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Third time’s a charm, or a defamation case to be retried

Last Friday (30 December 2011), the Circuit Court in Świdnica heard the appeal in the case of an allegedly defamatory statement included in a reader’s article sent to a newspaper. The Court reversed the judgement entered by the District (first-instance) Court in September 2011 and remanded the case for retrial. The District Court will be hearing the case for the third time. The defendants had already been acquitted only to be found guilty at a later time. Both verdicts were then reversed on appeal.

In 2008, the local weekly Euroregio Glacensis ran the article by a magazine’s reader, Andrzej S. The author wrote about the closure of the Child Holiday Centre in D., an important issue for the local community. In his article Andrzej S. accused the local County Governing Board, responsible for managing the Centre, of maladministration, provision of false information about facility’s financial standing and misappropriation of funds received as part of Ministry of Education’s designated subsidies.

After the article was published, M.J., a member of the County Governing Board and the Deputy County Governor at the time, filed a private defamation accusation. In addition to S., J. charged also Bogusław B., the magazine’s editor-in-chief, who has accepted the reader’s article for publication and, in the accuser’s opinion, should be thus held liable for distributing defamatory statements.

According to J., he was defamed by, for instance, being described as a person responsible for the ‘theft’ of a designated subsidy of PLN 100,000 allocated for the maintenance of the Child Holiday Centre.

The trial court acquitted the defendants, holding that they had acted to protect an important public interest and had not had the intention to commit a crime.

However, this decision was reversed by the Circuit Court. Having re-tried the case, the District Court found the defendants guilty of defaming M.J. in the section of the article regarding the alleged ‘theft’. The court acquitted the accused on other counts arguing that the remaining statements concern the County Board and not the accuser himself.

Last Friday, the Circuit Court in Świdnica once again reversed the judgement (this time the conviction) and ordered re-trial. The judge presiding over the appeal hearing pointed out, above all, the ‘illogical’ and ‘contradictory’ findings of facts made by the first-instance court.

She said, that in the context of the entire article, the defendants’ statements should be regarded as criticism of the County Board as a whole. In court’s opinion, the contentious article did not attribute any offence to a particular person.

Now, for the third time the case will be examined by the District Court. The case was a part of the Observatory of the Freedom of Media in Poland Programme.

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