|Zaaknr||Publ. CEDH, Serie A vol. 73|
|Bron||Europees Hof voor de Rechten van de Mens|
|Rechters||Wiarda, Ryssdal, Cremona, Vilhjalmsson, Ganshof van der Meersch, Bindschedler-Robert, Evrigenis, Liesch, Gölcüklü, Matscher, Pinheiro Farinha, Garcia de Enterria, Pettiti, Walsh, Evans, Macdonald, Russo, Bernhardt|
|Wetgeving||art. 6 EVRM|
Administratieve afdoening van lichte overtredingen. Criteria voor vaststelling van “criminal charge” in de zin van art. 6 Verdrag tot bescherming van de rechten van de mens en de fundamentele vrijheden (EVRM). I.c. art. 6 lid 3 sub e van toepassing. Recht op kosteloze bijstand door een tolk geschonden.
I.c. sprake van strafvervolging (“criminal charge”/”accusation en matière pénale” resp. “charged with a criminal offence”/”accusé”) in de zin van art. 6 lid 1 en lid 3 EVRM? (par. 46-48).
Het toepasselijke Duitse recht
In de Ordnungswidrigkeitengesetz van 1968, zoals herzien in 1975, wordt een groot aantal gedragingen die daarvoor als strafbare feiten werden aangemerkt, vervolgd en berecht, uit de sfeer van het strafrecht gehaald. Tot deze gedragingen behoren verkeersovertredingen. De sanctie op “Ordnungswidrigkeiten” bestaat uit een geldboete, die in de meeste gevallen maximaal 1000 DM bedraagt. In ernstiger gevallen kan ontzegging van de rijbevoegdheid als bijkomende sanctie worden opgelegd. De boete wordt opgelegd door middel van een administratief besluit van de Verwaltungsbehörde, een bestuurlijke autoriteit. Indien deze autoriteit redenen heeft om te veronderstellen dat een strafbaar feit is begaan, verwijst hij de zaak naar de openbare aanklager, de Staatsanwalt. Ook als de betrokkene bezwaar maakt tegen de beslissing van de Verwaltungsbehörde draagt deze autoriteit de zaak over aan de Staatsanwalt, die de zaak als vervolgende instantie aanhangig maakt bij het Landesgericht.
In het algemeen zijn de regels van het commune strafprocesrecht van overeenkomstige toepassing op de procedure ter zake van Ordnungswidrigkeiten, uitgezonderd de mogelijkheid tot het toepassen van dwangmiddelen, die aanzienlijk beperkter is. De kosten van de procedure voor het Landesgericht komen ten laste van de betrokkene, indien deze zijn bezwaar intrekt of indien het gerecht het bezwaar verwerpt. Tot deze proceskosten worden ook de kosten voor bijstand door een tolk gerekend. Alleen in echte strafzaken kunnen deze kosten niet ten laste van de veroordeelde worden gebracht, sinds de Duitse wetgeving op dit punt werd gewijzigd ten gevolge van het arrest Luedicke, Belkacem en Koc tegen de Bondsrepubliek Europees Hof 28 nov. 1978, CEDH Series A vol. 29).
Op 27 jan. 1978 reed Öztürk, een Turkse staatsburger woonachtig in de Bondsrepubliek, met zijn auto een geparkeerde auto aan en veroorzaakte schade ter grootte van ongeveer 5000 DM. Öztürk maakte gebruik van zijn recht om te zwijgen en een advocaat te raadplegen, waarop politieambtenaren hem met behulp van een schriftelijke mededeling in de Turkse taal hadden gewezen. Op 6 april 1978 legde de bevoegde autoriteit, de Verwaltungsbehörde in Heilbronn, klager een administratieve boete op van 60 DM wegens het begaan van de verkeersovertreding. Klager tekende tegen deze beslissing bezwaar aan en stelde dat hij geen afstand deed van zijn recht op een openbare behandeling van zijn zaak voor een rechter.
Overeenkomstig de “Ordnungswidrigkeitengesetz” werd klagers dossier overgebracht naar de Staatsanwalt bij het Landesgericht in Heilbronn. De Staatsanwalt verklaarde niet deel te zullen nemen aan een mondelinge procedure voor de Rb. in deze zaak. Op 3 augustus trok klager zijn bezwaarschrift in tijdens een zitting van het Amtsgericht in Heilbronn, waarbij hij ondersteuning van een tolk had. Het Amtsgericht bepaalde dat klager alle proceskosten diende te dragen. Daaronder werd blijkens een rekening van de Gerichtskasse van 12 sept. 1978 ook 63,90 DM aan salaris voor de tolk begrepen.
Op 4 okt. 1978 ging klager tegen de rekening, voor zover het de kosten voor de tolk betrof, in beroep. Het Landesgericht in Heilbronn verwierp het beroep op 25 okt. 1978, overwegende dat de verplichting voor een verdachte om de kosten van een tolk te betalen verenigbaar was met art. 6 lid 3 onder e EVRM. De proceskosten werden uiteindelijk door een rechtsbijstandverzekeraar voldaan.
Op 14 febr. 1978 diende Öztürk tegen de veroordeling in de kosten van een tolk een klacht in bij de Europese Commissie voor de rechten van de mens. Hij stelde dat deze veroordeling in strijd was met art. 6 lid 3 onder e EVRM. De klacht werd op 15 dec. 1981 ontvankelijk verklaard. De Commissie was in haar rapport d.d. 12 mei 1982 (met acht tegen vier stemmen) van oordeel dat een schending van art. 6 lid 3 onder e EVRM had plaatsgevonden.
Op 13 sept. 1982 legde de Bondsrepubliek Duitsland de zaak voor aan het Hof; zij werd hierin op 15 okt. 1982 gevolgd door de Commissie. Bij arrest van 23 okt. 1984 (CEDH-A Vol. 85), gewezen na het hiernavolgende arrest, is aan Öztürk een vergoeding toegekend ten bedrage van de boete. De kosten van de tolk waren daarin niet begrepen, aangezien die door de verzekeringsmaatschappij werden gedragen.
As to the law
- Under the terms of Art. 6 Convention:
“1. In the determination … of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair … hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal…
2. Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.
3. Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:
(e) to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.”
In the applicant’s submission, the Heilbronn District Court had acted in breach of Art. 6 para. 3 (e) in ordering him to pay the costs incurred through recourse to the services of an interpreter at the hearing on 3 August 1978.
I. Applicability of Art. 6 para. 3 (e)
- According to the Government, Art. 6 para. 3 (e) is not applicable in the circumstances since Mr. Öztürk was not “charged with a criminal offence”. Under the 1968/1975 Act, which “decriminalised” petty offences, notably in the road traffic sphere, the facts alleged against Mr. Öztürk constituted a mere “regulatory offence” (Ordnungswidrigkeit). Such offences were said to be distinguishable from criminal offences not only by the procedure laid down for their prosecution and punishment but also by their juridical characteristics and consequences.
The applicant disputed the correctness of this analysis. Neither was it shared by the Commission, which considered that the offence of which Mr. Öztürk was accused was indeed a “criminal offence” for the purposes of Art. 6.
- According to the French version of Art. 6 para. 3 (e), the right guaranteed is applicable only to an “accusé”. The corresponding English expression (person “charged with a criminal offence”) and para. 1 of Art. 6 (“criminal charge”/”accusation en matière pénale”) – this being the basic text of which para. 2 and 3 represent specific applications (see the Deweer judgment of 27 Febr. 1980, Series A no. 35, para. 56, NJ 1980, 561) – make it quite clear that the “accusation” (“charge”) referred to in the French wording of Art. 6 para. 3 (e) must concern a “criminal offence” (see, mutatis mutandis, the Adolf judgment of 26 March 1982, Series A no. 49, p. 15, para. 30).
Under German law, the misconduct committed by Mr. Öztürk is not treated as a criminal offence (Straftat) but as a “regulatory offence” (Ordnungswidrigkeit). The question arises whether this classification is the determining factor in terms of the Convention.
- The Court was confronted with a similar issue in the case of Engel and others, which was cited in argument by the representatives. The facts of that case admittedly concerned penalties imposed on conscript servicemen and treated as disciplinary according to Netherlands law. In its judgment delivered on 8 June 1976 in that case, the Court was careful to state that it was confining its attention to the sphere of military service (NJ 1978, 223, para. 82). The Court nevertheless considers that the principles set forth in that judgment (ibid., paras. 80-82) are also relevant, mutatis mutandis, in the instant case.
- The Convention is not opposed to States, in the performance of their task as quardians of the public interest, both creating or maintaining a distinction between different categories of offences for the purposes of their domestic law and drawing the dividing line, but it does not follow that the classification thus made by the States is decisive for the purposes of the Convention.
By removing certain forms of conduct from the category of criminal offences under domestic law, the law-maker may be able to serve the interests of the individual (see, mutatis mutandis, the above-mentioned Engel and others judgment, ibid., p. 33, para. 80) as well as the needs of the proper administration of justice, in particular in so far as the judicial authorities are thereby relieved of the task of prosecuting and punishing contraventions – which are numerous but of minor importance – of road traffic rules. The Convention is not opposed to the moves towards “decriminalisation” which are taking place – in extremely varied forms – in the member States of the Council of Europe. The Government quite rightly insisted on this point. Nevertheless, if the Contracting States were able at their discretion, by classifying an offence as “regulatory” instead of criminal, to exclude the operation of the fundamental clauses of Art. 6 and 7, the application of these provisions would be subordinated to their sovereign will. A latitude extending thus far might lead to results incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention.
- Having thus reaffirmed the “authonomy” of the notion of “criminal” as conceived of under Art. 6, what the Court must determine is whether or not the “regulatory offence” committed by the applicant was a “criminal” one within the meaning of that Article. For this purpose, the Court will rely on the criteria adopted in the above-mentioned Engel and others judgment (ibid., para. 82). The first matter to be ascertained is whether or not the text defining the offence in issue belongs, according to the legal system of the respondent State, to criminal law; next, the nature of the offence and, finally, the nature and degree of severity of the penalty that the person concerned risked incurring must be examined, having regard to the object and purpose of Art. 6, to the ordinary meaning of the terms of that Article and to the laws of the Contracting States.
- Under German law, the facts alleged against Mr. Öztürk – non-observance of Regulation 1 para. 2 of the Road Traffic Regulations – amounted to a “regulatory offence” (Regulation 49 para. 1, no. 1, of the same Regulations). They did not fall within the ambit of the criminal law, but of section 17 of the Ordnungswidrigkeitengesetz and of section 24 sub-section 2 of the Road Traffic Act.
The 1968/1975 legislation marks an important step in the process of “decriminalisation” of petty offences in the Federal Republic of Germany. Although legal commentators in Germany do not seem unanimous in considering that the law on “regulatory offences” no longer belongs in reality to criminal law, the drafting history of the 1968/1975 Act nonetheless makes it clear that the offences in question have been removed from the criminal law sphere by that Act (see Deutscher Bundestag, Drucksache V/1269 and, inter alia, the judgment of 16 july 1969 by the Constitutional Court, Entscheidungen des Bundesverfassungsgerichts, vol. 27, p. 18-36).
Whilst the Court thus accepts the Government’s arguments on this point, it has nonetheless not lost sight of the fact that no absolute partition separates German criminal law from the law on “regulatory offences”, in particular where there exists a close connection between a criminal offence and a “regulatory offence”. Nor has the Court overlooked that the provisions of the ordinary law governing criminal procedure apply by analogy to “regulatory” proceedings notably in relation to the judicial stage, if any, of such proceedings.
- In any event, the indications furnished by the domestic law of the respondent State have only a relative value. The second criterion stated above – the very nature of the offence, considered also in relation to the nature of the corresponding penalty – represents a factor of appreciation of greather weight.
In the opinion of the Commission – with the exception of five of its members – and of Mr. Öztürk, the offence committed by the latter was criminal in character. For the Government in contrast, the offence in question was beyond doubt one of those contraventions of minor importance – numbering approximately five million each year in the Federal Republic of Germany – which came within a category of quite a different order from that of criminal offences. The Government’s submissions can be summarised as follows. By means of criminal law, society endeavoured to safequard its very foundations as well as the rights and interests essential for the life of the community. The law on Ordnungswidrigkeiten, on the other hand, sought above all to maintain public order. As a general rule and in any event in the instant case, commission of a “regulatory offence” did not involve a degree of ethical unworthiness such as to merit for its perpetrator the moral value-judgment of reproach (Unwerturteil) – that characterised penal punishment (Strafe). The difference between “regulatory offences” and criminal offences found expression both in procedural terms and in relation to the attendant penalties and other legal consequences.
In the first place, so the Government’s argument continued, in removing “regulatory offences” from the criminal law the German legislature had introduced a simplified procedure of prosecution and punishment conducted before administrative authorities save in the event of subsequent appeal to a court. Although general laws on criminal procedure were in principle applicable by analogy, the procedure laid down under the 1968/1975 Act was distinguishable in many respects from criminal procedure. For example, prosecution of Ordnungswidrigkeiten fell within the discretionary power of the competent authorities and the 1968/1975 Act greatly limited the possibilities of restricting the personal liberty of the individual at the stage of the preliminary investigations.
In the second place, instead of a penal fine (Geldstrafe) and imprisonment the legislature had substituted a mere “regulatory” fine (Geldbuße). Imprisonment was not an alternative (Ersatzfreiheitsstrafe) to the latter type of fine as it was to the former and no coercive imprisonment (Erzwingungshaft) could be ordered unless the person concerned had failed to pay the sum due without having established this inability to pay (see para. 33 above). Furthermore, a “regulatory offence” was not entered in the judicial criminal records but solely, in certain circumstances, on the central traffic register.
The reforms accomplished in 1968/1975 thus, so the Government concluded, reflected a concern to “decriminalise” minor offences to the benefit not only of the individual, who would no longer be answerable in criminal terms for his act and who could even avoid all court proceedings, but also of the effective functioning of the courts, henceforth relieved in principle of the task of dealing with the great majority of such offences.
- The Court does not underestimate the cogency of this argument. The Court recognises that the legislation in question marks an important stage in the history of the reform of German criminal law and that the innovations introduced in 1968/1975 represent more than a simple change of terminology.
Nonetheless, the Court would firstly note that, according to the ordinary meaning of the terms, there generally come within the ambit of the criminal law offences that make their perpetrator liable to penalties intended, inter alia, to be deterrent and usually consisting of fines and of measures depriving the person of his liberty.
In addition, misconduct of the kind committed by Mr. Öztürk continues to be classified as part of the criminal law in the vast majority of the Contracting States, as it was in the Federal Republic of Germany until the entry into force of the 1968/1975 legislation; in those other States, such misconduct, being regarded as illegal and reprehensible, is punishable by criminal penalties.
Moreover, the changes resulting from the 1968/1975 legislation relate essentially to procedural matters and to the range of sanctions, henceforth limited to Geldbußen. Whilst the latter penalty appears less burdensome in some respects than Geldstrafen, it has nonetheless retained a punitive character, which is the customary distinguishing feature of criminal penalties. The rule of law infringed by the applicant has, for its part, undergone no change of content. It is a rule that is directed, not towards a given group possessing a special status – in the manner, for example, of disciplinary law – but towards all citizens in their capacity as road-users; it prescribes conduct of a certain kind and makes the resultant requirement subject to a sanction that is punitive. Indeed, the sanction – and this the Government did not contest – seeks to punish as well as to deter. It matters little whether the legal provision contravened by Mr. Öztürk is aimed at protecting the rights and interests of others or solely at meeting the demands of road traffic. These two ends are not mutually exclusive. Above all, the general character of the rule and the purpose of the penalty, being both deterrent and punitive, suffice to show that the offence in question was, in terms of Art. 6 Convention, criminal in nature.
The fact that is was admittedly a minor offence hardly likely to harm the reputation of the offender does not take it outside the ambit of Art. 6. There is in fact nothing to suggest that the criminal offence referred to in the Convention necessarily implies a certain degree of seriousness. In this connection, a number of Contracting States still draw a distinction, as did the Federal Republic at the time when the Convention was opened for the signature of the Governments, between the most serious offences (crimes), lesser offences (délits) and petty offences (contraventions), whilst qualifying them all as criminal offences. Furthermore, it would be contrary to the object and purpose of Art. 6, which guarantees to “everyone charged with a criminal offence” the right to a court and to a fair trial, if the State were allowed to remove from the scope of this Article a whole category of offences merely on the ground of regarding them as petty. Nor does the Federal Republic deprive the presumed perpetrators of Ordnungswidrigkeiten of this right since it grants them the faculty – of which the applicant availed himself – of appealing to a court against the administrative decision.
- As the contravention committed by Mr. Öztürk was criminal for the purposes of Art. 6 Convention, there is no need to examine it also in the light of the final criterion stated above (at para. 50). The relative lack of seriousness of the penalty at stake cannot divest an offence of its inherently criminal character.
- The Government further appeared to consider that the applicant did not have the status of a person “charged with a criminal offence” because the 1968/1975 Act does not provide for any “Beschuldigung” (“charge”) and does not employ the terms “Angeschuldigter” (“person charged”) or “Angeklagter” (“the accused”). On this point, the Court would simply refer back to its well-established case-law holding that “charge”, for the purposes of Art. 6, may in general be defined as “the official notification given to an individual by the competent authority of an allegation that he has committed a criminal offence” , although “it may in some instances take the form of other measures which carry the implication of such an allegation and which likewise substantially affect the situation of the suspect” (see, as the most recent authorities, the Foti and others judgment of 10 Dec. 1982, Series A no. 56, p. 18, para. 52, and the Corigliano judgment of the same date, Series A no. 57, p. 13, para. 34). In the present case, the applicant was “charged” at the latest as from the beginning of April 1978 when the decision of the Heilbronn administrative authorities was communicated to him.
- Art. 6 para. 3 (e) was thus applicable in the instant case. It in no wise follows from this, the Court would want to make clear, that the very principle of the system adopted in the matter by the German legislature is being put in question. Having regard to the large number of minor offences, notably in the sphere of road traffic, a Contracting State may have good cause for relieving its courts of the task of their prosecution and punishment. Conferring the prosecution and punishment of minor offences on administrative authorities is not inconsistent with the Convention provided that the person concerned is enabled to take any decision thus made against him before a tribunal that does offer the guarantees of Art. 6 (see, mutatis mutandis, the above-mentioned Deweer judgment, Series A no. 35, p. 25, para. 49, NJ 1980, 561, and the Le Compte, Van Leuven and De Meyere judgment of 23 June 1981, NJ 1982, 602, para. 51 first sub-paragraph).
II. Compliance with Art. 6 para. 3 (e)
- Invoking the above-cited Luedicke, Belkacem and Koc judgment of 28 Nov. 1978, the applicant submitted that the decision whereby the Heilbronn District Court had made him bear the costs incurred in having recourse to the services of an interpreter at the hearing on 3 August 1978 was in breach of Art. 6 para. 3 (e).
The Commission’s opinion was to the same effect. The Government, for their part, maintained that there had been no violation, but concentrated their arguments on the issue of the applicability of Art. 6 para. 3 (e), without discussing the manner in which the Court had construed this text in 1978.
- On the basis of the above-cited judgment, the Court finds that the impugned decision of the Heilbronn District Court violated the Convention: “the right protected by Art. 6 para. 3 (e) entails, for anyone who cannot speak or understand the language used in court, the right to receive the free assistance of an interpreter, without subsequently having claimed back from the payment of the costs thereby incurred” (NJ 1980, 42, para. 46).
For these reasons, the Court
- Holds, by thirteen votes to five, that Art. 6 para. 3 (e) Convention was applicable in the instant case;
2. Holds, by twelve votes to six, that there has been breach of the said Article.