Austria found in breach of convention on human rights

Series Title
Series Details 26/10/95, Volume 1, Number 06
Publication Date 26/10/1995
Content Type

Date: 26/10/1995

By Rory Watson

AUSTRIA was found guilty this week of breaking the Council of Europe's Convention on Human Rights in a handful of administrative cases by refusing the defendants involved access to a tribunal.

In all six cases, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights announced there had been a violation of Article 6 (1) of the convention.

The article guarantees that when faced with a criminal charge “everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law”.

The judges ruled that although the issues involved - most concerned traffic offences - fell within the administrative sphere, they were nevertheless criminal in nature.

In addition, the fines imposed on the defendants in Austria were accompanied by an order for them to be sent to prison if they defaulted on payment.

On each occasion the defendants had challenged the verdicts domestically, the Austrian Constitutional Court had refused to take up their complaints and the Administrative Court had dismissed the appeal without a hearing.

The fact that the Administrative Court did not have the power to quash, on questions of fact and law, the decision of the body below it meant the Court could not be considered a tribunal as set out in Article 6, argued the judges.

The oldest case, dating from April 1986, involved failure to wear a seat belt.

Others covered breath tests, speeding and failure to build a wall as stipulated in planning provisions.

The significance of the ruling is that it confirms that the European Convention on Human Rights applies in administrative cases with criminal implications.

In an earlier ruling involving civil law, the judges took the opposite view.

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