Strasbourg, 1 February 2005
CCJE (2005) 3
Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE)
Questionnaire on theme “Justice and society”: Reply submitted by the delegation of Lithuania
A. THE EDUCATIONAL ROLE OF THE COURTS IN A DEMOCRACY.
A.1. Please describe arrangements existing in your country aiming at informing justice users and/or the general public about the functioning of the judicial system. Please describe the specific information provided (nature of proceedings available; average length of proceedings in the various courts; costs and risks involved in case of wrongful use of legal channels; alternative means of settling disputes offered to parties; landmark decisions delivered by the courts) as well as the press resources used (printed citizen's guides, Internet facilities, information offices, etc.). Please also state which authorities provide such services, underlining the role of the courts themselves and/or of lawyers' associations (see paragraphs 12-15 of the CCJE's Opinion No. 6 (2004) on Fair Trial within a Reasonable Time and Judge’s Role in Trials taking into Account Alternative Means of Dispute Settlement). Please say whether a role is played by judges' professional associations and/or by the Judicial Service Commission/High Council for the Judiciary. Please say whether public interest organisations and universities have a role in the above.
In Lithuania most information on the functioning of judicial system is provided by the Internet facilities. Here you can find information on the nature of proceedings available, average length of proceedings in the various courts, decisions delivered by the courts of higher instance, competence of courts, system of institutions of judicial autonomy, etc.
In the Internet site of the National Courts Administration1 the following information is provided:
The system of courts of the Republic of Lithuania
Contact information of courts
Institutions of judicial autonomy
Composition of the Judicial Council
Resolutions of the Judicial Council
Information on the agenda of the meetings of Judicial Council
Information on the vacancies in courts
Most important legal documents concerning the activities of courts2.
The Internet site of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Lithuania provides information of the activities of bailiffs as well as general information of the activities of the European Court for Human Rights. It is also a possibility to render a question on civil or criminal law, which is answered in the special section of the Internet site. However, those answers are not an official interpretation.3
The Supreme Court of Lithuania, the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania, the Court of Appeals of Lithuania, as well as some of regional courts have their own Internet sites. Usually the Internet site of the particular court contains information on the structure of court, contacts, main information on the court hearings. Internet sites of the Supreme Court of Lithuania and the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania also contain the search systems for the rulings, decisions and consultations provided by those courts.4
There are some specialized Internet portals for the legal professionals and law students, providing the most recent legal information and a possibility to discuss online.5
However, it should be noted that Internet recourses are accessible only for the limited number of society members. Despite the fact that the use of Internet in Lithuania is constantly growing, at the end of 2004 less than 1/3 of residents (approximately 1 million)6 used the Internet.7 Moreover, resident surveys indicate, that only 16, 9 per cent of the population use the Internet regularly.8
Traditionally used resource of information is telephone consultations, or direct visits to the relevant institutions. The National Courts Administration receives members of publics daily during the office hours. They also provide information on the activities of courts by special phone line. In 2003 the National Courts Administration has received 89 waiters and answered 272 written requests, questions and petitions.9
Receiving the members of public in courts (by presidents or vice-presidents of courts) is not widespread; however, such a possibility exists. The opinion of Lithuanian judiciary concerning it is controversial. Although the working group, created under the aegis of the Judicial Council, recommended to renew the practice of direct meetings with interested persons in courts, some members of the working group have expressed the separate opinion, underlining that such practice (especially with regard to meetings concerning the aspects of cases heard in a particular court) can have a negative influence on the judicial independence and create an illusion that presidents or vice-presidents of courts can influence the procedural decisions of judges. They also insisted that according to the Law on Courts, courts cannot provide any legal consultations, as it is not compatible with the judicial function10.
In 2004 the Judicial Council adopted a resolution, listing certain means for providing information on the activities of courts to the publics. It was recommended inter alia to appoint members of court personnel (not judges), responsible for providing information, which is not related to the hearing of particular cases, as well as organizing the meetings with interested persons11. However, due to the lack of personnel in the local, regional and regional administrative courts, this recommendation remains problematic for the moment.
In 2004 the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania issued the printed citizen's guide on the activities of administrative courts. This guide is available in the premises of all administrative courts as well as at the offices of the regional government offices and municipalities. Although it was recommended by the Judicial Council to issue printed citizen's guides concerning the information on activities of courts, main legal acts related to it, basic procedural provisions, structure and functions of courts, etc., which should be available to the publics in courts of all levels, the necessary for the moment are not allocated.12
At the beginning of the year 2004 the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania (on January), the Supreme Court of Lithuania (on March) and the Court of Appeals of Lithuania (on March) have presented first annual reports on the activities of those courts to the publics. Special press conferences were held therewith. Reports contained information on judicial statistics, main activities of the Judicial Council, changes in courts personnel, in-service training of judges, etc. Such reports are expected to be made every year. By its resolution, the Judicial Council obligated presidents of local, regional and regional administrative courts to issue annual reports on the activities of correspondent courts, reflecting not only the results of hearing of cases, but also funding, changes in courts personnel and other important issues13.
Special telecasts or broadcasts concerning the activities of courts in Lithuania are quite rare are more oriented towards the legal professionals or law students. However, some of them tend to be accessible for the society in general14.
Information of the most important decisions of the Supreme Court of Lithuania and the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania is provided in the special periodical bulletins of those courts.
Judicial Council, the Association of Judges of the Republic of Lithuania, superior courts and at the some extent universities and law students associations are all involved in arrangements aiming at informing justice users and/or the general public about the functioning of the judicial system. More detailed information as to the some activities will be provided further.
A.2. Please describe the systems envisaged to satisfy the information needs of policy makers, academics, public interest groups and private citizens.
No special systems exist. Law on the Right to Receive information from State and Municipal Institutions15, applicable to all state and municipal institutions, including courts (unless exceptions are provided by procedural laws and other special laws) determines an obligation of such institutions to provide information on their activities as well as procedure for the request and rendering of such information.
A.3. Please describe specifically the educational role of judicial decisions in your country. Please describe how judicial decisions are made known to the general public and how accurate such information is. Please consider that what is relevant is information provided to the public and not to legal professionals. Please also consider that the role of the press will be dealt with in a subsequent section (C.2) of this questionnaire.
According to the Law on Courts of the Republic of Lithuania16, the Supreme Court of Lithuania is responsible for the development of a uniform practice of courts of general jurisdiction in the interpretation and application of statutes and other legal acts. The Supreme Court shall issue its bulletin "Court Practice" publishing in it periodically the following:
1) rulings of the plenary sessions as well as the rulings of the chamber of three justices and of the extended chamber of seven justices the publication of which has been approved by the majority of justices of the appropriate division;
2) summary reviews of court practice in the application of statutes and other legal acts in cases of separate categories approved by the Senate and interpretations in the form of recommendations;
3) other materials the necessity of publication whereof has been approved by the Senate.
Interpretation in respect of the application of statutes and other legal acts in the rulings published in the Supreme Court Bulletin shall be taken into consideration by courts, state and other institutions as well as by other persons when applying these statutes and other legislation;
The Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania is responsible for the development of a uniform practice of administrative courts in the interpretation and application of statutes and other legal acts. According to the Article 32 of the Law on Courts, The Supreme Administrative Court shall issue its bulletin under the title "Practice of Administrative Courts" publishing in it periodically the following:
1) decisions, orders and rulings rendered by the plenary session of the court, decisions handed down by a chamber of three judges or an extended chamber of five judges the publication whereof has been approved by the majority of the Court's judges as well as all decisions on lawfulness of regulatory administrative acts.
2) summary reviews of court practice in the application of statutes and other legal acts in cases of separate categories and their interpretation in the form of recommendations;
3) other materials the publication of which has been approved by the majority of judges.
Interpretation with regard to the application of statutes and other legal acts found in the decisions, rulings and orders which are published in the bulletin of the Supreme Administrative Court shall be taken into account by courts, state and other institutions as well as by other entities when applying these statutes and other legal acts;
According to the Article 39 of the Law on Courts, the National Courts Administration shall, following the procedure established by the Judicial Council, make public decisions, judgements, rulings and orders which have been handed down in cases involving a public interest by district administrative courts, regional courts and the Court of Appeals and which have become effective, as well as the substantive provisions of decisions, judgements, rulings and orders handed down in closed proceedings, with the exception of cases prohibited by law. Court decisions, judgements, rulings and orders shall be made public pursuant to the requirements of protection of personal data, state, official, commercial, professional and other secrets protected by law, and pursuant to the other restrictions and prohibitions provided by law. This legal provision is expected to be fully realized with the beginning of functioning of new Judicial Information System LITEKO, which was started from the 1st of January 2005 and is still under testing.
According to the Law on Courts, all the decisions, rulings and orders of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court shall also be published on the internet web sites of those courts. As it was already mentioned, this obligation is already successfully fulfilled.
Although the mentioned information is available to any member of the society, it is more interesting for and used by the legal professionals. It should be noted, that in Lithuania the society in general (with the exception of lawyers and law students) is not very much interested in court decisions, except for certain cases, widely reflected in the mass media. Even then, members of society give preference to the information provided by media rather than looking for the texts of decisions. It is caused by several reasons – limited use of Internet, specific legal language used in the court decisions, which is hardly understandable for the society members without legal education.17 Reflections made in mass media, unfortunately, are not always correct.
Some courts (e.g. the Supreme Administrative Court or the Court of Appeals of Lithuania) started to make short written press releases about the judgements and decisions in cases, specifically interesting to the members of the society. Following this practice it was recommended by Judicial Council to appoint members of court personnel, responsible for making the press releases about the decisions in resonant cases, explanation of reasons of such decisions, providing the periodical information about the proceeding of resonant cases, organisation and holding of press conferences in every court.18
A. 4. Please say whether school and university education programmes in your country (even outside law faculties) include a description of the judicial system and visits to courts. Please specify outside actors that are employed by educational institutions (e.g. in classroom appearances) to provide programmes (judges, court staff, academics, lawyers, non-governmental organisations). Please say whether courts have staff specifically in charge of liaising with educational agencies (P.R. offices or the like). Please describe educational methods (e.g., role playing, attending hearings, etc.).
Some university programmes outside law faculties (e.g. economics, informatics, management) have the subject of fundamentals of law, including a description of the judicial system. Visits to courts, however, are generally used only in law programmes.
In university law programmes model trials are also often used. It should be noted that many judges of the superior courts as well as advocates and prosecutors are also law professors at the universities. Employment for specific programmes only is not common in Lithuania.
School education as a rule does not include law subjects. Specific programme in this field is carried out by the Association of Judges of the Republic of Lithuania in cooperation with law students associations. Programme includes periodical visits to the schools, discussions with pupils, model trials, attending hearings. Judges from local and regional courts are involved in this programme.
Courts in Lithuania haven’t staff specifically in charge of liaising with educational agencies.
A.5. Please say whether courts in general, or some courts, have "outreach programmes" (see above) or at least regular programmes consisting in conducting surveys, holding focus groups, employing lawyers and academics for public forums, etc.
Courts in Lithuania do not have such programmes.
A.6. Please provide relevant information (e.g. summarising contents) as to theoretical studies existing in your country in the above-mentioned field(s).
There are some theoretical studies in this field in Lithuania which are worth to be mentioned. In 2003, the Open Society Fund Lithuania has made and presented to the parliament, government, judiciary and publics a survey “On the condition of Lithuanian Judiciary” where, taking into account the reports of Open Society Institute of 2001 and 2002, the present status of Lithuanian Judiciary was evaluated and certain recommendations as to the possible solutions of existing problems were presented. One of the main remarks of the mentioned report was that judicial system of Lithuania tends to become a close-door institution, especially with regard to the information provided or the society members.19
The judiciary reacted to the survey quite quickly. The Report was also taken into account by Judicial Council, which created an already mentioned working group “On the presentation of information on the activities of judicial system to publics”.20 On 19th of March 2004 the Association of Judges of the Republic of Lithuania organized a meeting of judges of Vilnius region with journalists. Representatives of Open Society Institute were invited to make reports on the survey.
Another research, also dealing with some of the mentioned issues is “Procedural Justice in Criminal Justice of Lithuania, Use of Alternative Models of Justice”21 (See B3 for more details).
B. THE RELATIONS OF THE COURTS WITH THOSE INVOLVED IN COURT PROCEEDINGS
B.1.Please provide detailed information on programmes with the above-mentioned objectives being carried out or planned in your court system.
a) The general training programme for judges of Lithuania includes inter alia issues of judicial ethics, non-verbal communication, self regulation and dealing with stress (including practice classes), presentation of research “Procedural Justice in Criminal Justice of Lithuania, Use of Alternative Models of Justice” (see B.3) consideration and analysis of the results of this research, practical recommendations22.
Recommendations, provided by the working group, were approved by the Judicial Council on 8 October 2004.25 It was also supposed that presidents of courts organize the discussion on those recommendations in their courts.
Informational assistance is provided by the Information bureaus of the Ministry of Justice (there are 4 bureaus – in Kaunas, Klaipėda, Alytus and Druskininkai). There is a possibility to submit legal questions via e-mail. It is also planned to cumulate the fund of legal literature in premises of every the Information bureau, which will be available to take at home or read on the spot.
In 2004 special project, aiming at providing free legal consultations to women, concerning questions of family, labour law and issues of violence in family was started by the Information Centre for Women in cooperation with the Centre for Legal Aid of Oslo (Norway).28
B.2. Please describe who takes part in programmes.
Ministry of Justice, Judicial Council, Lithuanian Association of Judges, Judicial training centre, Universities, non-governmental organizations.
B.3. Please provide relevant information (e.g. summarising contents) as to theoretical studies existing in your country in the above mentioned field(s).
In 2004 on the order of Open Society Fund Lithuania professors of Vilnius University Gintautas Valickas and Law University of Lithuania (now – University of Mykolas Romeris) Viktoras Justickis, have conducted a research “Procedural Justice in Criminal Justice of Lithuania, Use of Alternative Models of Justice”. This research tended to look at the activities of judges and investigation judges from the standpoint of psychology. Research contains description of factors of procedural justice, description of court and pre-trial investigation procedures in Lithuania, subjective evaluations of their fairness. Researchers observed 103 court sessions and interviewed 105 convicts.
Conclusions of the research spotlight that judicial ethics and control over the real understanding of procedural rights in Lithuania remain a problem. Judges and investigation judges should make all the necessary steps to ensure that not only procedural requirements are formally preserved, but the sense of fairness and equity of justice users is encouraged.
Survey was presented to the society of 1 June 2004.29
C. THE RELATIONS OF THE COURTS WITH THE PUBLIC
i. DIRECT RELATIONS OF THE COURTS WITH THE PUBLIC
C.1.Please provide detailed information on programmes with the above mentioned objectives, being carried out or planned in your court system:
Courts in Lithuania do not have P. R. offices. Representatives for public relations exist only in several courts (the Supreme Court of Lithuania, the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania).
By the Resolution of Judicial Council of 16 January 2004, it was recommended for every court to appoint advisers to the presidents of courts, assistants to judges or other members of court personnel, responsible for relations with mass media30. Working group for the preparation of special training programme for such court personnel was created herewith. The Judicial Council approved training programme prepared by the working group on 7 May 2004.31
As for the moment it is impossible for every court of Lithuania to open its own Internet site, the working group “On the presentation of information on the activities of judicial system to publics”, working under the aegis of Judicial Council, proposed to use the Internet site of the National Courts Administration for the information on activities of courts (e.g. timetable of court sessions, working hours, press releases, etc.). Judicial Council has given such order to the National Courts Administration in January 2004.32 However, for the moment at the Internet site of the National Courts Administration only contact information of courts is available.
For the distribution of printed materials see A1.
C.2. Please describe who takes part in such programmes.
Judicial Council, National Courts Administration, superior courts, presidents of courts.
C.3. Please provide relevant information (e.g. summarising contents) as to theoretical studies existing in your country in the above mentioned field(s).
ii. INDIRECT RELATIONS OF THE COURTS WITH THE PUBLIC - JUSTICE AND THE MEDIA
C. 4. Please describe existing restrictions to the right to information in the field of judicial (civil, administrative, criminal) activity. Please describe the norms concerning secrecy of judicial investigations and/or other norms preventing dissemination of information on the development of a judicial case (e.g. secrecy of witness depositions, of filing a civil party suit within a criminal case, etc.). Please clarify at what stage in proceedings judicial information may be made public. Please also say if there is law or court practice preventing dissemination of names (or pictures) of persons involved in the case (parties, witnesses, public prosecutor, investigating judge, trial judge, etc.).
According to the Article 10 of the Code of Civil Procedure, all the material of civil case (with the exception of cases heard in the closed session) becomes public after the case is finished and court decision has come into force, or, if cassation review is possible – after the cassation procedure or expiry of term for cassation appeal. Every person (although not party to the case) can familiarize with the material of a case, make transcripts and extracts.
Court or judge can, upon the request of parties or ex officio, declare that all the material of a case or a part of it is not public, in case if it is necessary in order to protect the secrecy of personal life, property, confidentiality of information concerning the health status of the individual, as well as if there are ground to believe, that otherwise state, professional, commercial or other secret, protected by law, could be revealed. If the court dismisses the request of a party to declare the material of a case not public, a party may appeal to the court of higher instance.
Analogous regulation for administrative cases is given in the Article 12 of the Law on Administrative Proceedings.33
Material of criminal cases also becomes public after the case is finished and judgement has come into force, with the exceptions provided for by laws.
If a material of case constitutes state or official secret, only persons, on whom such right is vested by law, can familiarize with it. According to the Law on State and Official Secrets,34 the following information constitutes the state secret:
Material of criminal case, which may disclose the identity of secret witnesses or victims;
Data, which may disclose the identity of persons, to whom protective measures from criminal activities are applied;
Data concerning the details of operational activities (e.g. identity of persons involved in it, means and methods of operational activities, etc.).
Material of pre-trial investigation in criminal cases is not public. According to the Article 117 of the Criminal Code, material of pre-trial investigation or a part of it until the case is rendered to the court can be disclosed only with the permission of prosecutor. In any case, it is forbidden to disclose material about the juvenile suspects and victims. For the disclosure of material of pre-trial investigation criminal liability is foreseen.
Information rendered during the public court session is public. There is no direct prohibition to disseminate names (or pictures) of persons involved in the case, with the exception of certain cases, provided by laws (e.g. minors, witnesses in criminal cases) and rules of professional ethics of journalists. As a rule, newspapers use the initials of such persons, with the exception of cases of organized crimes, or if public person is involved. Filming before and after the court session is quite widespread thus is possible to see faces of accused or victims.
Some restrictions are foreseen in the Law on the Protection of Minors against Detrimental Effect of Public Information35. According to the Law, public information that causes physical, mental or moral detriment to the development of minors, and therefore may be prohibited or restricted includes information:
1) which relates to portrayal of physical or psychological violence: when the killing, mutilation or torture of people and animals are portrayed in detail, also vandalism, a positive assessment of violence and coercion or cruelty are being indulged in;
2) which displays a dead or cruelly mutilated body of a person, except in cases when such a portrayal is necessary for identification purposes;
3) which is related to the imitation of criminal activity.
Such information may be made available to the public only in places, which are inaccessible to minors, and (or) during such times when minors would not be able to access it, or when in employing technical means, conditions are created for the persons responsible for the upbringing and care of the children to ensure the possibility to limit the offering of such public information to minors.
It is prohibited to openly communicate to the public the information in relation to criminal activities or other violations of the law making available to the public of the personal data of a minor, who is not hiding from the law enforcement institutions or the court following the perpetration of a crime by a suspect, accused, being tried, judged, convicted, or a minor who has been the victim of a criminal action or other violations of the law, on the basis of which, his personal identity could be established.
Material of cases heard in closed sessions is not public. Closed sessions in civil, criminal and administrative cases may be held:
Any case - if it is necessary in order to protect private or family life, or if public hearing may disclose state, professional, or commercial secret;
family cases – upon request of one of the parties (such request is compulsory for the court);
adoption cases (even the decision in adoption cases is not public);
criminal juvenile cases;
cases of sexual crimes;
criminal cases, where anonymous witnesses or victims are interrogated.
Person, who wishes to familiarize with the public material of case, must submit a special request to the president of court. Procedure is still regulated by the Order of Minister of Justice and Director of Department of Archives of 199936. Taking into account the adoption of new procedural laws, the working group for the preparation of new draft regulations on the procedure for familiarization with the material of cases was composed by the Judicial Council in 2004.37
C.5. Please provide any information you deem useful as to the implementation of:
C.5.1 The Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data (ETS No. 108);
Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data was ratified by Lithuania in 2001.38 From 1 October 2001 the State Data Protection Inspectorate under the Ministry of Public Administration Reforms and Local Government Affairs was reorganized into the Governmental Institution - the State Data Protection Inspectorate and was assigned the responsibility to implement the provisions of the Convention.39
C.5.2. Recommendation Rec (2002)2 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on access to public documents;
Existing legal regulation in Lithuania essentially corresponds to the Recommendation Rec (2002)2 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on access to public documents. Law Amending the Law on Archives (new edition of Law on Archives of the Republic of Lithuania came into force from 30 March 2004)40 was drafted taking into account the provisions of the mentioned Recommendation.
C.5.3. Recommendation Rec (2003) 13 on the provision of information through the media in relation to criminal proceedings, and Council of Europe instruments mentioned therein.
Existing legal regulation in Lithuania essentially corresponds to the Recommendation Rec(2003)13 on the provision of information through the media in relation to criminal proceedings. What regards the practical implementation, some problematic aspects should be mentioned:
1) Respect for the principle of the presumption of innocence (Principle 2) as well as right to protection of privacy of suspects, accused or convicted persons (Principle 8) is not always respected by the mass media in practice.
2) There are no special seats for journalists in courtrooms (Principle 13). Moreover, as it is already mentioned, due to the lack of courtrooms cases are often heard in the offices of judges, where participation of public members is problematic.
C.6. What are the procedures, if any, that guarantee access to information and access by journalists to court hearings and judicial files? Please make appropriate references to existing regulations on this matter. Do courts have spokespersons? Are they judges? Are judges allowed, by regulations and/or by deontological rules, to make statements to the press? If so, under what circumstances?
Rules and procedures guaranteeing access by journalists to court hearings and judicial files are the same as for any other person.
As it was already mentioned, most courts in Lithuania do not have spokespersons. In any case, such persons, if employed, or appointed, will not be judges. Under the prevailing opinion in Lithuania, it is not appropriate for a judge to comment on a case.
Rules of Judicial Ethics of the Republic of Lithuania41 recommend judges to restrain from public comments on cases heard by him/her or his/her colleagues (22 Rule), to avoid giving legal consultations (21 Rule), while interacting with media to avoid expressing his/her opinion about the concrete cases (23 Rule).
C.7. Are television cameras allowed into the courtrooms? If so, what rules should govern the broadcasting of the recorded TV images in order to prevent the risk of manipulation?
No. According to the Article 38 of the Law on Courts, only the court cans video-record the hearing. Parties to the proceedings, in exercising their procedural rights, may, in accordance with the procedure laid down in procedural law, make an audio-recording of the court hearing. Other persons (including media) are prohibited from filming, taking photos, audio-and video recording and using other technologies during a court hearing. A person who violates the prohibition on the use of technical equipment during a court hearing shall be held liable under law. Code of Civil Procedure, Code of Criminal Procedure and Law on Administrative Proceedings contain analogous provisions.
C.8. In the light of national law and case-law, please describe criminal and civil implications of libel, slander, and/or similar violations of a person's reputation. Please give information about penalties provided for by law or judicial practice, as for criminal law, with special reference to violations committed by journalists. Are there different thresholds for responsibility, e.g. for public figures and for private individuals? If so, is there, however, protection for private life of public figures, and under what circumstances?
Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania guarantees the protection of human dignity (Article 21), private life (Article 22), as well as the right to have own convictions and freely express them, right to seek, obtain, and impart information and ideas (Article 25). Censorship of mass information is prohibited (Article 44). The Supreme Court of Lithuania has emphasized, that every time when the court decides a case concerning the violation of personal honour and dignity, the fair balance between the mentioned constitutional values must be reached. Freedom of press and freedom to broadcast information is lawful unless it violates the honour, dignity, or private life of other person42.
Legal definitions of violation of honour and dignity as well as conditions for their judicial protection can be found in the Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania (Article 2.24) as well as in the Law on Provision of Information to the Public of the Republic of Lithuania43, which is a special law applicable for the public information producers, disseminators, owners thereof, journalists and institutions.
According to the Article 20 of the Law on Provision of Information to the Public, dissemination of disinformation and information which is slanderous, insulting to a person and degrading to the personal honour and dignity of a person, is prohibited. It is also prohibited to disseminate information in violation of the presumption of innocence or which may obstruct impartiality of the judiciary authorities.
In instances determined by laws and procedure, the court may limit the dissemination in mass media, of the appraisals and comments, linked with a case which has not yet been examined in court and possibly having an impact on court impartiality and independence (however, no such cases are known in practice insofar).
According to the Supreme Court of Lithuania, disinformation which is insulting to a person and degrading to the personal honour and dignity of a person is false information, discrediting a person, alleging the violation of norms of law, moral or ethics, ignominy, improper behaviour in persons family or professional life, fraudulent public, commercial or other activities. Apart from the general evaluation criteria, there is a notion of honour and dignity, characteristics to some groups of persons, and dependent on age, sex, profession or activities, which should be taken into account.44
A producer and (or) disseminator of public information who publishes information about an individual’s private life (with the exception of cases specified in the Law) without the natural person’s consent, also a producer who publishes false information degrading to honour and dignity of the person, shall pay a compensation for moral damage to that person. The amount of the compensation for moral damage may not exceed 10,000 Litas45, except for the cases when the court establishes that false information degrading to honour and dignity of the person has been published intentionally. In such cases the amount may, by the court’s decision, be increased, but no more than 5 times. In each case the amount awarded to the plaintiff may not be in excess of 5% of the annual income of the publisher and (or) disseminator of public information.
A producer of public information who, without the consent of a natural person, publishes information about his private life (with the exception of cases specified by law), or who has published false information degrading to honour and dignity of the person but denies the said information and apologises for that, may be ordered by court to pay the compensation for moral damage but in this case the amount of the compensation may not be in excess of 3,000 Litas, except for the cases when false information degrading to honour and dignity of the person has been published intentionally.
According to the Article 55 of the Law on Provision of Information to the Public, a producer of public information shall not be liable for publication of false information if he indicates the source of information and the information is provided by the following:
1) state and local government institutions and agencies, political parties, trade unions, political and public organisations or other persons in official or published documents;
2) publicly stated in public meetings, conferences, news conferences, rallies and other events, and the producer of public information does not distort the assertions made. In this case all responsibility falls on the organisers of the said events, and the persons who made the information public;
3) published earlier in other mass media if the information has not been denied by the mass media which published it;
4) announced by participants of live radio and television shows who are not subordinate to the producer of public information;
5) announced in a special election campaign programmes made not by the producer of public information;
6) announced in non-anonymous and commissioned articles or programmes;
7) presented in the form of an opinion, a commentary or evaluation.
In those cases responsibility for publication of false information shall lie with the person who first publishes such information.
According to the Article 14 of the Law on Provision of Information to the Public, information about a person’s private life may be published only with the consent of that person, and if publication of the information shall not cause undue harm to the person. Information concerning private life may be published without the person’s consent in those cases, when publishing of the information shall not pose harm to the person, or when the information shall assist in uncovering law violations or crimes also, when the information shall be presented in the examination of a case in an open court process.
Information concerning a public figure’s (of state political figures, public servants, heads of political parties and public organisations and other persons participating in public or political activity) private life may be made public without his consent, if this information shall disclose the circumstances of this person private life or personal traits which are of public significance.
Dissemination of information about a person’s private life is prohibited even if such information does not violate the honour and dignity of the person.
The Supreme Court of Lithuania has ruled that the protection of private life is not absolute and can be restricted, in particular seeking to protect the rights and legitimate interests of other persons. Thus, for example, dissemination of information concerning the mental health of the teacher was recognized lawful, as it was necessary for the protection of public interest and rights of pupils and their parents.46
The scope of protection of private life of public figures is more narrow, as public persons have influence into the social life and therefore society members have a right to know more about persons, on whom the right to decide issues, important to all the society, is vested. Thus the claim of public person concerning the violation of his/her private life may be satisfied only if he/she proves, that the information disseminated concerns those circumstances of his/her private life that does not have any social importance47.
According to the Article 154 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania, libel is defined as dissemination of false information, which can snub or diminish a person, or shatter confidence in him/her. Information must be knowingly false48, as direct intention of the accused must be proved. Libel is punished by fine, arrest or imprisonment for not more than 1 year.
Libel via the mass media or dissemination of false accusation in commitment of felony is punished by fine, arrest or imprisonment for not more than 2 years.
Insult, according to the Article 154 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania, is defined as indignity of a person by action, verbally or in written. Public insult is a crime, and punished by fine, arrest or imprisonment for not more than 1 year.
C.9. What degree of professional diligence and integrity is requested from journalists? What criteria govern the distinction between lawful and unlawful acts, if the information provided is false? Are there differences between facts reported as such or the uttering of mere opinions? Is the fact that information comes from a qualified source (e.g. a police officer) an element that permits disclosure in any case or at least exempts the journalist from verification? What precautions are requested in the broadcasting, e.g., news concerning provisional arrest of a citizen on the basis of criminal charges? Do police officers and/or prosecution offices and/or investigating judges hold press conferences? If so, what are the procedures?
According to the Article 3 of the Law on Provision of Information to the Public, information must be presented in the public information media correctly, accurately and in an unbiased fashion.
Journalists must provide correct, accurate and unbiased news, refuse to implement the assignment of a public information producer, owner or the responsible person appointed by them, should this assignment force them to violate a law or the Code of Ethics of Lithuanian Journalists and Publisher, adhere to the professional ethics of journalists and in own activity be guided by the basic public information principles (Article 42 of the Law).
The norms of professional ethics when providing information to the public, obligatory for the producers of public information, its disseminators, and journalists, are defined by the Code of Conduct of Journalists and Publishers of Lithuania49. It contains such obligations of journalist as propagate true and accurate news as well as full range of opinions, to present as many as possible opinions of impartial individuals, assess his information sources in a critical way, scrutinize facts with due diligence on the grounds of at least several sources, use all his attempts to gather information from all available sources in order to be sure information is true, full and impartial.
The obligation of journalist to verify the information depends on the information source. As it was already mentioned, a producer of public information is not be liable for publication of false information if he indicates the source of information and the information is provided by the state and local government institutions and agencies, political parties, trade unions, political and public organisations or other persons in official or published documents.
Moreover, as the Supreme Court of Lithuania has spotlighted, that Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania as well as the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Article 10) protects not only a person, who disseminated information which is absolutely correct, but also a person, who disseminated information which is not very precise, but did it honestly, without misusing the right to provide information. Aims and conduct of a person who disseminated such information should be taken into account50.
The Supreme Court has also stressed that one of the most important tasks of the professional activities of the journalist is to disclose problems, topical for the society members. Sometimes the importance of this task itself may overweight the fact, that not all the details are provided very precise and not all of them are correct. Such inaccuracies should be tolerated with respect to the importance and topicality of the questions raised, as far as it is not overreach the limits of fair activity of the journalist and there is no misuse of the professional rights. Such inaccuracies must be especially tolerated by the persons involved in public activities. As the limits for critics of public persons are wider, it means that public persons should be more tolerant to the press.51
As civil law in Lithuania provides for the responsibility for dissemination of false information, which is degrading to the personal honour and dignity of a person, it is important to demarcate information and opinion. That is probably the most difficult task for a civil court. For dissemination of opinion there is no civil responsibility. If somebody disseminates opinion in a very improper, slanderous or insulting form, he/she may be held responsible for insult (Article 155 of the Criminal Code). However, such cases in practice are not successful, as the prosecution has to prove the direct intention by the accused, which is quite a difficult task.
The Code of Conduct of Journalists and Publishers of Lithuania contain inter alia the following provisions:
- The journalist shall comply with the presumption of innocence.
- In case in the interest of society it is necessary to disclose the name of the individual who has committed a crime and afterwards the fact of crime has not been proved, the journalist shall inform about it immediately.
- The journalist and publisher shall not publish groundless, unverified accusations.
- The journalist should not publish the names of victims, particularly in the case of sexual aggression.
- The journalist and publisher should consider if it is worth it to publicize the names of delinquents even in the case their fault has been proved in the court of law.
- It shall not be proper to publicize the names of the individuals who committed minor crimes and have been lightly punished, except in the case when such individuals are high officials.
- The journalist should not remind the old crime committed by the individual who has served his sentence. This rule shall not apply to the individual in case of undoubted recidivism and if such individual continues his work that was related to serious crime he has committed and claims to a high position in the society.
- The journalist should consider if it is worth to publish the facts about family scandals.
- The journalist and publisher should not overdo the pictures of catastrophes, accidents or violence that might insult the feelings of the relatives as well as sensitiveness of readers and spectators.
- The journalist shall show particular respect to the rights of the children and adults with physical or mental incapacity.
Police officers and/or prosecution offices and/or investigating judges in Lithuania as a rule do not hold press conferences.
C.10. Please provide information as to the amount of compensation afforded by courts to the victims of the above violations. Are there established criteria? Do such criteria depend on the social status of the person in question?
As it was already mentioned, the amount of the compensation for moral damage caused by the violation of private life or dissemination of false information, violate the honour and dignity of the person is determined by the court, and as a rule may not exceed 10,000 Litas (with the exception of cases, when it was done intentionally).
According to the Law on Provision of Information to the Public, in determining the amount of the compensation for moral damage, the court is obliged to take in to account the financial circumstances of the person who causes damage, the gravity of the offence, its consequences and other significant circumstances. As the social status of the person in question may be related to the consequences of the offence, it may be found by court as one of criteria which should be taken into account.
It is difficult to provide information on the exact amount of compensation afforded by courts, as no such statistics is provided. The amount may differ from the maximum amount of 10 000 Litas52 to the 500 Litas53, or even less.
C.11. What is the legal regime of rectification of inaccurate information? Is spontaneous rectification such that criminal liability is excluded, or compensation diminished?
According to the Law on Provision of Information to the Public, the producers and/or disseminators of public information must deny published false information degrading honour and dignity of a natural person or harmful to the rightful interests of a legal person, especially its reputation. Upon receiving a reasoned request to deny false information degrading a person’s honour and dignity, the producer or disseminator of public information must publish the denial without any commentary, in an equivalent place, of an equivalent scope and of the same form in the nearest possible publication, television or radio broadcast, or another form of mass media, where this information was published.
A subsequent denial does not release the producer of public information from responsibility, but denial of false information degrading to honour and dignity of a person and apology published by a producer or disseminator of public information may serve as grounds for the court to reduce the amount of compensation for moral damage.
As it was already mentioned, in case if a producer of public information who has published false information degrading to honour and dignity of the person denies the said information and apologises for that, the maximum amount of the compensation for moral damage is lesser.
C.12. Please describe protective measures available, respectively within criminal and civil procedures (e.g. seizure of publications, order not to distribute a book, etc.). Are there measures in your system that are or might be considered as a form of preventive censorship? Is there a role for the executive branch in supervising the media?
Protective measures available within civil procedure include inter alia arrest of movable property, prohibition to perform certain actions (e.g. order not to distribute a book), obligation to perform certain actions, etc. (Article 145 of the Code of Civil Procedure).
Measures available within criminal procedure include seizure of property, temporary restrictions of proprietary rights (Articles 147, 151 of the Code of Criminal Procedure).
There are no measures that are or might be considered as a form of preventive censorship in Lithuanian legal system.
According to the Law on Provision of Information to the Public, main institutions, supervising the media, are Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania (an independent institution accountable to the Seimas, which regulates and supervises the activities of commercial radio and television broadcasters), the Inspector of Journalist Ethics (state officer, appointed by and accountable to the Seimas, supervising the implementation of the provisions of the Law on Provision of Information to the Public as well as of Law on the Protection of Minors against Detrimental Effect of Public Information) and Ethics Commission of Journalists and Publishers (self-governance institution of the producers and disseminators of public information).
Executive branch does not have direct role in supervising the media. Some institutions at the Government (e.g. State Data Protection Inspectorate, Communications Regulatory Authority) may supervise certain aspects of activities of media, falling under their respective jurisdiction.
C.13. In the event that a judge or a court is attacked by the press for reasons connected with the administration of justice, is there a role for the Judicial Service Commission and/or judicial associations? Is the judge bound by a duty of discretion even if a press campaign has been started attacking him or her?
Usually Lithuanian Association of Judges reacts in such situations. Judges themselves try to avoid contacts with mass media. According to the Rules of Professional Ethics of Judges, judge is bound by a duty of discretion in all the circumstances; even if a press campaign has been started attacking him/her.
D. ACCESSIBILITY, SIMPLIFICATION AND CLARITY OF THE LANGUAGE USED BY THE COURTS IN PROCEEDINGS AND DECISIONS
D.1. Due to the fact that most of the problems involved are of a theoretical nature, delegations are only requested to describe the prevailing attitude in the national legal community about conciseness of judgements (e.g., in some countries, judges believe that very short judgments reinforce the authority of the judgement; in some other countries, judges feel obliged, or are obliged by the law, to adequately explain in writing, for example, the criteria and calculations adopted to award damages or to make orders related to costs).
Procedural laws of Lithuania regulate quite in detail, what parts a court judgement should contain, but there is nothing about how detailed every part, especially the motives, should be.
In general, the prevailing attitude in the national legal community is that court judgement should be comprehensive. Courts of higher instance, particularly the Supreme Court of Lithuania, use Latin terms quite often. Some opponents argue that such practice makes judgements too complicated and hardly understandable to general publics or even to lawyers. Others disagree and insist that particularity of judgements and use of specific legal language is necessary in order to ensure one of procedural aims – development of law.
D.2. Please provide relevant information (e.g. summarising contents) as to theoretical studies existing in your country in the above mentioned field(s).
No special studies in this field have been made insofar.
6 According to the data provided by the Department of Statistics, in 2003 the overall population of Lithuania was 3 454 200. http://www.std.lt/web/main.php
16 31 May 1994, No. I-480 (as amended 24 January 2002 No. IX-732)
33 14 January 1999, No. VIII-1029 (New edition by 19 September 2000 No. VIII-1927)
35 September 10, 2002. No. IX – 1067
36 15 April 1999, No. 79/13
38 Republic of Lithuania Law on the Ratification of Convention for the Protection of Individuals with Regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data (Ets No 108) as amended by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. 20 February 2001 No IX-189
40 30 March 2004, No. IX-2084
52 See for example ruling of the Supreme Court of Lithuania of 9 February 2004, civil case No. 3K-3-91/2004
53 See for example ruling of the Supreme Court of Lithuania of 23 September 2002, civil case No. 3K-3-1044/2002