Today, the European Court of Human Rights found in favour of whistleblower Raphaël Halet. Halet, along with Antoine Deltour and the journalist Edouard Perrin, was prosecuted for his role in disclosing documents exposing aggressive corporate tax avoidance schemes negotiated by PwC in Luxembourg. In what is known as the Luxleaks scandal which rocked Europe in 2012, Halet was the only one of the three defendants whose conviction was upheld.
Today’s judgement is the Court’s reconsideration of its original findings issued in 2021 after Halet successfully requested it to be referred to the Grand Chamber.
WIN is delighted and relieved that the Grand Chamber found that there had indeed been a violation of Halet’s right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Charter of Human Rights - reinforcing the principle that whistleblowing is not a crime.
Read more: Statement of the ECHR in the case of Luxleaks whistleblower Raphaël Halet
In an official statement, the Court confirmed the Grand Chamber’s findings:
“In view of its findings as to the importance, at both national and European level, of the public debate on the tax practices of multinational companies, to which the information disclosed by the applicant had made an essential contribution, the Court considered that the public interest in the disclosure of that information outweighed all of the detrimental effects arising from it. Thus, after weighing up all the interests concerned and taking account of the nature, severity and chilling effect of the applicant’s criminal conviction, the Court concluded that the interference with his right to freedom of expression, in particular his freedom to impart information, had not been “necessary in a democratic society”.
Watch: Delivery of the Grand Chamber judgment webcast
The Court’s original decision in 2021 - that Halet’s criminal conviction did not constitute a breach of his Article 10 rights - caused significant alarm among whistleblower protection and media freedom experts. WIN members, the Maison de Lanceurs d’Alerte in France and the Whistleblower-Netzwerk e.V. in Germany, along with other NGOs, such as Media Defence intervened in the case, providing the Court with expert analysis and guidance on the emerging consensus on whistleblower protections.
The Chair of WIN’s Board of Trustees, Vladimir Radomirović - Editor in Chief of Pištaljka - responded to the Court’s announcement:
This is an important victory for whistleblowers acting in the public interest and demonstrates that the European Court of Human Rights remains a bastion for protecting whistleblowing as a matter of freedom of expression. This is crucial at a time when many EU member states are failing to adopt laws to effectively transpose the new EU Directive on whistleblower protection, with some clearly stepping backwards.”
We are delighted for Raphaël Halet, his legal team and his supporters, and for this vindication which has been 10 years in the making. Further analysis of the judgment will help us better understand the legal implications of this important decision on the evolving norms of whistleblower protection. For now, this remains a positive step in the right direction for the protection of whistleblowers and the public’s right to know in Europe.
Brief background to the case and how you can help:
In 2012, while working at the international accountancy firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Raphaël Halet passed documents to an investigative journalist. The information was part of the journalist’s investigation - known globally as the ‘LuxLeaks’ - into significant tax avoidance schemes by multinationals through Luxembourg. Halet was prosecuted and convicted of breaching corporate secrecy. He was ordered by the Court of Appeal to pay a criminal fine of 1,000 euros, and to pay a symbolic sum of 1 euro in compensation for the non-pecuniary damage sustained by his employer. See for more information here.
The costs of defending oneself through the courts are enormous – financially, professionally and personally. Please consider making a donation to Raphael Halet on the LuxLeaks Raphael Gofundme page