ECtHR rules banning of play in Malta a violation of right to freedom of expression

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has found that a ban on the showing of a play in Malta amounted to a breach of the protection of freedom of expression granted under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The writer and the production company behind the play described it as an exploration of a failed relationship and the disintegration of personalities as a result. The production company applied to the Board for Film and Stage Classification to have the play performed in Malta, and upon doing so, were issued with a certificate stating that the play was ‘banned and disallowed’, which was reinforced by the Maltese government.

A statement was subsequently issued detailing the reasons for the banning of the production, with the Maltese authorities deeming the play to be ‘‘beyond the limits of public decency’’, citing that it blasphemed the state religion of Catholicism, displayed contempt for the victims of the Holocaust, depicted dangerous sexual perversions, contained a eulogy to child murderers and referenced the abduction, sexual assault and murder of children.

The production company and others involved with the play contended that this was a violation under Article 10 of the ECHR and also a breach of the Maltese Constitution, claiming that such an interference did not pursue a legitimate aim and was not compatible with a democratic society. When the matter was brought before the Maltese courts, it was acknowledged that while there had been an interference with regards to freedom of expression, the government asserted that it was a proportionate measure in order to protect public morals.

After failing in getting the ban overturned in the domestic courts, an application was made to the ECtHR under Article 10. The Court found that there had been an interference of the applicant’s right to freedom of expression, and as such was required to determine whether or not this interference was prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society, as per Article 10.

The ECtHR found that when banning the production, the Maltese government had relied upon regulations which were of insufficient quality in that the interference of this right and implementation of the ban was done via a procedure which was not prescribed by law, and therefore there was a violation of the applicant’s rights to freedom of expression under Article 10. The applicant was subsequently awarded €10,000 in damages and a further €10,000 in costs.

Click here for the full ECHR judgement.




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