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Germany: No claim for remittance of an unenforceable criminal judgement to the press

Cristina Bachmeier

On 13 March 2015, the Thuringian Higher Administrative Court rejected in its decision (case no. 1 EO 128/15) the request of a representative of the press, to send a copy of a non-final criminal verdict, still subject to appeal.

Christian Köckert, the former minister of interior affairs of Thuringia was convicted of bribery. The verdict was of interest to the plaintiff, a publishing group. Therefore, the publishing group requested the criminal court to send an anonymized copy of the verdict based on its right to receive information according to article 5 (1) of the German Constitution as well as paragraph 4 (1) of the Thuringian press law. The criminal court dismissed the application.

 

In the following proceedings, initiated by the publishing group, the administrative court ordered the criminal court, represented by the Free State of Thuringia, to send an anonymized copy of the verdict to the media. The Court, represented by the Free State of Thuringia, the former minister, and two other people under criminal investigations for the same bribery appealedthe administrative court’s order. The former minister and the other two people under criminal investigation appealed the administrative court’s decision, because they did not want details of the verdict to become public. The Free State of Thuringia, on the other hand, did not want the verdict to become public, because it was only a non-final verdict, which was still subject to appeal. They argued, that the publication of details of the criminal court’s verdict might endanger the conduct of the appeal’s court criminal proceedings.

 

The Higher Court of Thuringia dismissed the publishing groups’ action. While the court admitted the right of the publishing group to receive the information, as well as the obligation of public authorities to disclose information in the fulfilment of their public tasks, it stated that the Thuringian press law does not foresee specific means in which the information should be provided. Therefore, the publishing group has no claim to the exact wording of the verdict, but rather to its general content. Apart from that, is it not possible to directly infer from article 5 (1) of the German Constitution a certain right of access to documents of public authorities or copies of those evidences. Furthermore, the court emphasized that the disclosure of information according to paragraph 4 (2) of the Thuringian press law can be refused, if this could exacerbate, delay or endanger the conduct of criminal proceedings.

 

In the opinion of the court, this restriction will apply in the present case. Both, the proceeding against the convicted former minister of interior affairs, as well as the current investigations against further defendants, have not been completed. If the verdict would be made public, the witnesses could be influenced and the right of the defendants of a due process on law could be affected.

 

Therefore, the Higher Administrative Court of Thuringia declined the request of the publishing group and ruled that there is no claim for the sending of the non-final criminal verdict.

Cristina Bachmeier, LL.M., is a research associate at the Institute of European Media Law (EMR), Saarbrücken/Brüssel.


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The press release of the Thuringian Higher Administrative Court is available in German here

 



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