Polish man who was given custodial penalty for protesting during a trial of communist-era generals suffered rights violations

JUDGMENT 

Słomka v. Russia 6.12.2018 (no. 68924/12)

see here

SUMMARY 

The case concerned the applicant’s 14-day custodial sentence for contempt of court after shouting
slogans during the trial of communist-era generals who ordered martial law in the 1980s.

The Court held that the applicant’s actions had aimed at criticising the judiciary and a perceived lack
of justice, rather than at insulting the judges. He had been sentenced to a custodial penalty by those
same judges, without an opportunity to present his arguments. A subsequent appeal decision had
not remedied the procedural shortcomings.

The circumstances of the case raised an objectively justified fear of a lack of impartiality and there
had been a violation of Article 6. There had also been a violation of Article 10 because the
interference with his right to freedom of expression had not been necessary in a democratic society

PROVISIONS 

Article 6

Article 10

PRINCIPAL FACTS

The applicant, Adam Słomka, is a Polish national who was born in 1964 and lives in Katowice
(Poland).

Mr Słomka is a former opposition activist who was imprisoned by the communist authorities in 1982.
He was in court when on 12 January 2012 the trial judges were to deliver their judgment in the case
of three high-ranking members of the Military Council of National Salvation, which imposed martial
law in 1981.

After the judges had arrived in the courtroom, Mr Słomka jumped behind the judges’ table and
shouted, “This is a mockery of justice!” Some other members of the public also shouted similar
slogans. The judges left the courtroom. Mr Słomka was removed, but returned later and continued
shouting out statements in the same vein.

The presiding judge decided to read the verdict out in a neighbouring room. Later that day
Mr Słomka was sentenced in his absence to 14-days’ imprisonment for contempt of court. Several
days later he was arrested and taken to the Warsaw Remand Centre.

He lodged an interlocutory appeal, arguing, among other things, that he had not disturbed the court
so much as to warrant such a penalty. His appeal was dismissed in March 2012, after he had served
his sentence. The appeal court’s findings included the argument that his disrespectful behaviour had
interfered with the solemn nature of court proceedings and the court’s dignity and had disrupted
the proceedings.

THE DECISION OF THE COURT

Article 6

The applicant’s comments in court could be viewed as a general challenge to the authority of thejudiciary and as criticism of various aspects of the organisation and course of the trial. He had not
used insulting or derogatory language. The judges had been the object of the applicant’s action, not
in direct or personal terms, but as an institution whose decisions had allegedly undermined justice.

The Court noted that the bench had consisted of three judges and that no proceedings were held
before a different panel on Mr Słomka’s liability for his protest. Such a situation was aggravated by
the fact that he had no opportunity to present his side of the case and because the contempt
judgment was in summary form. In addition, he had been given the maximum possible penalty.

Although the appeal judgment which upheld the sentence had included reasoning and Mr Słomka
had been able to present arguments, this had not remedied the earlier procedural shortcomings.
Furthermore, the appeal had had no practical effect as he had already served his 14-day sentence.
The Court found that the accumulation of roles between the complainant and judge in the case,
where a custodial penalty had been applied, could lead to objectively justified fears of a lack of
impartiality under the test for such issues set out in its case-law. There had therefore been a
violation of Article 6. It saw no need to examine Mr Słomka’s equality of arms complaint.

Article 10

The Court noted that courts were not immune from criticism or scrutiny, but a distinction had to be
drawn between a form of expression which was an insult to a court or its members and one which
was a criticism.

Mr Słomka had suffered an interference with his right to freedom of expression as he had been held
in custody for 14 days for his actions. The Court accepted that the penalty had been in accordance
with the law and had pursued a legitimate aim, within the meaning of Article 10.

However, it noted its finding that the decision had breached Article 6 and considered that the
restriction had not been accompanied by effective and adequate safeguards. There had therefore
been a violation of Article 10 as the interference had not been necessary in a democratic society.

Other Articles

The applicant had complained that he had served his sentence by the time the appeal court had
determined his case, in essence alleging that his challenge to the lawfulness of his detention had not
been dealt with speedily. However, the Court held that its findings under Article 6 and Article 10
meant that this complaint did not raise a separate issue under Article 5 § 4 (right to liberty and
security / right to have lawfulness of detention decided speedily by a court).

Just satisfaction (Article 41)

The Court held that Poland was to pay the applicant 15,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary
damage and EUR 850 in respect of costs and expenses(echrcaselaw.com editing). 


ECHRCaseLaw

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