Insults within the family are not punishable by law

In a recent decision, the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt am Main has classified the closest family circle as an area free of a special protection against defamation. Insults can be expressed within the family without the need for criminal liability.

family dispute

Family dispute

In a recent decision, the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt am Main recognises the family as an area with a particularly protected relationship of trust. Insulting statements within the family are permissible, which are punishable outside the family.

The background to the decision is a family dispute. A man poked his son to get him to walk faster. His wife – the child’s mother – filmed it all and sent it to her mother – the husband’s mother-in-law – via WhatsApp. The mother-in-law has now sent the video to other family members. Furthermore she claimed her son-in-law is abusing her grandchild. She also filed a criminal complaint and showed the video to the Youth Welfare Office.

The son-in-law then demanded that she refrain from making such allegations in the future and not pass them on to third parties. He wanted his mother-in-law to sign a cease-and-desist letter.

The Higher Regional Court decided that the man could not demand such a cease-and-desist declaration. It regards statements made in the family circle as privileged; there is a special area free of a special protection against defamation. The area of confidential communication within particular relationships of trust is regarded as an insult free sphere. One is to be able to discuss oneself with one’s closest reference persons without having to fear to be made civilly or even criminally responsible for it. It does not matter whether the statements are made in a personal conversation or in writing, for example via WhatsApp.

Consequences for Criminal Law

The grounds of the Frankfurt court can also be applied to criminal cases. If the particularly protected area of the inner family circle already leads to the fact that no omission of defamatory statements can be demanded under civil law, this even more means that such statements are not punishable by law.

However one may not overestimate the decision. A direct kinship does not automatically mean that a particularly protected insult free area exists.  Between brothers and sisters, who quarreld for years, rather no insult-free area exists. The closer, however, the relationship of trust is, the sooner sharp insults about third partiescan be exchanged without hesitation.