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Conviction Violated Free Speech of French Lawyer

(CN) - France violated the rights of a lawyer by issuing a symbolic conviction for breach of confidentiality after she spoke to the media about the vaccination-linked death of a child.

The family of a 12-year-old who died after receiving a vaccination for hepatitis B retained Gisele Mor as their lawyer in 1998. After the media uncovered an expert report on the topic that Mor included as a court exhibit, the lawyer made public comments to reporters, at the urging of her clients.

A French court convicted Mor in 2007 of breaching the confidentiality of a court case, finding that her comments constituted revealing documents relating to an investigation. She was fined damages of 1 euro.

Mor took her case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights in 2009 after French courts denied her appeal.

The seven-judge chamber panel ruled unanimously that the conviction, though largely symbolic, violated Mor's right to free expression.

Although the public deserves to have faith in the confidentiality of lawyers, the rights of these key professionals to freely express themselves, within bounds, may necessitate a breach of confidence, the court ruled.

Since the media had already been covering Mor's case and had access to the expert report, Mor's statements merely represented comments on already disseminated information, according to the decision, which is available only in French.

The court also noted that Mor's clients had a clear interest in such reporting.

Mor's comments "formed part of a debate of general interest" and as such, should not be muzzled, the court said.

Mor's conviction violated her rights to free expression, and France must pay her $6,500 in damages, the court concluded.

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