The Court of Cassation rejects the appeal requesting the suspension of the broadcasting of the film “Grace to God”


On January 6, 2021, the Court of Cassation confirmed the Paris Court of Appeals’ ruling that freedom of expression prevailed over the presumption of innocence.

The plaintiff, a former priest in the Diocese of Lyon, was indicted in 2016 for sexual abuse of minors committed while he was in office, and heard as an assisted witness regarding rapes committed during the same period.

The judgment under appeal had rejected his request for summary proceedings to order the suspension of the broadcasting of the film « Grâce à Dieu », which evokes the criminal acts, balancing the right to the presumption of innocence against the right to freedom of expression, particularly when it contributes to a debate of general interest. He had also noted that the elements exposed in the film were already well-known.

In the grounds of his appeal, the former priest considered in particular that « the right to freedom of expression must be exercised with respect for the presumption of innocence » and that the effect of the film was to present his guilt as unquestionable despite the presence of a card at the beginning of the film indicating the fictional nature of the work.

He also criticized the Court of Appeal for having noted the presence of a card at the end of the film, indicating that the priest benefits from the presumption of innocence and that no trial date had already been set yet, without taking into account « the particular impact of a film compared to a written message appearing a few seconds on the screen ». Such an impact could have repercussions on his right to a fair trial in that his alleged guilt was publicly demonstrated.

The Court of Cassation ruled that the balancing carried out by the Court of Appeal had indeed made it possible to assess the interests at stake as well as the various warnings to the viewer regarding the presumption of innocence and the proceedings in progress. In this respect, the suspension of the film’s broadcast until the final decision on the priest’s guilt would be disproportionate, in that it could postpone the release of the film for several years.

By the IP/IT team of UGGC Law Firm

Source: Cass. 1st civ. 6 Jan. 2021, n° 19-21.718, published in the bulletin.

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