If the court finds that you have overstepped the permissible borders of criticism and defamed another person, the sanctions applied to you must be proportional. Overly severe sanctions can still violate freedom of expression even if your statements have amounted to defamation.

example The amount of compensation for the defamatory expressions should not be so high as to lead the media to insolvency or to deter the particular journalist from reporting on matters of public interest again.

Civil remedies: compensation, apology, retraction

Civil remedies are used most commonly in defamation cases. Civil remedies may include monetary compensation or an obligation to retract the defamatory statements or prohibit any further damaging actions. In choosing the type of remedy or amount of compensation, the courts must balance the gravity of the damage to a person’s reputation and the importance of freedom of expression of the other person. 

example If the court of final instance awards compensation which is approximately four times larger than previously awarded by courts in defamation cases, this will not be proportional, unless there are exceptional circumstances justifying such an amount of damages.

Criminal sanctions

Criminal sanctions are an exception in defamation cases and must be applied very cautiously. Criminal sanctions are the most severe type of penalty, and therefore, they are usually applied for the most serious violations, such as statements inciting hatred or violence.

They should also be applied only as an exception, because criminal sanctions could also deter the media from fulfilling their role in future.

The Estonian Penal Code provides sanctions only for the defamation of persons enjoying international immunity, a representative of state authority or defamation of court or judge. The defamation of a representative of state authority or judge should be in connection with the performance of their duties for it to be punishable. Incitement of hatred is also punishable under the Estonian Penal Code. However, only civil remedies can be used in cases of defamation and libel towards private persons. 


Last updated 24/05/2017