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Professor Legutko ordered to apologise for “spoilt snots

The Supreme Court dismissed the cassation complaint filed by Professor Ryszard Legutko. Professor Legutko had been sued by two secondary school students, Zuzanna Niemier and Tomasz Chabinka for the infringement of their personal interests. The Professor once called the students “snots spoilt by their parents”.

Ms Niemier and Mr Chabinka were, at the time, students of a graduation class at General Education Secondary School No. 14 in Wrocław. In November 2009, in the aftermath of the judgment made by the European Court of Human Rights in the case Lautsi vs. Italy, the students filed a petition with their headmaster, asking for the removal of religious symbols from the school.

The case attracted substantial press coverage. It was also publicly commented on by Prof. Ryszard Legutko, the then Minister of Education. In an interview, he called the students, among other things, “spoilt snots” and named their actions “a typical, infantile yell”.

The students brought an action against Mr Legutko, seeking protection of their personal interests. The parties to the lawsuit tried to reach settlement, but finally the case went to trial. Both the first and the second instance courts ordered Prof. Legutko to apologise to secondary school students from Wrocław.

The Supreme Court noted that in this case personal interests had been infringed. The court held that Zuzanna Niemier and Tomasz Chabinka used their constitutional right to petition and spoke about the presence of religious symbols in schools, an important issue which concerned the functioning of their school. They did not become public figures, even though they drew attention to various socially important issues. The Supreme Court held that Prof. Legutko, an authority figure, had referred not to a given world-view but particular persons. The Court considered that Mr Legutko’s words were excessive, harmful and violated the good name and personal dignity of the students.

“This judgment is extremely beneficial to the process of drawing the boundaries of legal criticism as well as to the quality of public debate”, says Irmina Pacho, a lawyer working at the HFHR. “As the Supreme Court emphasised, a public figure should be expected to contribute to the quality of public life in a far greater way than other people but at the same time such a person cannot be allowed greater leeway”, adds Ms Pacho.

The case has been conducted as part of the Strategic Litigation Programme operated by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. The claimants are represented by the advocate Anna-Maria Niżankowska-Horodecka, on a pro-bono basis.

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