This is a translation of the article originally published in Spanish by Carlos Berbell, from the specialized legal portal CONFILEGAL, the most renowned and read legal newspaper in Spain.
Freedom of expression, provided that it serves the general interest and does not use manifestly injurious, vexatious or unnecessary expressions, includes criticism of the conduct of the person against whom it is directed, even if such criticism is unsavoury and may annoy, disturb or disgust.
The rights to freedom of expression and information are essential as a guarantee for the formation of free public opinion. This is a requirement for pluralism, tolerance and a spirit of openness, without which there can be no democratic society.
This is the conclusion reached by the court of the Fourteenth Section of the Provincial Court of Madrid in its appeal ruling, which overturned the lower court’s decision, acquitting the associations Citizens Commission on Human Rights International (CCHR) – registered in California, USA – and the Citizens Commission on Human Rights of Spain (CCDH) – registered in Spain (both of the Church of Scientology) of the accusation of unlawful interference with the honour of Spanish psychiatrists.
“Church whose axis revolves around Dianetics, which is considered to be a true science of mental health distinct from psychiatry, against which it has fought, and by the psychiatrist Thomas Szasz who was professor emeritus of psychiatry at Syracuse University in New York; recognised critic of the moral and scientific foundations of psychiatry and one of the leading figures of anti-psychiatry“, says the court ruling, dated 10 February, to which Confilegal has had access.
According to the magistrates (judges) María del Rosario Campesino Temprano, Juan Uceda Ojeda -rapporteur- and Jesús Alemany Eguidazu, the Spanish Society of Psychiatry (SEP), the plaintiff, is obliged to bear the criticisms made against it, however harsh they may be.
“We do not believe that we can accept that the right to honour should prevail when confronted with the right to freedom of expression in the field of health,” the court states in its ruling.
There has been, therefore, neither an illegitimate intrusion nor an injury to the honour of all psychiatrists who are members of the SEP, says the ruling of the Provincial Court of Madrid, as the SEP claimed.
Therefore, Article 20 of the Spanish Constitution must prevail over Article 18.
And it refers to the jurisprudence of the Spanish Constitutional Court contained in judgments 216/2013, of 19 December, and judgments of the Civil Chamber of the Spain Supreme Court 375/2013, of 5 June, 5/2014, of 14 January, and 423/2014, of 30 July.
The American association was represented by Professor of Procedural Law at the Carlos III University, Víctor Moreno Catena. The Spanish association was represented by lawyers Isabel Ayuso Puente and Gregorio Arroyo Hernánsanz. And the SEP by Carles Vendrell Cervantes, of Uría Menéndez.
Both associations had previously been condemned by the head of the 59th Court of First Instance of Madrid on 19 November 2021, who had ordered the banning of publications on the websites www.cchr.org and www.ccdh.es in which they harshly criticise psychiatrists.
A ruling that has been overturned by this one.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION MUST PREVAIL
The tribunal of the Madrid Provincial Court analyses the six articles which, according to the SEP, would support the alleged unlawful interference with the right to honour of all its members.
The first says that psychiatrists are psychopaths because their treatments damage the body and mind and degrade the person. They also claim that psychiatry is a pseudo-science that does not cure mental illness and that its treatments, often imposed without the consent of those concerned, seriously harm people.
“We consider that, in the context of the anti-psychiatric theories followed by the defendant entities, which we must assume is well known to all psychiatrists, the phrase referred to by the plaintiff association cannot harm the honour of the professionals and that, in any case, it would be protected by the right to freedom of expression,” says the ruling.
In the second, it says that it is not the pharmaceutical companies and doctors but psychiatrists and psychiatry that are behind it all.
“Pharmaceutical companies rely on the authority of the experts of the mind. An authority that is false because an authority or expert solves problems of their profession, while these only cover up with their treatments the manifested symptoms. They put the consciousness of the person to sleep; either they depress it or excite it with powerful harmful drugs that force, like poisons, the body and the mind into deterioration.”.
The court seems to be very clear in its assessment: “Some of the phrases or expressions that are pointed out as offensive could imply that in the conduct of psychiatrists economic profit takes precedence over the curative and therapeutic purpose, but we do not believe that we can accept that the right to honour should prevail when confronted with the right to freedom of expression in the field of health“.
The third says of psychiatry that it is the story of a failure. “Psychiatrists continue to have a rather unfavourable reputation among medical colleagues; they are labelled as bumbling and second-rate” and “psychiatry is probably the most destructive force that has affected society in the last 60 years,” according to Edward Shorter and Dr Thomas Szasz.
The alleged offence, says the court, “stems from an undeniable assertion that forced and involuntary institutionalisation and treatment without the consent of the patients is still practised, and from statements made, as stated in the article itself, by the medical historian Edward Shorter in his book “A History of Psychiatry“, and by Thomas Szasz, one of the founders, as we have already said, of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights“.
“We find no reason to consider that this publication is an unlawful interference with the right to honour of SEP members,” he adds.
“We believe that the statements contained in the article are mere consequences or deductions of principles already defended by the various anti-psychiatry currents that exist and which we believe are well known to the members of the plaintiff association”.
Fourth article. “Our world caught up in drugs“. In the plaintiff’s opinion, the plaintiff’s honour is damaged when it is claimed that psychiatrists’ diagnoses are fraudulent and that they are intentionally used to ‘deceive’ people who are in perfectly good mental health, in order to be able to prescribe them psychiatric drugs“.
In this piece, as in the second of the publications dealt with by the three magistrates, “the work of psychiatrists is again criticised by denying them authority and the efficacy of their treatments and by the use of drugs to treat all kinds of so-called mental disorders which are on the increase and which have allowed an unacceptable extension of pharmaceutical products to different spheres and people“.
“If we can find words that could be considered offensive to some doctors by accusing them of a clear abandonment of the curative purpose, but from a reading of the whole article it can easily be seen that, perhaps using harsh and acid terms, it is all part of the criticism of the social disorders in all fields of life that, in the opinion of the author of the publication, are produced by the drugs. Again, we believe that the collision between fundamental rights should be tilted towards freedom of expression“, they stress.
The following two texts refer to two open letters. The first is to primary care physicians and the second to medical students.
The first accuses psychiatrists of using a plague of drugs that cause a mental holocaust and accuses them of failing to comply with the Hippocratic oath.
The article again stresses the same theme, that the treatments with psychotropic drugs, which have been extended to general practitioners, cause serious addictive effects and the annihilation of the mental health, addictive effects and mental holocaust, with no appreciable results.
But the judges underline that it is addressed to primary care doctors, not psychiatrists, “so that no attack on the honour of SEP members can be seen“.
PSYCHIATRISTS CRITICISED FOR NOT COMPLYING WITH THE HIPPOCRATIC OATH
In the open letter to the students, it is pointed out that psychiatrists are also accused of not complying with the Hippocratic oath.
The medical doctor author of the article, a member of the Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights, explains the reasons why he considers that the speciality of psychiatry should not be chosen, as he considers that it lacks a scientific basis; the biological tests to prove a mental illness are merely collaborative, the diagnoses are fundamentally theoretical, they are not rigorously validated and have definitions that are too broad.
In this letter, the court refers, “we only observe a new criticism of psychiatry and the use of pills in its treatments, which should not surprise the plaintiff, knowing its origin, and we do not observe sentences or expressions that involve an obvious attack or illegitimate intrusion into the honour of psychiatrists, an attack that if it had existed would be duly protected by freedom of expression, as we have been referring to when analysing previous publications“.
The latest text, entitled “Psiquiatría, pseudociencia y sanidad púbica” (Psychiatry, pseudoscience and public health), authored by lawyer Luis de Miguel Ortega, is said to contain a set of insults and disqualifications directed against psychiatrists that should be considered “inadmissible”.
Sentences such as “Psychiatry serves as a social control machine that sometimes becomes an agent of social and political revenge“; “The psychiatrist is the one who, in an absolutely illegal way, sends a fax to the Court to request an involuntary commitment, for false reasons, without the necessary urgency, in the face of less restrictive measures and even for ego reasons such as ‘he has not come to my surgery for months‘”; or “There is an undetermined number of coercive abortions in Spain in the hands of psychiatrists who do not want citizens to see the catastrophe that happens to a child when it is born after having been suffering from the psychiatric medication taken by the mother“.
On what the court concludes: “We continue to believe that we are faced with a conflict in which freedom of expression must prevail, we think that the statements contained in the article are mere consequences or inferences of principles already defended by the various anti-psychiatry currents that exist and which we believe are perfectly well known to the members of the plaintiff association. Likewise, the most acidic and vexatious expressions are directly linked to the legitimate objective, which could be protected by freedom of expression“.
The costs are to be borne by the SEP, which can still appeal to the Supreme Court.