Ernst and others v. Belgium

European Court of Human Rights
15 July 2013


In several ongoing criminal cases concerning public persons, members of the judiciary were suspected of breaches of professional confidence having permitted leaks and disclosures in the press of confidential information. As a result the Serious Crime Squad carried out searches at the news-desks and the homes of the four applicant journalists. The applicants lodged a complaint for not having been given relevant information about the reasons, aims and scope of the measures ordered by the judge, infringement of the principle of protection of the anonymity of journalists' sources of information, and right to respect for their homes and private lives. Their complaint was, however, discontinued.


The applicants, among other things, complained that the search and seizure procedures to which they had been subjected constituted a violation of their freedom of expression.

Court's ruling

The Court ruled that the applicants’ freedom of expression had been violated, as the means used were not necessary in order to protect other legitimate interests.

The Court was struck by the large scale of the searches (apparently 160 police officers were involved) and noted that the Belgian Government had not stated in what way the applicants were alleged to have been involved in the offences concerned. The Court was unconvinced that, without the search and seizure procedures, the authorities would have been unable to establish whether the applicants were involved in the offences. The Belgian Government had also not explained what measures had been taken directly against the members of the State legal service believed to have been responsible for the leaks. Because of these reasons the means used had not been necessary and reasonably proportionate in order to protect other legitimate interests.

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Last updated 26/02/2024