No pressing need to amend the law, says justice on journalist fine case

Sitting of the Criminal Chamber of the Riigikogu in the Ekspress case.
Sitting of the Criminal Chamber of the Riigikogu in the Ekspress case. Source: Ode Maria Punamäe/ERR

Although the dispute over whether it was lawful to fine journalists for publishing information from pretrial procedures ended up making it all the way up to Estonia's top court, Supreme Court Justice Juhan Sarv believes that current legislation is balanced and that there is no need to tighten restrictions for clarity's sake.

In the particular case at hand, in which the Supreme Court found that the prosecution's fining of two Eesti Ekspress journalists was unjustified, public interest outweighed any interests that could have theoretically justified the withholding of the information in question, Sarv told ERR on Tuesday.

This doesn't mean, however, that the Prosecutor's Office cannot do so again in the future, as the law provides for the opportunity to impose a fine, and if sufficiently justified, then it must be paid as well.

"That essentially could indeed be the case," the Supreme Court justice confirmed. "Imagine a situation where the press reveals a procedural act immediately prior to [it taking place] and then the suspect knows as a result to destroy the evidence. In such a case, it would be very likely we could talk about fining being justified."

Nonetheless, he doesn't believe it's necessary to make things as clear as possible and set strict legal limits regarding what information can be disclosed during ongoing procedures and under what conditions, noting that this would in all likelihood lead to the tightening of restrictions.

"How tough of restrictions they want is up to the legislature to decide," Sarv said. "Yes, if the legislature wants stricter restrictions on the publication of pretrial data than is currently legally the case, then the law needs to be amended. Right now I don't see a pressing need to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure. I believe it's more or less balanced."

In a ruling issued Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Estonia agreed with the lower-level Tallinn Circuit Court that while Eesti Ekspress journalists Sulev Vedler and Tarmo Vahter and their employer Delfi Meedia AS did disclose information from a criminal investigation without authorization from the Office of the Prosecutor General, fining them for doing so was not justified in this case.

The Supreme Court nonetheless also agreed with the lower two court tiers that the Code of Criminal Procedure does in principle allow for the fining of journalists as well for disclosing information from pretrial procedures in a criminal case — as indicated by both the wording and the explanatory memo of the code.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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