Denmark / Supreme Court / 108/2017 Danish Prosecution Service v. T

Key facts of the case

T is a Danish citizen residing in Denmark. In November 2015, a German court suspended T’s driving license after he in September 2015 in Germany drove a car with a blood alcohol level of 1.92 ‰ As a consequence of T’s drunk-driving in Germany, the Danish Prosecution Service charged T with a claim of suspension of T’s driving licence in Denmark. T argued that the suspension of his driving licence in Denmark was a violation of the prohibition against double punishment in article 4 of the ECHR, protocol 7 and article 50 of the Charter.

The Danish Prosecution Service claimed suspension of T’s driving licence with legal basis in article 11 of the criminal code, which states: “If a Danish national or person resident in the Danish state has been punished in a foreign country for an act which under the Danish law may entail loss or forfeiture of an office or profession or of any other right, such a deprivation may be sought in a public action in this country”.

The case concerned whether the use of article 11 of the Danish Criminal code was a violation of article 4, protocol 7 of the ECHR and article 50 of the Charter read in conjunction with article 49 and article 52 of the Charter.  

Key legal question raised by the Court:

The key legal question raised by the Supreme Court was whether the use of article 11 was double punishment and therefore a violation of article 4 of the ECHR, protocol 7 and article 50 of the Charter read in connection with article 49 and 52 of the Charter.  

Outcome of the case:

The Supreme Court found that article 50 of the Charter was not a hindrance to the use of article 11 in Danish criminal code. 

Paragraphs referring to EU Charter: 

34. It follows from the very wording of Article 50 of the Charter that it prohibits prosecuting or imposing criminal sanctions on the same person more than once for the same offence (see, to that effect, judgment of 5 April 2017, Orsi and Baldetti, C‑217/15 and C‑350/15, EU:C:2017:264, paragraph 18). As is stated by the referring court in its order for reference, the different proceedings and penalties of a criminal nature at issue in the main proceedings are directed against the same person, namely Mr Menci.

35. According to the Court’s case-law, the relevant criterion for the purposes of assessing the existence of the same offence is identity of the material facts, understood as the existence of a set of specific circumstances which are inextricably linked together which resulted in the final acquittal or conviction of the person concerned (see, by analogy, judgments of 18 July 2007, Kraaijenbrink, C‑367/05, EU:C:2007:444, paragraph 26 and the case-law cited, and of 16 November 2010, Mantello, C‑261/09, EU:C:2010:683, paragraphs 39 and 40). Therefore, Article 50 of the Charter prohibits the imposition, with respect to identical facts, of several criminal penalties as a result of different proceedings brought for those purposes.

36. Moreover, the legal classification, under national law, of the facts and the legal interest protected is not relevant for the purposes of establishing the existence of the same offence, in so far as the scope of the protection conferred by Article 50 of the Charter cannot vary from one Member State to another.

39. In those circumstances, it appears that the national legislation at issue in the main proceedings allows criminal proceedings to be brought against a person, such as Mr Menci, in respect of an offence consisting in the failure to pay VAT on the basis of the tax return for a tax year, after the imposition on that person, in respect of the same acts, of a final administrative penalty of a criminal nature for the purposes of Article 50 of the Charter. Such a duplication of proceedings and penalties constitutes a limitation of the fundamental right guaranteed by that article.

40. It should be noted that, in its judgment of 27 May 2014, Spasic (C‑129/14 PPU, EU:C:2014:586, paragraphs 55 and 56), the Court ruled that a limitation to the ne bis in idem principle guaranteed by Article 50 of the Charter may be justified on the basis of Article 52(1) thereof.

41. In accordance with the first sentence of Article 52(1) of the Charter, any limitation on the exercise of the rights and freedoms recognised by that Charter must be provided for by law and respect the essence of those rights and freedoms. According to the second sentence of Article 52(1) thereof, subject to the principle of proportionality, limitations to those rights and freedoms may be made only if they are necessary and genuinely meet objectives of general interest recognised by the Union or the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others

43. Moreover, national legislation, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, respects the essential content of Article 50 of the Charter, since, according to the information in the case file before the Court, it allows such a duplication of proceedings and penalties only under conditions which are exhaustivelydefined, thereby ensuring that the right guaranteed by Article 50 is not called into question as such.

55. Secondly, the duplication of penalties of a criminal nature requires rules allowing it to be guaranteed that the severity of all of the penalties imposed corresponds with the seriousness of the offence concerned, that requirement resulting not only from Article 52(1) of the Charter, but also from the principle of proportionality of penalties set out in Article 49(3) thereof. Those rules must provide for the obligation for the competent authorities, in the event of the imposition of a second penalty, to ensure that the severity of all of the penalties imposed does not exceed the seriousness of the offence identified..

60. Finally, in so far as the Charter contains rights which correspond to rights guaranteed by the ECHR, Article 52(3) of the Charter provides that their meaning and scope are the same as those laid down by that convention. It is therefore necessary to take account of Article 4 of Protocol No 7 to the ECHR for the purpose of interpreting Article 50 of the Charter (see, to that effect, judgments of 15 February 2016, N., C‑601/15 PPU, EU:C:2016:84, paragraph 77, and of 5 April 2017, Orsi and Baldetti, C‑217/15 and C‑350/15, EU:C:2017:264, paragraph 24).

62. Therefore, the conditions to which Article 50 of the Charter, read in conjunction with Article 52(1) thereof, subjects a possible duplication of criminal proceedings and penalties and of administrative proceedings and penalties of a criminal nature, as is apparent from paragraphs 44, 49, 53, 55 and 58 of the present judgment, ensure a level of protection of the ne bis in idem principle which is not in conflict with that guaranteed by Article 4 of Protocol No 7 to the ECHR, as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights.

63. In the light of all of the above considerations, the answer to the question referred is that Article 50 of the Charter must be interpreted as not precluding national legislation in accordance with which criminal proceedings may be brought against a person for failing to pay VAT due within the time limits stipulated by law, although that person has already been made subject, in relation to the same acts, to a final administrative penalty of a criminal nature for the purposes of Article 50 of the Charter, on condition that that legislation

–        pursues an objective of general interest which is such as to justify such a duplication of proceedings and penalties, namely combating VAT offences, it being necessary for those proceedings and penalties to pursue additional objectives,

–        contains rules ensuring coordination which limits to what is strictly necessary the additional disadvantage which results, for the persons concerned, from a duplication of proceedings, and

–        provides for rules making it possible to ensure that the severity of all of the penalties imposed is limited to what is strictly necessary in relation to the seriousness of the offence concerned.

T has stated in particular that, according to the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, a ruling on the suspension of a driving license in connection with a traffic offense is a punishment, cf. Judgment of the Court of 13 December 2005 in Case 73661/01 (Nilsson v. Sweden). This must also apply in accordance to EU law. As the decision of 17 November 2014 by the Amtsgericht Hannover concerns a criminal conviction the prohibition of double punishment (the principle of 'ne bis in idem') implies that his driving license cannot be suspended in Denmark on the basis of the same circumstances for which he was convicted Germany, cf. Article 50 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the principle of Article 4 of Protocol 7 to the European Convention on Human Rights. The public interest, for suspenending of a driving license in Germany and Denmark is the same. The Danish suspension cannot be regarded as a geographical extension of the German decision, as it is in fact to be considered as a new criminal proceeding in Denmark.

The fact, that the Third Driving License Directive does not explicitly prohibit a Union citizen who have been suspended driving rights in a Member State subsequently is suspended driving rights in a Member State of residence, does not mean that the Member State of residence can freely suspend driving rights in a similar situation. The correct interpretation of the Third Driving License Directive, in the light of Article 50 of the EU Charter, give rise to such doubts that the Supreme Court should submit a reference to the European Court of Justice, cf. the Jurisdiction Committee's remarks in Report No. 1488/2007, Item. 9.2.5.

It is not contrary to Article 50 of the EU Charter on the prohibition of double penalties to file a case on suspension of a driving licence in Denmark. The Danish judgment only concerns a geographic extension of the German suspension, and the Danish judgement on suspension takes into consideration the protection of Danish road users, and thus has a different protection interest than the German suspension. It can therefor not be consideret as a new criminal case within the meaning of Article 50. In any case, a case on the suspensions of the driving licence may be started in Denmark, cf. Article 52 (1) of the EU Charter.

The key issue arising is whether the EU rules, including the Third Driving License Directive and Article 50 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, prevent the German case from being a basis for proceedings in Denmark for the suspension of driving rights in Denmark.

In accordance with Article 50 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union no one shall be liable to be tried or punished again in criminal proceedings for an offence for which he or she has already been finally acquitted or convicted within the Union in accordance with the law (the principle of 'ne bis in idem'). This provision corresponds to Article 4 (1) in Protocol No. 7 to the European Convention on Human Rights, but, contrary to the latter provision, applies not only within one Member State but also between several Member States.

Against this background, the Supreme Court finds that it does not constitute a new criminal procededing in breach of Article 50 of the EU Charter, that Denmark is instigating criminal proceedings against T as a follow-up to the German verdict with a view to achieving a coherent legal response which also takes into account the consideration to road safety in this country.

Paragraphs referring to EU Charter (original language): 

43. Endvidere er en national lovgivning som den i hovedsagen omhandlede i overensstemmelse med det væsentlige indhold af chartrets artikel 50, da denne lovgivning i henhold til oplysningerne i de sagsakter, der er forelagt Domstolen, alene tillader en sådan kumulation af retsforfølgelse og sanktioner, når visse betingelser, som er udtømmende opregnet, er opfyldt, hvorved det sikres, at den rettighed, der er sikret ved chartrets artikel 50, ikke som sådan tilsidesættes.

55. For det andet skal kumulation af sanktioner af strafferetlig karakter ledsages af bestemmelser, der skal sikre, at strengheden af alle de pålagte sanktioner svarer til den pågældende overtrædelses grovhed, idet et sådant krav ikke blot følger af chartrets artikel 52, stk. 1, men også af princippet om straffes proportionalitet i chartrets artikel 49, stk. 3. Disse regler bør omfatte en forpligtelse for de kompetente myndigheder i tilfælde af indførelsen af en yderligere sanktion, til at sikre, at strengheden af alle de pålagte sanktioner ikke overstiger den fastslåede overtrædelses grovhed.

60. Endelig bemærkes, at i det omfang chartret indeholder rettigheder svarende til dem, der er sikret ved EMRK, fastsætter chartrets artikel 52, stk. 3, at de har samme betydning og omfang som i konventionen. Der skal således tages hensyn til artikel 4 i tillægsprotokol nr. 7 til EMRK ved fortolkningen af chartrets artikel 50 (jf. i denne retning dom af 15.2.2016, N., C-601/15 PPU, EU:C:2016:84, præmis 77, og af 5.4.2017, Orsi og Baldetti, C-217/15 og C-350/15, EU:C:2017:264, præmis 24).

62. De krav, som således er opstillet i chartrets artikel 50, sammenholdt med chartrets artikel 52, stk. 1, for en eventuel kumulation af retsforfølgelse og strafferetlige sanktioner samt af retsforfølgelse og administrative sanktioner af strafferetlig karakter, sikrer således - som det fremgår af denne doms præmis 44, 49, 53, 55 og 58 - et niveau for beskyttelse af princippet ne bis in idem, som ikke tilsidesætter det, der er sikret ved artikel 4 i tillægsprotokol nr. 7 til EMRK som fortolket af Den Europæiske Menneskerettighedsdomstol.

63. Henset til samtlige ovenstående betragtninger skal det forelagte spørgsmål besvares med, at chartrets artikel 50 skal fortolkes således, at den ikke er til hinder for en national lovgivning, hvorefter der kan indledes straffesag mod en person for undladelse af at indbetale skyldig moms inden for de lovbestemte frister, skønt denne person allerede for samme forhold er blevet pålagt en endelig administrativ sanktion af strafferetlig karakter som omhandlet i chartrets artikel 50, forudsat at denne lovgivning

- forfølger et mål af almen interesse, som kan berettige en sådan kumulation af retsforfølgelse og sanktioner, nemlig bekæmpelse af lovovertrædelser på momsområdet, idet denne retsforfølgelse og disse sanktioner bør have komplementære mål

- indeholder regler, som sikrer en koordinering, der begrænser den yderligere byrde, som en kumulation af procedurer medfører for de berørte personer, til det strengt nødvendige, og

- fastsætter regler, der gør det muligt at sikre, at strengheden af alle pålagte sanktioner er begrænset til, hvad der er strengt nødvendigt i forhold til den pågældende overtrædelses grovhed.

T har anført navnlig, at det følger af praksis fra Den Europæiske Menneskerettighedsdomstol, at en afgørelse om førerretsfrakendelse i anledning af en færdselsforseelse er en straf, jf. bl.a. Domstolens afvisningsafgørelse af 13. december 2005 i sag 73661/01 (Nilsson mod Sverige). Det må også gælde efter EU-retten. Da afgørelsen af 17. november 2014 fra Amtsgericht Hannover er en straffedom, indebærer forbuddet mod dobbelt straf (princippet om »ne bis in idem«), at han ikke kan frakendes førerretten i Danmark på baggrund af samme forhold, som han er dømt for i Tyskland, jf. artikel 50 i Den Europæiske Unions Charter om grundlæggende rettigheder samt princippet i artikel 4 i Protokol nr. 7 til Den Europæiske Menneskerettighedskonvention. Den beskyttelsesinteresse, der varetages ved en førerretsfrakendelse i Tyskland og i Danmark, er den samme. Den danske frakendelse kan ikke blot anses som en geografisk udvidelse af den tyske afgørelse, idet der reelt er tale om ny strafforfølgning i Danmark.

Det forhold, at tredje kørekortdirektiv ikke indeholder et udtrykkeligt forbud mod, at en unionsborger, der er frakendt førerretten i en medlemsstat, efterfølgende frakendes førerretten i bopælsmedlemsstaten, betyder ikke, at bopælsmedlemsstaten frit kan frakende førerretten i en situation som den foreliggende. Den rette fortolkning af tredje kørekortdirektiv giver - i lyset af EU-Charterets artikel 50 - anledning til en sådan tvivl, at Højesteret bør forelægge spørgsmål herom for EU-Domstolen, jf. herved Jurisdiktionsudvalgets bemærkninger i betænkning nr. 1488/2007, pkt. 9.2.5.

Det er ikke i strid med EU-Charterets artikel 50 om forbud mod dobbelt straf mv. at rejse en sag om frakendelse i Danmark. Den danske dom vedrører alene en geografisk udvidelse af den tyske frakendelse, og frakendelsen i Danmark varetager hensynet til beskyttelsen af danske trafikanter og har således en anden beskyttelsesinteresse end den tyske frakendelse. Der er derfor ikke tale om en ny straffesag i artikel 50’s forstand. Under alle omstændigheder kan der rejses frakendelsessag i Danmark, jf. EU-Charterets artikel 52, stk. 1.

Sagens hovedspørgsmål er, om EU-regler, herunder tredje kørekortdirektiv og artikel 50 i Den Europæiske Unions Charter om grundlæggende rettigheder, er til hinder for, at der efter den tyske dom rejses sag her i landet om frakendelse af førerretten i Danmark.

Efter artikel 50 i Den Europæiske Unions Charter om grundlæggende rettigheder skal ingen i en straffesag på ny kunne stilles for en domstol eller dømmes for en lovovertrædelse, for hvilken den pågældende allerede er blevet endeligt frikendt eller domfældt i en af Unionens medlemsstater i overensstemmelse med lovgivningen (princippet om »ne bis in idem«). Bestemmelsen svarer til artikel 4, stk. 1, i Protokol nr. 7 til Den Europæiske Menneskerettighedskonvention, men gælder i modsætning til sidstnævnte bestemmelse ikke kun inden for én medlemsstat, men også mellem flere medlemsstater.

På den baggrund finder Højesteret, at det ikke udgør en ny strafforfølgning i strid med EU-Charterets artikel 50, at der i Danmark rejses frakendelsessag mod T som opfølgning på den tyske dom med henblik på at opnå en sammenhængende retlig reaktion, der også tilgodeser hensynet til færdselssikkerheden her i landet.

Language: 
Danish
Deciding body (original language): 
Højesteret
Language: 
Danish