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19/ Jul

Legal news — General articles

Criminal law — IT and communication law

Defamation on the Internet ● The "destination to the public in Monaco", jurisdictional criterion established by the Criminal Court

Tribunal correctionnel, 13 June 2023, v. E. c/ j. C. et la Société à Responsabilité Limitée K. (Public defamation • Internet • Lack of jurisdiction)

This judgement, although at first instance, is worth noting in that it sets out the criteria for the jurisdiction of the Monegasque Criminal Court to deal with disputed comments broadcast on the Internet and accessible from the Principality of Monaco.

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The Criminal Court held that it did not have universal jurisdiction over the disputed writings disseminated on the Internet, even though they were accessible from Monegasque territory.

In the absence of any other criterion of connection to the Principality, the Criminal Court subordinates its jurisdiction to the criterion of the destination of the disputed writings to the public in Monaco.

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The dispute

The dispute concerned four articles published on the defendants' website, two in Finnish and two in English, relating to a shipyard in Finland and implicating a foreign company owned by the plaintiff, a Belgian national and resident in Monaco.

The parties' arguments

On the basis of Law no. 1.299 of 15 July 2005 on freedom of public expression, which punishes defamation committed by means of audiovisual communication (article 22), the plaintiff asked the Criminal Court to order the deletion from the defendants' website of all defamatory content relating to him, and claimed compensation for his material and financial loss as well as for non-material damage.

The defendants did not dispute that they were the authors of the disputed articles, but raised in limine litis the territorial incompetence of the Monegasque courts, and in any event requested that they be acquitted, arguing that they were acting in good faith and that their writings were true, and that they were not sufficiently precise to constitute defamation. As a counterclaim, they demanded that the plaintiff be ordered to pay compensation for their financial and non-material loss.

Judgment of the Criminal Court

The Criminal Court ruled that:

"It is established that the Internet and the written material published on it constitute a means of audiovisual communication within the meaning of Article 15 of the aforementioned Act.

On the other hand, while it has been ruled that acts of public defamation are deemed to have been committed in any place where the offending statements were received, when said statements were broadcast via the internet, strict conditions must be applied to this jurisdiction, which cannot be universal.

Although they are accessible from the territory of the Principality of Monaco, the disputed writings must be intended for the Monegasque population in particular."

In this case, the court declared that it did not have jurisdiction, on the grounds that the disputed articles had not been written and distributed for the information of the Monegasque public, in the absence of any other criterion for connecting the articles to the Principality of Monaco, such as the Monegasque nationality of a party to the criminal proceedings.

However, it dismissed the defendants' counterclaim, ruling that the plaintiff could have considered it legitimate to bring the case before a Monegasque court given his status as a Monegasque resident.

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Comparative law

The position of the Criminal Court corresponds to that adopted by the Criminal Division (judgment of 12 July 2016, Appeal no. 15-86.645, Published in the Bulletin) and the Commercial Division (judgment of 20 September 2011, Appeal no. 10-16.569) of the French Court of Cassation.

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