The right to be forgotten officially recognized by the Supreme Court

In April 2016, the Supreme Court has officially recognized the right to be forgotten in a judgement, which is a first in its kind in Belgium. The right to be forgotten has already been ruled by the European Court of Justice in the Google Spain / Costeja case (13 May 2014).

The decision was rendered in a case initiated by a doctor, involved in a car accident in 1994, causing the death of two people. An article had been published in a newspaper at the time. By searching his name on an online search engine, a link would give access to the article, as seen the archives of the newspaper were digitalized and put online. The doctor considered that this was causing an important prejudice to his privacy.

The Appeal Court of Liege ordered the newspaper to anonymize the online version of the article. The newspaper publisher then lodged  an appeal before the Supreme Court.

The debate revolves around the question whether internet users can erase their traces and therefore enjoy a true right to be forgotten, which would be enforceable upon search engines as well as newspaper publishers. The right to be forgotten puts different fundamental rights into confrontation : on the one hand, the freedom of expression, which comprises the right of the public to have access to information, and the right to privacy on the other hand.

The Court has balanced the different rights and came to the conclusion  that providing the name of a person involved in a car accident more than 20 years later after the accident was not a question of public interest. The right to privacy can justify a restriction of the newspaper’s right to freedom of expression.

People who consider that an article causes damage to their reputation or privacy, can ask for dereferencing to the search engine. Afterwards, if they consider that it is not sufficient, they can introduce a request for anonymization against the responsible publisher, based on the aforementioned case law from the Supreme Court.

If you wish to have more information on this topic, please contact M. Didier CHAVAL (

Best regards,

The Cairn Legal team.