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Supreme Court have generally upheld the acquittal of a local blogger

The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Łukasz Kasprowicz, a blogger charged with defaming Zofia Springer, the mayor of Mosina, a town located in Poznań in western Poland (case No. V KK 391/11). In June 2011 the blogger was acquitted by the Circuit Court in Poznań. A large part of the cassation complaint lodged by the private complainant was dismissed by the SC. In the Court’s opinion the Circuit Court’s judgment was free from the inadequacies identified in the complainant’s cassation.

However, the Court agreed with one allegation of the complaint and decided to reverse the appealed judgement and remand the case to be re-heard by the second-instance court. Consequently, the Circuit Court in Poznań will have to once again analyse the statement of the blogger in which he claimed that Zofia Springer “forces officials of Mosina to act against the law threatening them with consequences […]”.

In the substantiation of its decision, the SC referred to the lower court’s reasoning. The Poznań court argued that although the blogger’s statement fulfilled the requisite elements of the prohibited act — as Mr Kasprowicz made a serious allegation that an offence had been committed without even attempting to provide any evidence to support his claim — it did not qualify as a criminal offence because of its negligible social harm. And, as contended by the CC, the negligible social harm followed from the fact that the blogger published its statements on the Internet and web publications are subject to less rigorous linguistic standards than print press publications.

The Supreme Court rejected this argument of the CC. In their verbal reasons for the judgement, SC judges indicated that we should avoid an automatic presumption that the Internet was a medium, “in which we may allow ourselves a lot more lee-way than in other mass media”. “The appellate court will need to reconsider its original position. We shouldn’t use another measure for online content. This medium is as important as traditional media and can be even more dangerous, because of its scope which is much wider than the reach of a local paper”, emphasised the Presiding Judge Jarosław Matras. According to the SC judges it cannot be assumed that any web contents, because of the nature of this medium, are automatically less socially harmful. The Supreme Court’s assessment of the case would be different, if the second-instance court considered other reasons for discontinuation of the proceedings such as the fact that blogger’s statements concerned a politician which should have “a thicker skin”.

This last point was extensively discussed by the SC judges in their oral reasons. As regards a sharp tongue of the blogger and its controversial style, the Supreme Court subscribed to the position of the Circuit Court and noted that public officials had to show a greater margin of tolerance towards “aggressive, demagogic or even destructive statements”. They should have a thicker skin, in the Court’s opinion. “Even indecent remarks deserving moral condemnation shouldn’t be subject to a criminal punishment. The retribution of this magnitude could threaten a public debate”, concluded the presiding judge. The SC assessed favourably the distinction between facts and opinions made by the Circuit Court in Poznań.

The Supreme Court granted the private complainant’s motion and ordered the case to be heard in open court. The trial was observed by Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska and Dorota Głowacka, representatives of the Observatory of the Freedom of Media in Poland.

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