The Constitutional Court issued a Judgment on December 19, 2013, limiting the cases where it is necessary to use the previous stage for annulment of proceedings before filing a writ of Constitutional Protection.
The facts giving rise to this decision originated in the lawsuit filed by a civil servant alleging a breach of his right to honor and reputation as a result of the publication of an article.
That claim was partially considered in the first instance, although the compensation awarded was lower than was originally requested in the claim.
An appeal was filed against this judgment by the defendants, which the Regional Court considered and decided that it was in the public interest for information to be provided on public figures – as the article referred to a public official, the possible trespass was prevented.
The claimant appealed the decision before the High Court, who considered the appeal and confirmed the judgment issued by the Court of First Instance, asserting that there had been defamation to the plaintiff.
The defendants then appealed to the Constitutional Court based on the right of freedom of expression and information governed by Section 20 of the Constitutional Law.
In response, the respondent alleged the lack of use of prior annulment of procedural actions that should have been filed for the violation of fundamental rights in the decision of the High Court, invoking the doctrine contained in the Order issued by the Constitutional Law [ATC as per its Spanish acronyms] 200/2010 dated December 21, which in a case of conflict between freedom of expression and right to honor, the Constitutional protection was ruled inadmissible for failure to file prior nullity proceedings actions.
The judgment analyzes essentially two fundamental issues, the proper balance of the fundamental rights invoked (freedom of expression vs Right to Honor) and, if necessary, the prior nullity actions to the filing of the Constitutional protection.
Regarding the latter issue, the Constitutional Court considered that the Court Order 200/2010 dated December 21 did not automatically apply because the aforementioned order governed a different case. Since the violation of the fundamental right took place under the last resolution and not before (whereas in the case under discussion the breach had occurred since the judgment of first instance) and could therefore not be said that such injury could not be denounced before the decision that ends the process in the same terms required by Section 241 of the Judiciary Act in order to require the prior nullity proceeding action and, therefore, the doctrine invoked shall not be considered applicable.
Moreover, in similar cases, the Courts have had the opportunity to pronounce on the rights that were later invoked before the Constitutional Court, as long as the issue has been ruled by three court instances. As a result, it is considered that the requirement of prior exam and the subsidiary nature of the Constitutional Appeal are guaranteed.
It should be noted that it would not make sense to claim that the Supreme Court reconsiders its decision background with similar arguments to those used at courts, so the doctrine mentioned above is reviewed and it is concluded that in those cases when the object of the process consists on the study of direct injury to the right, it is not necessary the prior nullity of proceedings actions as it would mean a review on the merits of the resolution.
Finally, in terms of balance of the aforementioned constitutional principles, the Court concludes that the principle of freedom of expression is infringed because the right to honor does not exclude criticism of the conduct of another person and in this case we must take into account several circumstances such as public relevance judgment on the matter and the fact that being a matter of public interest implies that public persons do come forced to assume some risk to their personal rights are affected.