Not every violation of a person’s right to live a life free of discomfort entitles the wronged person to the protection of their violated personal interests. In cases of violation of personal interests, an essential precondition for claims to be effective is that such violation must be unlawful. For example, a person who has been lawfully convicted to imprisonment is not entitled to effective protection of his/her personal right to freedom since imprisonment has taken place in accordance with the law. In contrast, a detainee who was held at a police station for more than 48 hours without being transferred to the court with a request for provisional arrest may seek redress or compensation for the period of detention exceeding 48 hours because deprivation of freedom after that period is against the law.
Unlawful conduct (or unlawful behaviour of another person) should be understood in the objective sense, without including the subjective element of guilt. Whether or not an action is unlawful should be judged on the basis of its compliance with, or contradiction to, the norms of law or principles of social coexistence. This means that unlawful activity will comprise not only actions which are directly against the law but also actions which are unacceptable from the perspective of social coexistence.
The Civil Code introduces a principle whereby violation of personal interests is presumed to be unlawful. This means that in case a petition is submitted to the court for the protection of personal interests, the defendant must prove that his/her activity violating certain personal interests of another person was lawful.
The most common type of claim relating to the protection of personal interests is the request to abandon an action that threatens (but not yet violates) someone’s personal interests. One example is when someone plans to publish an article where the person concerned is to be described falsely, in a negative light and in a critical way. That person’s personal interest, i.e. reputation, has not yet been affected since the publication has not been released but it is already threatened. The person whose reputation is threatened may effectively claim protection before the court requesting that the publication of such an article is prohibited.
In its Article 23, the Polish Civil Code provides a sample catalogue of personal interests of every person, including health, freedom, reputation, freedom of conscience, surname, pseudonym, image, secrecy of correspondence, inviolability of the home, as well as scientific, artistic, inventive and improvement-related work. However, those are just examples of personal interests whereas the entire catalogue is much wider. One can even say that the catalogue of personal interests is infinite.
For example, we can mention here the famous case where hospital staff switched a twin with another baby after birth: as a result, the parents of the twins left the hospital with one twin and another baby whereas the other twin ended up with the other family. The mistake came to light after about 18 years since the switched babies were raised in the same city. In this case, the court found that there had been a violation of the personal interests of the switched children, namely their right to live in a family. On this basis, the court ordered the State Treasury to pay high compensation for the damage suffered.
Another example of personal interest is the right to revere the memory of a deceased family member. Protection also extends onto confidential health information.
The most common cases concerning the protection of personal interests are those which concern the dissemination of false and misleading information via the mass media (newspapers, television, radio and the Internet).
It is impossible to provide the full catalogue of personal interests because there is an infinite number of possible situations where a person’s right to live a life free from discomfort or embarrassment, may be unlawfully violated.
Definition of personal interests
Personal interests are the person’s rights to live a life free from any discomfort or embarrassment. Such interests apply only to human beings in the universal sense. Any actions that unlawfully infringe on the well-being of a person may constitute acts that infringe his/her personal interests. Personal interests can manifest themselves in various spheres of law, not limited to the personal interests strictly regulated in civil law. Therefore, the scope of the term ‘personal interests’ is very broad and covers all aspects of human life.