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Public officials’ freedom of speech

“The jurisprudence of the ECtHR provides that public officials and professional civil servants are subject to a duty of loyalty to a public body which employs them. This means that these persons are obliged to act with restraint when speaking publicly”, reads the HFHR’s reply to a letter of two members of the Sejm, the lower chamber of the Polish parliament. In the reply, the Helsinki Foundation also emphasises that each interference with the freedom of speech – even in a case concerning a public official – must be proportionate.

Parliamentary deputies Małgorzata Wasserman and Wojciech Szarama contacted the HFHR in relation to the case of Professor Kamil Zaradkiewicz. Professor Zaradkiewicz, who leads a team at the Office of the Constitutional Tribunal, gave an interview on the matters connected with the Tribunal’s jurisprudence. In response to the interview and other similar statements for the media, the Director of the Office of the Constitutional Tribunal prohibited Professor Zaradkiewicz from speaking with the media and proposed that he should “voluntarily consider resignation from his post (but not from work)”. According Ms Wasserman and Mr Szarama, the prohibition may violate the right to freedom of speech. The deputies asked the HFHR to analyse the case in the light of the jurisprudence of the ECtHR.

“The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly noted that in the case of public officials and professional civil servants, their freedom of expression might be limited by a duty of loyalty to the public body that employs them”, said Professor Ireneusz C. Kamiński, a legal expert of the HFHR. “This duty should be even more strictly respected in the context of the need to ensure impartiality and authority of the justice system”, adds Professor Kamiński.

On the other hand, the HFHR emphasises that also public officials and civil servants retain the right to freely express their views, and can voice critical opinions as employees of a given institution. “Public officials and civil servants can voice critical opinions also in academic speech, for example in a lecture or a scientific paper”, explains Professor Kamiński.

In reply to the request for intervention in this case, the HFHR notes that Professor Zaradkiewicz has not yet approached the Foundation with such a request. “As a rule, we take action only when an interested person contacts us directly – this rule allows us to avoid situations in which we act while a particular individual does not require our assistance”, explains Danuta Przywara, President of the Board, HFHR.

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