Parliament has opened the way for crippling law suits against the media
The following is a statement issued by the Media Law Institute; the Institute for Mass Information; Telekritika; Svidomo and the Kyiv Independent Media Trade Union over the Law on Court Fees.
On 15 July 2011 the Verkhovna Rada sent the President for signing the Law previously adopted on Court Fees. If the Law is signed, it will revoke the legislative norm introduced after hearings on freedom of speech which has been in force since 2003. It was then that through amendments to the Cabinet of Ministers Decree “On State Duty” the size of State duty was made proportionate to the size of the claim for moral compensation, with this coming to 10% of the largest claims.
This meant that when lodging a claim against a journalist or media outlet for a million UAH, you had to first pay duty of 100 thousand UAH. These amendments stopped the wave of moral compensation claims which often led to the closure of newspapers and other media outlets.
The Law on Court Fees establishes that for moral compensation claims the court fee is 1% of the size of the claim, but not less than 0.2 of the size of the minimum wage and not more than 3 times the minimum wage. That means that in lodging a claim for moral compensation, regardless of the size of the claim, the maximum fee in 2011 will be 2, 823 UAH.
Civic organizations point out that the Verkhovna Rada refused to support the amendment proposed by National Deputy Andriy Shevchenko which envisaged that where the claim was for an amount over 300 times the minimum wage (i.e. more than 282 thousand UAH) that a fee amounting to 10% of the claim would be payable.
We call on the President to use his power of veto and return the law to parliament for them to rectify this mistake. If the law in its present form comes into force, conditions will be created for restricting freedom of speech and media activities.
The possibility of lodging claims for millions against the media is in itself a negative effect and encourages strict self-censorship.
The lack of court fees proportion to the size of the damage which the aggrieved party wishes to receive opens opportunities for pressure on the media and individual journalists, and may also return the practice of forced closure of media outlets after the use of disproportionate fines. This will run counter to Article 34 of the Constitution and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The charging of a court fee proportionate to the size of the claim in demands for moral (non-material) damage will not constitute restriction of a person’s right to access to the court. This is first because demands are in question of pecuniary compensation in cases where non-material damage was inflicted, where in the majority of cases it is enough to refute the information or publish a response. Secondly, the size of the claim in such cases is determined arbitrarily by the claimant at their discretion and can be unwarranted and excessive.