A witness defamed a defendant during the trial before the Circuit Court in Lublin
On Thursday, 4 August 2011, the Circuit Court in Lublin dismissed the appeal brought by Zbigniew Ż., found guilty of defaming his neighbour D.R. by calling him ‘a Police snitch’. The incident took place at courtroom during the trial of D.R., who was charged with assault causing bodily harm. Zbigniew Ż. was a witness in the case. The HFHR observed the trial.
‘It is a dangerous practice to hold witnesses liable for discharging their civic duty. If we do it, people will testify briefly and vaguely so as to avoid responsibility’, says Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska, Content Director of the Observatory of the Freedom of Media in Poland. ‘We observe the dangerous practice of prosecuting individuals for their words used during trial or in a pleading’, she adds. (For more information see the article “Guilty of saying too much about an assailant” in Dziennik Wschodni).
The case against D.R. was heard before the District Court in Radzyń Podlaski. During a hearing, the witness Zbigniew Ż. said, among other things, that ‘(…) all this fuss about R. comes from the fact he’s a Police snitch and they treat him better than everyone else.’ These words was spoken in the presence of a closed circle of people, namely a judge, recording clerk, attorneys, the defendant and the witness himself. Nevertheless, defendant D.R. felt offended by this statement and decided to file a private indictment against Zbigniew Ż., citing the offence under article 212 of the Criminal Code (defamation).
In April 2011 the District Court in Radzyń Podlaski found Zbigniew Ż. guilty of defamation and ordered him to pay a fine of PLN 1,600 and obliged him to disburse PLN 500 for the Polish Red Cross. Additionally, the court requested Zbigniew Ż. to cover the party’s legal fees (PLN 3,600) and trial costs (PLN 300). The District Court also ordered Zbigniew Ż. to pay the court filing fee of PLN 200 and court costs of PLN 70. In total, the witness testimony of Zbigniew Ż. cost him more than PLN 6,000.
Zbigniew Ż.’s attorney appealed against the judgment of the District Court. In the appeal he argued that the court failed to establish whether or not the defendant had a direct or oblique intention to commit the act, a legally required element of defamation. Also, the counsel for the appellant argued that the accuser could not have been defamed in the eyes of the public since he himself admitted on the record that he had heard that opinion about him many years before.
The Circuit Court in Lublin dismissed the appeal as manifestly groundless, stating, in the verbal reasons for the decision, that the first instance court had examined all available evidence and this examination had been conducted freely but not arbitrarily.
Since the ruling of the appellate court is final and the defendant has no right to bring a cassation complaint against it, Andrzej Latoch, attorney representing Zbigniew Ż. said he would make the cassation request to the Human Rights Defender and Prosecutor-General. Mr Latoch did not rule out bringing this case to the European Court of Human Rights.