Halet v Luxembourg (no. 21884/18)
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held by twelve votes to five that there has been a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)
In this case, the applicant was one of two employees at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) who, between 2012 and 2014, disclosed to media outlets several hundred advance tax rulings and tax returns prepared by PwC (the so-called “Luxleaks” affair). The information published highlighted a practice, spanning a period from 2002 to 2012, of highly advantageous tax agreements between PwC, acting on behalf of multinational companies, and the Luxembourg tax authorities. The applicant received a criminal conviction as the courts did not accept whistleblowing as justification for his actions.
On 7 May 2018 the applicant lodged a complaint with the ECtHR on the basis that the conviction constituted an interference with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – the right to freedom of expression. The Third Section ECtHR, while acknowledging the existence of an interference, considered that it had been prescribed by law and had pursued the legitimate aim of preventing the disclosure of confidential information and protecting the employer’s reputation, finding no violation of Article 10.
On 14 February 2023 the Grand Chamber held that the leaked documents did not provide previously unknown information, so the harm suffered by the employer did not outweigh the public interest in disclosure. On the severity of the penalty, the Court states that the dismissal (albeit with severance pay) combined with a criminal conviction will have a deterrent effect on the freedom of expression of the applicant and any other whistleblower. The ECtHR concluded that such an interference with freedom of expression is not necessary in a democratic society and thus violates Article 10 ECHR.
The Judgement of the Grand Chamber can be accessed here (in English and French).
The press release of the Grand Chamber can be downloaded here (in English and French).
For more information on the case and the topic of whistleblowing, please see here the article by Hava Yurttagül ‘LuxLeaks Scandal and Corporate Whistleblowing: Reflecting on ‘Halet v Luxembourg’.