Article 11 - Freedom of expression and information
Key facts of the case:
In this case, a judge appealed against a decision made the Supreme Judicial Council (Conselho Superior da Magistratura, CSJ) that sentenced him to a disciplinary measure based on his compulsory retirement owing to a breach in deontological ethics whereby he failed to act correctly, with urbanity, in pursuit of the public interest and with impartiality, while showing a lack of respect for the dignity of the defendants. The Supreme Judicial Council is the body responsible for exercising disciplinary action upon judges. The Council considered that the behaviour and attitude of the judge towards the defendants while presiding at their trial infringed upon the deontological rules of the profession as laid down in Article 82 in the Code of Judicial Conduct (Law 21/85 of 30 July).
The appellant claimed that his behaviour fell within the scope of freedom of expression, referring to Article 11 in the Charter and demanded the right to a fair and equitable disciplinary procedure, underlining the disproportionate nature of the measure applied. The appellant likewise referred to the need for a preliminary ruling to be brought before the European Court of Justice for its interpretation of the rules governing freedom of expression.
Outcome of the case:
The appeal was dismissed. The Supreme Court considered that its intervention is only warrented when a crass error has been made in the application of a disciplinary measure, which was clearly not the case here. The Court further decided that the judge’s behavior was not in conformity with the context of freedom of expression, and thus confirmed a breach of deontological ethics. Concerning the preliminary ruling, the court considered that European Union Member States were legally bound to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and as such, the principle of subsidiarity holds good. This means, therefore, that the Member States are first and foremost subject to the fundamental rights laid down in their own country’s constitutions and, when they apply Union law, they also have to respect Union principles. The Supreme Court considered that the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights does not replace the [national] systems protecting fundamental rights; therefore, raising the question was deemed unnecessary.
The appelant claims that the right to freedom of expression and the right to fair and just disciplinary proceedings, in addition to being laid down in the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, are protected by Community law dictates and are guaranteed all European citizens pursuant to Article 3 (3) in the Treaty on European Union, Articles 1 and 11 in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and Articles 6, 10 and 13 in the European Convention on Human Rights.
(…) Article 6 (1) in the Treaty on European Union, amended by the Treaty of Lisbon, states that the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is legally binding on the Member States in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity which means that the latter are bound by the fundamental rights guaranteed by their respective country’s constitutions and, when they apply Union law, they also have to respect Community rules and principles.
Thus, the Charter does not confer any general power to intervene in matters of fundamental rights. Member States have their own systems protecting fundamental rights and the Charter does not replace them. The country’s own courts must ensure respect for fundamental rights without the need to make a preliminary ruling on the questions of the law raised. Therefore, the intended dispute has no reason to be.
Diz o recorrente que o direito à liberdade de expressão, e o direito a um processo disciplinar justo fundamental e equitativo, para além de estarem consagrados na CRP, são protegidos pelo ordenamento jurídico comunitário sendo assegurados a todos os cidadãos europeus, e estão consagrados nos arts.º 3º} § 3} TUE}, 11º da Carta dos Direitos Fundamentais e arts.º 6º, 10º e 13º da Convenção Europeia dos Direitos do Homem.
(…) O artigo 6.º, n.º 1, do Tratado da União Europeia, alterado pelo Tratado de Lisboa, estabelece que a Carta dos Direitos Fundamentais da União Europeia é juridicamente vinculativa para os Estados-Membros na observância do princípio da subsidiariedade, a significar que estes se encontram vinculados aos direitos fundamentais garantidos pelas respectivas constituições nacionais e, quando aplicam o direito da União, devem também respeitar as normas e princípios comunitários.
Destarte, a Carta não confere uma competência geral de intervenção em matéria de direitos fundamentais. Os Estados-Membros têm os seus próprios sistemas de protecção dos direitos fundamentais e a Carta não os substitui. São os tribunais nacionais que devem assegurar o respeito pelos direitos fundamentais, sem necessidade de qualquer reenvio prejudicial quanto às questões de direito suscitadas. Medida em que falece a pretensão do impugnante.