Joseph H.H. Weiler, an extremely well-regarded scholar of international law (and my teacher back in law school) has completed his criminal trial for libel in France. The verdict isn’t due back until March 3rd, but Weiler’s account of the trial is up on his journal’s blog, and it’s great reading.
The case stems from an unflattering review of Dr. Karin Calvo-Goller’s book The Trial Proceedings of the International Criminal Court. Weiler didn’t write the review, but he did publish it on Global Law Books, a website of the European Journal of International Law. Weiler is and was editor-in-chief of the EJIL.
Calvo-Goller was offended and demanded that Weiler pull the review down. Weiler offered to publish Calvo-Goller’s response, but he refused to remove the review. After his investigation, Weiler determined the piece contained no factual inaccuracies.
While the case involves a book review, not a blog entry, the stakes for blog law are high. That’s because of what Calvo-Goller did next.
She didn’t sue Weiler where he lived. Instead, Calvo-Goller filed a criminal complaint in Paris.
From Weiler’s post:
Why Paris you might ask? Indeed. The author of the book was an Israeli academic. The book was in English. The publisher was Dutch. The reviewer was a distinguished German professor. The review was published on a New York website.
Beyond doubt, once a text or image go online, they become available worldwide, including France. But should that alone give jurisdiction to French courts in circumstances such as this? Does the fact that the author of the book, it turned out, retained her French nationality before going to live and work in Israel make a difference? …
Paris … is very plaintiff friendly.
In France an attack on one’s honor is taken as seriously as a bodily attack. Substantively, if someone is defamed, the bad faith of the defamer is presumed just as in our system, if someone slaps you in the face, it will be assumed that he intended to do so. Procedurally it is open to anyone who feels defamed, to avoid the costly civil route, and simply lodge a criminal complaint. At this point the machinery of the State swings into action.
The French Republic v. Weiler has been brewing for a while. But this month, it finally went to trial.
The trial took place in in France’s version of Old Bailey – the hallowed Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris,
where Émile Zola was tried for libel over the publication of his J’accuse! letter. More than 100 years later, France is still criminally prosecuting alleged libel.
Especially interesting for me was Weiler’s account of the procedural aspects of the quick trial, which he described as “a strange mélange of the criminal and civil virtually unknown in the Common Law world.”
Despite its unfamiliarity, Weiler expressed considerable admiration for a procedure that was steadfastly “aimed at establishing the truth.”
“The trial was impeccable by any standard with which I am familiar,” Weiler wrote in the post. “Due process was definitely served. It was a fair trial.”
Read Weiler’s full account. It’s worth it. The stakes in this case are high. Blog freedom, along with Weiler, is “in the dock.”