Global Freedom of Expression

Lehideux and Isorni v. France

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    September 23, 1998
  • Outcome
    Law or Action Upheld
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    France, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Hate Speech, Political Expression

Content Attribution Policy

Global Freedom of Expression is an academic initiative and therefore, we encourage you to share and republish excerpts of our content so long as they are not used for commercial purposes and you respect the following policy:

  • Attribute Columbia Global Freedom of Expression as the source.
  • Link to the original URL of the specific case analysis, publication, update, blog or landing page of the down loadable content you are referencing.

Attribution, copyright, and license information for media used by Global Freedom of Expression is available on our Credits page.

Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The right to Freedom of Expression, as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) covers the expression of ideas and information which shocks, offends or disturbs. The justification of a pro-Nazi policy could not be allowed to enjoy the protection afforded by Article 10 ECHR. Although the applicants explicitly distanced themselves from Nazi atrocities voicing their disapproval, Article 17 prevented the expression because it was considered an abuse of ECHR rights.


The first applicant was the President of the Association for the Defense of the Memory of Marshal Petain.

The second applicant was a lawyer who had assisted in the defense of Marshal Petain in his trial for collaboration with Germany during World War II. The lawyer passed away on 8 May 1995. On 24 June 1996, the Commission decided that his widow, Ms. Yvonne Isorni, had standing to continue the proceedings on her late husband’s behalf.

The second applicant wrote a text which was published by a national newspaper, calling upon the people of France to recognize Marshal Petain’s achievements during the period after the Armistice with Germany. The National Association of Former Members of the Resistance filed a criminal complaint against the applicants and they were convicted of the crime of publicly defending the crimes of collaboration with the enemy.

The publication in issue can be found in Paragraph 11 of the judgment.


Decision Overview

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) held in a majority judgment (fifteen votes against six) that the conviction of applicants for publication of an article in favor of Philippe Pétain was prescribed by law and pursued a legitimate aim. However, it was not necessary in a democratic society, and therefore, it violated Article 10 (Freedom of Expression).

The court ruled that the case “does not belong to the category of clearly established historical facts – such as the Holocaust – whose negation or revision would be removed from the protection of Article 10 by Article 17.” (Para. 47)

In doing so, the ECtHR ruled that the protections in Article 17 (prohibition against abuses of rights) could restrict the right to Freedom of Expression granted under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

The lapse of more than 40 years makes it difficult to deal with remarks of the same severity within 10 or 20 years. ECHR States Parties should allow open and dispassionate debates on their own histories. However, with the addition of this case, it is unclear as to what events can be considered “non-negotiable” and what events are open for discussion. Similarly, the Court noted the seriousness of a criminal conviction, and, having regard to the existence of other means of intervention and rebuttal through civil remedies, the Court found the conviction was disproportionate to the aim pursued.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

General Law Notes

Domestic Law
Freedom of the Press Act of 29 July 1881, sections 23, 24
Court of Cassation, Crim. 11 July 1972, Bull. crim. no. 236
Crim 22 August 19121, Bull. crim. no. 46
Crim. 24 October 1967, Bull. crim. no. 263
Crim. 14 January 1971, Bull. crim. no. 14
Crim. 2 November 1978, Bull. crim. no. 294 and Crim. 11 July 1972, Bull. crim. no. 294
Law no. 90-615 of 13 July 1990
Freedom of the Press Act, section 48-2

Case Significance

Official Case Documents

Official Case Documents:


Have comments?

Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.

Send Feedback