Defamation remains a criminal offence in Luxembourg.
The Luxembourg Criminal Code includes two defamation-related offences: slander (Art. 444) and insult (Art. 448).
Slander (calomnie) consists of publicly and maliciously making a precise accusation (l’imputation d’un fait précis) against another person in order to attack the person’s honour or expose him or her to public contempt without proving the accusation. The punishment for slander is a prison sentence of eight days to one year or a fine of between €251 and €2,000.
If the act of slander is directed at a group of individuals on account of certain personal characteristics (race, age, gender, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation, disability), philosophical or political belief, religion, or trade union membership, the punishment is elevated to a prison sentence of one month to one year and a fine of €251 to €25,000.
Public insult (injure) is punishable with a fine of eight days to two months in prison and/or a fine of €251 to €5,000. Insult is not specifically defined in statute but has been defined by the courts as “more or less vague acts or expressions” that damage a person’s honour or standing.
In the case of slander, even if an allegation is proven to be true, if the allegation was made “without any public or private motive but with the sole intention of causing harm”, the defendant can be prosecuted for malicious disclosure (divulgation méchante), punishable with between eight days and two months in prison and/or a fine of between €251 and €4,000 (Art. 449).
Criminal Defamation of Public Officials
Provisions on the books.
Public officials in Luxembourg are protected by criminal laws prohibiting outrage (grave insult) toward authorities. Art. 275 of the Luxembourg Criminal Code punishes outrage toward a member of the Chamber of Deputies, a government official, or a magistate in virtue of his over function with a fine of €500 to €3,000 or a prison sentence of 15 days to six months. The punishment is elevated to a prison sentence of two months to two years, or a fine of €500 to €10,000 if the act occurs during a sitting of the Chamber or during court. Art. 276 punishes outrage toward a minister or an agent of public authority or any person having a public character with a prison sentence of eight days to one month and a fine of €251 to €2,000.
Criminal Defamation of the Head of State
Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols
Criminal prosecutions for slander and defamation directed at constitutional bodies (e.g. Chamber of Deputies, Council of State) are explicitly permitted by Art. 446 of the Luxembourg Criminal Code, subject to the same conditions as defamation against individuals. These bodies are also protected by outrage laws (Art. 277).
Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols
Criminal Defamation of the Deceased
Art. 450 of the Luxembourg Criminal Code states that spouses or descendants (up to and including the third degree) may file criminal defamation charges on behalf of a deceased person.
Art. 144 of the Luxembourg Criminal Code punishes contempt toward the “objects” of a religion with between 15 days and six months in prison or a fine of between €251 and €5,000. This article only applies when the act of contempt is performed in a place of worship or during a public ceremony of a religious group. Contempt toward a religious minister during his ministry is punishable in the same manner (Art. 145).
Other Relevant Criminal Offences
Offence to modesty, committed without violence or threats, is punishable with between one month and two years in prison and a fine from €251 to €10,000.
Slander and defamation can only be prosecuted upon request, except cases involving public officials in their public capacity, which may be prosecuted ex officio (Art. 450). Contempt toward a member of the Chamber of Deputies can normally only be prosecuted upon request except in “flagrant” cases (Art. 275).
Both criminal and civil actions for defamation are subject to a three-month statute of limitations, according to Art. 70 of the Law on Freedom of Expression in the Media.
Statistics on Application
Civil liability for defamation in Luxembourg is regulated by the Law on Freedom of Expression in the Media.
There are no caps on non-pecuniary damages for defamation in Luxembourg law.
In practice damages are very low and sometimes only in symbolic amounts (e.g., €1). It is also noted that, without prejudice and prior the awarding of civil damages, “in the even information damaging a person’s honour or reputation is published, the courts may, even when acting on an urgent application … order steps to be taken, such as publication or issue of a correction or statement” (Art. 16, Law on Freedom of Expression).
The Law on Freedom of Expression (updated in 2010) introduced specific defences for defamation as concerning the press, which were later also incorporated into the criminal code.
Truth: Truth is a general defence for slander. Burden of proof lies with the defendant. However, Luxembourg law restricts the defence of truth in several ways. Truth is a defence if the statement concerns the actions of a public official or “any person having a public character” in relation to that person’s public function or role. However, truth cannot be used as a defence if the allegation concerns a person’s private life. As noted above, when proof of truth is not possible or is not allowed by law, slander is known as defamation. Legal restrictions include, for example, the accusation of a crime whose prosecution is subject to a statute of limitations.
Reasonable publication: If the journalist or other media representative is not able to prove the truth of the allegations made, it is a defence if the journalist can prove that he or she undertook due diligence, had “sufficient reasons” for believing the allegation to be true, and believed the allegation to be of great public interest.
Privileged reporting: The press cannot be held liable for “faithful quotation of a third party” as long as there is a clear public interest and the third person is identified, or for live communications as long as the speaker is identified and “due care” was taken to protet the honour of those concerned.
The Law on Freedom of Expression (Art. 21) states that both civil and penal responsibility lies first with the “collaborator”; if unknown, then the publisher; if also unknown, then the distributor.
Media Cases and Case Law
According to Luxembourg experts, Luxembourg courts generally follow the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, and criminal defamation prosecutions against the press, much less convictions, are rare.
A longstanding principle of defamation jurisprudence in Luxembourg is the separation between fact and value. Slander can only be constituted by a statement whose or falsity can be demonstrated. Value judgments, on the other hand, are only actionable as insult.
Recent examples of cases involving the media
In 2013, the Luxembourg Court of Appeal dismissed criminal slander and insult charges against Josée Hansen, a journalist working for the weekly newspaper d’Lëtzebuerger Land. The charges had been filed by Jean Nicholas, the owner of several Luxembourg media outlets including the tabloid Lëtzebuerg Privat. In a 2011 article, Hansen wrote that Nicholas’s media outlets served as “liaison agencies” (organes de liaison) for “xenophobia”.
The Court of Appeal, following a lower court’s decision in Hansen’s favour, emphasised that in order for a statement to be considered slanderous, it must contain the accusation of a “precise fact”. The Court clarified that a precise fact was one “whose truth or falsity can be the subject of proof” and found that Hansen’s comment presented “a very general and vague point of view and did not allow for proof of its truth or falsity” and therefore could not constitute slander.
The Court in contrast defined insult as “more or less vague acts or expressions that, according to common opinion, cause damage to a person’s honour or standing”. In this respect, the Court that Hansen’s article “[did] not overstep the bounds of journalistic criticism on a topical matter and therefore must be allowed to fall within the bounds of press freedom and freedom of expression.”
Recent Legal Changes
No known relevant changes.
Legal Sources and Acknowledgements
Information on defamation laws in Europe was collected by the International Press Institute (IPI) in collaboration with the School of Public Policy’s Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and their partners at the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. (Read more about our partners here.)
The information contained in this database is for informational and advocacy purposes only. If you are a journalist facing a defamation claim, you should seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. However, if you are unable to find such an attorney, IPI may be able to assist you in doing so. Please contact us at ipi[at]freemedia.at.
Information on Luxembourg was last updated in January 2015.