guarantees provided by the Press Act”, reads the HFHR’s comments sent to the Court. Any attempt to prevent journalists from contacting the staff is not only unlawful but also can be deemed an attempt to quell media criticism.

Importance of media accounts of works of justice system

The imposed restrictions are especially controversial given the significance of journalists’ ability to obtain information at courts in a democratic society. In practice, only a fraction of the public can personally witness the works of justice as court audience. Nowadays, the principle of the open character of court proceedings is to a large extent enforced thanks to the media. Therefore, if the media are restricted in their access to court works there is less public scrutiny of the functioning of the justice system.

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