Europejskiego Trybunału Praw Człowieka
z dnia 2 czerwca 2015 r.
Application no. 38147/12
Ilpo KUOKKANEN and Harri JOHANNESDAHL
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 2 June 2015 as a Chamber composed of:
Guido Raimondi, President,
Yonko Grozev, judges,
and Fatoş Aracı, Deputy Section Registrar.
Having regard to the above application lodged on 15 June 2012,
Having regard to the observations submitted by the respondent Government and the observations in reply submitted by the applicants,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
1. The applicants, Mr Ilpo Kuokkanen and Mr Harri Johannesdahl, are Finnish nationals who live in Helsinki. They were represented before the Court by Mr Kari Uoti, a lawyer practising in Helsinki.
2. The Finnish Government ("the Government") were represented by their Agent, Mr Arto Kosonen of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
A. The circumstances of the case
3. The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.
4. The case concerns criminal proceedings in which a judgment was rendered against the applicants by the Helsinki Appeal Court (hovioikeus, hovrätten) on 28 May 2009. On 10 March 2010 the Supreme Court (korkein oikeus, högsta domstolen) refused the applicants leave to appeal and the Appeal Court judgment thus became final.
5. On 6 April 2010 the first applicant lodged an extraordinary appeal before the Supreme Court, requesting it to annul the Appeal Court judgment of 28 May 2009 and to refer the matter back to it for a new examination. He claimed that the composition of the court had not been competent (päätösvaltainen, domför) as one of the appeal court justices had been biased in the matter.
6. On 1 November 2010 the Supreme Court found that the justice in question had been biased in the case and that therefore the composition of the court had not been competent. The Supreme Court thus annulled the Appeal Court judgment as far as the first applicant was concerned and referred the matter back to the Appeal Court for a new examination.
7. Subsequently, the second applicant also requested the annulment of the Appeal Court judgment of 28 May 2009 as far as he was concerned. The outcome of his request was the same as for the first applicant: the Supreme Court annulled the Appeal Court judgment as far as he was concerned and referred the matter back to the Appeal Court for a new examination. The public prosecutors never requested annulment of the Appeal Court judgment of 28 May 2009.
8. During the reopened Appeal Court proceedings the applicants claimed that the Appeal Court could no longer examine those charges which had been dismissed by the final Appeal Court judgment of 28 May 2009 as the applicants' request for reopening did not concern these parts of the case. They referred both to the prohibition of reformatio in peius and to the ne bis in idem principle. On the other hand, the public prosecutors claimed that the case had been referred back to the Appeal Court in its entirety. They claimed that, as the competency of the composition was a matter that concerned all parties, the prohibition of reformatio in peius did not apply and the examination of the case was to be conducted as if the case had only now become pending before the Appeal Court.
9. On 15 April 2011 the Appeal Court dismissed, without examining the merits, those charges which had already been finally decided by the Appeal Court judgment of 28 May 2009. The court noted that the public prosecutors had not challenged the impartiality of the composition of the court but that only the applicants had made such claims. Therefore, also taking into account the case-law of the Strasbourg Court, the previously dismissed charges could no longer be examined.
10. By letter dated 31 May 2011 the public prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court against this Appeal Court decision. They claimed that the rules on impartiality were designed to protect all parties to the proceedings. In such a situation the prohibition of reformatio in peius was no longer applicable. As the earlier judgment had been annulled in respect of the applicants, there existed no earlier final judgment concerning them. The applicants disagreed with the public prosecutors' conclusions. They pointed out that they did not even have any interest or right to appeal against the Appeal Court judgment of 28 May 2009 in so far as it was favourable to them. A final judgment could not be annulled without any specific request to that effect.
11. On 26 September 2011 the Supreme Court granted the public prosecutors leave to appeal.
12. On 29 December 2011 the Supreme Court quashed the Appeal Court decision and referred the case back to it for a new examination. It found that the prohibition of reformatio in peius was valid in the Finnish legal system and that it was applied both in ordinary and extraordinary appeal proceedings. The question of whether a case was annulled and referred back for a new examination in its entirety or only in part depended on the nature of the procedural error in the case at hand. If the procedural error affected the whole judgment and the proceedings, the case was referred back in its entirety, even if the judgment had been favourable to the appellant. The court noted that in the Convention or in its Protocols there was no specific mention of the prohibition of reformatio in peius but that it formed a part of the general fair trial guarantees. The Committee of Ministers had made a Recommendation on this subject in 1992. However, in the case-law of the Court no similar case was to be found. On the other hand, there was case–law about a judge's partiality, which issue had been considered by the Court to be such a grave procedural error that it always led to the annulment of a judgment. The principle of ne bis in idem did not prevent new examination of the case if in earlier proceedings a grave procedural error had taken place. All partiality grounds were unconditional. In the present case the lack of competence of the composition concerned the whole Appeal Court proceedings and the judgment in its entirety. Therefore the court had earlier annulled the Appeal Court judgment of 28 May 2009 in its entirety. As the prohibition of reformatio in peius only applied to judgments which had become partially final, it did not apply to the present case in which a final judgment had been completely annulled. The Appeal Court judgment of 28 May 2009 was thus no longer binding in any respect. The Supreme Court reached this conclusion by 3 votes to 2. The decision contains two dissenting opinions.
B. Relevant domestic law and practice
13. There is no explicit provision concerning the principle of reformatio in peius in the domestic law. The established interpretation is, largely on the basis of the national case-law, that this principle is valid in the national legal system. This principle is inferable from Chapter 26, section 2, subsection 1, of the Code of Judicial Procedure (oikeudenkäymiskaari, rättegångsbalken; as amended by Act no. 381/2003) which reads as follows:
"[i]n a criminal case, the Court of Appeal may amend, in favour of the defendant, the judgment that the District Court has given on the charges even if only the public prosecutor has appealed against this."
14. The Supreme Court has dealt with the principle of reformatio in peius in some of its precedent cases.
KKO:1998:161: After the Appeal Court had referred the criminal case back to the District Court on the basis of the defendant's appeal, the complainant claimed damages in the retrial proceedings, although he had declared in the earlier proceedings that he had no claims for damages. Because the question about the complainant's right to damages had not been examined or determined by a judgment before, no impediment existed for examining the claim for damages.
KKO:2008:97: When sentencing the defendant to a punishment for robbery, the District Court had obliged him to pay the complainant damages for mental suffering. When the defendant appealed to the Appeal Court, the complainant, in a counter-appeal, claimed an increase in the damages for mental suffering. The Appeal Court upheld the judgment of the District Court. The complainant abided by the Appeal Court judgment but, on the basis of the defendant's appeal, the Supreme Court referred the matter back to the Appeal Court for a main hearing. In the new proceedings the complainant, on the basis of the counter-appeal, continued to claim an increase in the damages. The Supreme Court held that the counter-appeal could be examined in the retrial proceedings.
15. Moreover, Chapter 31, section 1, subsection 1, of the Code of Judicial Procedure (as amended by Act no. 109/1960) provides that:
"On the basis of a complaint invoking procedural fault, a final judgment may be annulled:
1) if the court had no quorum or if the case had been taken up for consideration of the merits even though there was a circumstance on the basis of which the court should have dismissed the case on its own motion without considering the merits;
16. According to Chapter 31, section 6, of the same Code,
"[i]f it is found that a procedural fault has occurred, the judgment shall be annulled in full or for the part necessary and, if the case is to be retried, it shall be referred back to the court where the procedural fault had occurred. In this event, the Supreme Court shall also order the deadline and manner for the bringing of the case to a retrial."
17. The applicants complained under Article 6 of the Convention of the lack of a fair trial as the prohibition of reformatio in peius had not been respected by the Supreme Court in its decision of 29 December 2011. The court had acknowledged that this prohibition was valid in the Finnish legal system but it had still decided the case at hand in a manner that completely ignored this prohibition.
18. The applicants complained under Article 6 of the Convention of the lack of a fair trial as the prohibition of reformatio in peius was not respected.
19. Article 6 of the Convention reads in the relevant parts as follows:
"In the determination of ... any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair ... hearing ... by an independent and impartial tribunal ..."
20. The Government argued that the principle of reformatio in peius was not mentioned in the provisions of the Convention or those of the Protocols thereto, nor could it be derived from them. It was thus not included in the concept of a fair trial. The application was thus incompatible ratione materiae with the provisions of the Convention or its Protocols and should be declared inadmissible under Article 35 §§ 3(a) and 4 of the Convention. Were the Court to have another opinion, the Government argued that the applicants' application concerned abstract interpretation of the principle of reformatio in peius instead of its concrete application in legal proceedings. The applicants could not therefore claim to be victims within the meaning of Article 34 of the Convention. In any event, in the Government's view the application was manifestly ill-founded and should be declared inadmissible under Article 35 §§ 3(a) and 4 of the Convention.
21. The Government maintained that the Supreme Court had interpreted the prohibition of reformatio in peius in the abstract without applying it to the case at hand. Formally the interpretations by the Supreme Court were not binding on lower courts, although the latter rarely deviated from them. This prohibition could not be derived from Article 6 of the Convention or any other treaty obligation. Therefore Recommendation R(92)17 of 1992 by the Committee of Ministers was not relevant either. Even though this prohibition was valid in the legal systems of many Contracting States, not all of them contained this prohibition. The Government notes that, in the case Alkes v. Turkey (no. 2), no. 16047/04, § 21, 8 June 2010, the Court found that it was for the domestic courts to apply the domestic prohibition of reformatio in peius when no elements of arbitrary application were disclosed. The Court had not taken any stand on such complaints in its subsequent case-law.
22. The Government argued that the present case was not about the prohibition of reformatio in peius but rather whether the reopening of the case and the subsequent procedure complied with the Convention. In Finland the prohibition of reformatio in peius was valid in the national legal system. It was largely based on case-law but could also be inferred from Chapter 26, section 2, of the Code of Judicial Procedure. It was obvious that the prohibition was valid in ordinary appeal proceedings and that it could also be applied in the context of extraordinary appeal proceedings, but it was not without exceptions when a matter was returned to a lower level court. The Government considered that the prohibition did not apply to the present case and this position was supported by legal literature. Nor could it be inferred from Chapter 31 of the Code of Judicial Procedure that the prohibition of reformatio in peius was valid after referral for retrial. The quorum requirement was an important procedural requirement which had to be ensured by the courts ex officio. It was a precondition for lawful proceedings and therefore the disqualification of a judge affected the lawfulness of the proceedings as a whole. The prohibition of reformatio in peius had been foreseeable for the applicants when they considered whether to use extraordinary appeal. As to the principle of legal certainty, the Government noted that final judgments could be annulled only under limited conditions. No contradictory domestic case-law existed either regarding comparable cases, but the legal issue in the present case was an open question. Therefore, in the Government's view, the application was manifestly ill-founded and should be declared inadmissible under Article 35 §§ 3(a) and 4 of the Convention.
23. The applicants did not comment on the admissibility or merits of the case.
24. The Court notes first of all that it is not necessary for it to examine the Government's preliminary objections as the applicants' application is in any event manifestly ill-founded.
25. The Court observes that the present case does not concern the acceptability of the reopening of the case as such but rather the question of whether the prohibition of reformatio in peius is applicable in reopened proceedings under Article 6 of the Convention. The Court reiterates in the first place that it is not its function to deal with errors of fact or law allegedly made by a national court, unless and insofar as they may have infringed rights and freedoms protected by the Convention (see García Ruiz v. Spain [GC], no. 30544/96, § 28, ECHR 1999–I). In any event, it is primarily for the national authorities, notably the courts, to resolve problems of interpretation of national legislation. This applies in particular to the interpretation by the courts of rules of a procedural nature (see Pekinel v. Turkey, no. 9939/02, § 53, 18 March 2008). The Court's role is confined to ascertaining whether the effects of such an interpretation are compatible with the Convention in general and with the principle of legal certainty, guaranteed by Article 6, in particular.
26. Turning to the facts of the present case, the Court observes that the applicants' complaint relates to their inability to benefit from the prohibition of reformatio in peius in the reopened proceedings which had been commenced due to the fact that the Supreme Court had found, on the basis of the applicants' application, a procedural error in the ordinary proceedings and referred the case back to the Appeal Court for a new examination. The applicants claimed that the prohibition of reformatio in peius was applicable and that, relying on this principle, their case could not have been re–examined again in its entirety, even if the Appeal Court judgment of 28 May 2009 had been annulled and referred back in its entirety by the Supreme Court on 1 November 2010 (see paragraph 12), as the former judgment had been partly favourable to them.
27. As stated above, the domestic courts are in a better position to interpret domestic legislation, in particular laws relating to procedural matters, as in the present case. The Court takes note of the fact that the applicants' allegations were thoroughly examined by the domestic courts at two levels of jurisdiction and that, in its judgment of 29 December 2011, the Supreme Court explicitly found that all partiality grounds were unconditional, that the lack of competence of the composition in the present case had concerned the whole Appeal Court proceedings and the judgment in its entirety, and that therefore the court had earlier annulled the Appeal Court judgment of 28 May 2009 in its entirety. The Supreme Court considered that, as the prohibition of reformatio in peius only applied to judgments which had become partially final, it did not apply to the present case in which a final judgment had been completely annulled. The Court notes that it cannot substitute its own view for that of the domestic courts' findings in this specific case. The Court finds that the applicants were able to submit their arguments to the domestic courts, which addressed those arguments in judgments which were duly reasoned and disclosed no elements of arbitrariness (see Alkes v. Turkey (no. 2), cited above, § 21).
28. In the light of the above, the Court finds that the applicants' complaint under Article 6 of the Convention must be rejected as manifestly ill-founded and declared inadmissible pursuant to Article 35 §§ 3 (a) and 4 of the Convention.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT, UNANIMOUSLY,
Declares the application inadmissible.
Done in English and notified in writing on 25 June 2015.