In May this year, the Fourth Section of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held unanimously that holding a lawyer in contempt of court for a ‘caustic’ and ‘sarcastic’ comments amounted to a violation of his Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) right to freedom of expression.
In the recent case of Simić v. Bosnia and Herzegovina, the applicant, a lawyer, was representing an individual during civil court proceedings. During the appeal at the third instance court, he made a joke about the second-instance court, likening it (and specifically its treatment towards him) to a professor who expected his students to provide names (and not only the number) of the victims of Hiroshima bombings. The third-instance court fined the applicant the equivalent of 510 Euros considering his joke/comments as insulting. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Constitutional Court upheld this decision. Interestingly, in doing so, it relied on the ECtHR’s case of Žugić v. Croatia (2011) which did not involve contempt of court because of comments/remarks/jokes but contempt of court due to the absence of the defendant due to car trouble. Simić paid the fine in 2018. He made an appeal to the ECtHR, which found the fine for contempt was not ‘necessary in a democratic society’.