Key facts of the case:
The appellants were Union citizens lawfully residing in Cyprus when the Minister of the Interior declared them as prohibited immigrants under the national immigration law for posing a serious threat to public order.
Initially the immigration authorities had issued against the applicants detention and deportation orders relying on a provision of the immigration law which applies to third country nationals. This error was later corrected by the issue of a fresh order on the basis of article 29 of the Law on the right of Union citizens and their family members to move and reside freely in the Republic, whose scope covers Union citizens.
The Court decision did not specify the facts which led the authorities to assume that the applicants were a serious threat to public order. It is not clear whether these facts were presented before the Court or not. The Court was in any case satisfied that the public order concerns invoked by the authorities, who had relied on information supplied by the police regarding criminal activity of the applicants and were therefore valid. The justification attached to the administrative decision ordering the applicants’ expulsion was a police letter stating that all the applicants were members of a ‘criminal group’ carrying out ‘various criminal activities’ such as blackmailing citizens for protection and assaults. The police letter claimed that information about the applicants’ criminal activity was supplied to the police daily even though there was never any formal complaint. With regard to one of the applicants, the police letter claimed he was considered to be the ‘executioner’ in a murder case where he was tried as main suspect but was acquitted by the Court, even though there was ‘scientific evidence’ implicating him. This information was transmitted to the Chief of Police who approved the request for their expulsion.
As a result, detention and deportation orders were issued against them on the basis of which they were deported. Later the Minister recalled the orders, having realized they were based on an error of law. The orders were reissued under the law transposing the Free Movement Directive prohibiting their re-entry into Cyprus for the next 10 years and the appellants were notified accordingly. The appellants challenged this decision claiming that it infringed:-
The applications were rejected at first instance, as the court ruled that the administrative decision was within the remit of lawful discretion of the administration which, in the cases of deportations and entry bans, is wide enough so as to conform to the principle of sovereignty. The appellants appealed the first instance decision on the ground that it erred in its finding that the presumption of innocence and the right of free movement had not been infringed. On the presumption of innocence, in addition to the Constitution and the ECHR, the appellants sought to rely on article 48 of the Charter as well as on article 45 which safeguard their right to move freely in the territory of the Union. They also invoked article 21.2. of the Charter arguing that Union law requires member states to assess the conduct of Union citizens using the same criteria as when assessing its own nationals and that no Cypriot would have been deemed to be a threat to public order based solely on vague and unconfirmed information.
Outcome of the case:
Deportation is the most serious of restrictions to free movement and at the same time an exception to the principle of non-discrimination on the ground of nationality safeguarded by Charter article 21. This is because member states are not at liberty to deport their own nationals or prohibit their entry into the country, whilst by contrast such measures may sometimes be taken against nationals of other member states. The deportation of non-nationals remains a sovereign right of EU member states. The concept of public order is not defined either in the Free Movement Directive or in CJEU case law and the extent of administrative discretion in this area remains undefined. This is not accidental: member states are essentially free to regulate matters of public order and safety according to their needs and values which may differ from one member state to the other and from one point in time to another. CJEU case law requires that in order for a certain conduct to amount to a threat to public order, this must result in a present and sufficiently serious threat against the fundamental interests of society based solely on the personal conduct of the Union citizen concerned. The presumption of innocence safeguarded by Charter article 48 presupposes a criminal prosecution which was not the case here. Administrative acts on entry, stay and deportation of non-nationals are public law matters which do not fall within the sphere of criminal law where the prerequisites of a fair trial must be adhered to. Relying on Council Directive 2016/343 of 9 March 2016 for the reinforcement of the right to a fair trial, the scope of which does not extend beyond criminal proceedings, the trial court finding that the presumption of innocence had not been violated was correct. It is not necessary for a person to be convicted of an offence in order to constitute a present and sufficiently serious threat against the fundamental interests of society, within the meaning of article 27.2 of the Free Movement Directive. Participation in an organisation the activities of which are considered to pose a social risk may suffice to satisfy article 27.2. The connection of each of the appellants with such an organisation could be seen as referring to the personal conduct of each one of them and it is such individual conduct that led the police to conclude that they were dangerous persons. None of the appellants resided in Cyprus for longer than five years, whilst two of them had not even applied for registration as Union citizens.
Expulsion constitutes the most serious restriction to free movement, but it is also at the same time an exception to the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality set out in Article 21.2 of the Charter, as Member States have no power to expel their own nationals from their territory or prohibit their entry into this, while such measures may be taken against nationals of other Member States. The expulsion of foreigners, whether they are European citizens or not, remains a sovereign right of EU Member States.
The Charter is binding on Member States when they are acting within the scope of EU law as was the case here. As rightly pointed out by learned counsel for the appellants, Article 48.1 safeguards the principle of presumption of innocence, providing that every accused person shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to the law. According to Article 52.3, this right has the same meaning and scope as the right guaranteed by the ECHR.
The reference to an "accused person" in Article 48.1 of the Charter presupposes the existence of criminal proceedings against a person to whom the commission of a criminal offense is attributed. Referring always to the administrative procedure which resulted in the administrative decision on their expulsion, the appellants were not accused, nor were criminal proceedings instigated so as to trigger the operation of Article 48 of the Charter. Nor can ECHR Article 6 be applied here, since the ECtHR has made it clear that Article 6 does not apply to deportation cases. And this, obviously, because decisions on entry, stay and deportation of aliens do not relate to the diagnosis of their civil rights or obligations or in a criminal charge within the meaning of Article 6.1. Rather, they are considered as public acts governed by public law (see Mamatkulov and Askarov v. Turkey 41 EHRR 494 (GC) and Maaouia v. France, Application No. 39652/98, 12.1.1999). This position is in agreement with the preamble to the very recent directive (EU) 2016/343 of the European Parliament and the Council of March 9, 2016 on the strengthening of certain aspects of the presumption of innocence and of the right to be present at the trial in criminal proceedings, which aims to strengthen the right to a fair trial in criminal proceedings by establishing common minimum standards for certain aspects of the presumption of innocence and the accused person’s legal standing in the proceedings. Complementing in this way the legal framework provided by Charter and the ECHR, paragraph 1 of the recital of that Directive records the establishment of the principle of the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial in the Charter and in Article 6 of the ECHR[.]
Η απέλαση αποτελεί τον πιο σοβαρό περιορισμό στην ελευθερία κυκλοφορίας, αλλά και εξαίρεση, ταυτοχρόνως, της αρχής που διατυπώνεται στο Άρθρο 21.2 του Χάρτη της μη διάκρισης λόγω ιθαγένειας, αφού τα κράτη μέλη δεν έχουν την εξουσία να απομακρύνουν τους δικούς τους υπηκόους από την επικράτεια τους ή να απαγορεύσουν την είσοδο τους σ' αυτή, ενώ τέτοια μέτρα μπορούν να λαμβάνονται έναντι των υπηκόων άλλων κρατών μελών. Η απέλαση αλλοδαπών, είτε είναι Ευρωπαίοι πολίτες είτε όχι, παραμένει κυρίαρχο δικαίωμα των κρατών μελών της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης.
Ο Χάρτηs δεσμεύει τα κράτη μέλη όταν αυτά ενεργούν, όπως εδώ, εντός του πεδίου εφαρμογής του δικαίου της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης. Όπως ορθά επισημαίνεται από τον ευπαίδευτο συνήγορο των εφεσειόντων, το Άρθρο 48.1 κατοχυρώνει την αρχή του τεκμηρίου της αθωότητας, προβλέποντας ότι κάθε κατηγορούμενος τεκμαίρεται ότι είναι αθώος μέχρι αποδείξεως της ενοχής του σύμφωνα με το νόμο. Σύμφωνα με το Άρθρο 52.3, το δικαίωμα αυτό έχει την ίδια έννοια και εμβέλεια με το δικαίωμα που κατοχυρώνεται στην ΕΣΔΑ.
Η αναφορά σε «κατηγορούμενο» στο Άρθρο 48.1 του Χάρτη, προϋποθέτει την ύπαρξη ποινικής διαδικασίας εναντίον προσώπου στο οποίο αποδίδεται η διάπραξη ποινικού αδικήματος. Με αναφορά πάντα στη διοικητική διαδικασία που οδήγησε στη διοικητική απόφαση για την απέλαση τους, οι εφεσείοντες δεν ήταν κατηγορούμενοι, ούτε επρόκειτο για ποινική διαδικασία, ώστε να τίθεται θέμα εφαρμογής των προνοιών του Άρθρου 48 του Χάρτη. Ούτε το Άρθρο 6 της ΕΣΔΑ έχει εδώ εφαρμογή, το ΕΔΑΔ έχοντας καταστήσει σαφές πως το Άρθρο 6 δεν εφαρμόζεται σε υποθέσεις απέλασης. Κι αυτό, προφανώς, για το λόγο ότι αποφάσεις για την είσοδο, παραμονή και απέλαση αλλοδαπών δεν αφορούν στη διάγνωση των αστικών δικαιωμάτων ή υποχρεώσεων τους ή σε ποινική κατηγορία, υπό την έννοια του Άρθρου 6.1. Θεωρούνται, μάλλον, ως δημόσιες πράξεις οι οποίες διέπονται από το δημόσιο δίκαιο (βλ. Mamatkulov and Askarov v. Turkey 41 EHRR 494 (GC) και Maaouia v. France, Application No. 39652/98, 12.1.1999). Η άποψη αυτή ευρίσκει απήχηση και στην αιτιολογική σκέψη της πολύ πρόσφατης Οδηγίας (ΕΕ) 2016/343 του Ευρωπαϊκού Κοινοβουλίου και του Συμβουλίου της 9ης Μαρτίου 2016 για την ενίσχυση ορισμένων πτυχών του τεκμηρίου αθωότητας και του δικαιώματος παράστασης του κατηγορουμένου στη δίκη του στο πλαίσιο ποινικής διαδικασίας, σκοπός της οποίας είναι να ενισχυθεί το δικαίωμα σε δίκαιη δίκη στο πλαίσιο ποινικών διαδικασιών με τη θέσπιση κοινών ελάχιστων κανόνων για ορισμένες πτυχές του τεκμηρίου της αθωότητας και του δικαιώματος παράστασης του κατηγορούμενου στη δίκη. Συμπληρώνοντας, έτσι, η Οδηγία, το νομικό πλαίσιο που παρέχουν ο Χάρτηs και η ΕΣΔΑ. Στην παράγραφο 1 της αιτιολογικής σκέψης της εν λόγω Οδηγίας μνημονεύεται η κατοχύρωση της αρχής του τεκμηρίου της αθωότητας και του δικαιώματος σε δίκαιη δίκη, μεταξύ άλλων, από το Χάρτη και το Άρθρο 6 της ΕΣΔΑ[.]