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Lithuania / Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania / 7/2019-10/2019

Appellants: Telšiai district court and Vilnius city district court

Deciding Body type:
National Court/Tribunal
Deciding Body:
Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania
Type:
Decision
Decision date:
24/07/2020
Key facts of the case:
The Telšiai district court and the Vilnius city court adjudicated administrative cases where the complainants appealed decisions of the police authorities refusing to reinstate their driving permissions , which have been revoked for 10 years due to the complainants’ driving twice under influence. The police authorities based their decision on Article 24 Paragraph 7 of the Law on Safe Traffic on Automobile Roads, which provides that if a person was twice deprived of his or her driving permission due to driving under the influence, the driving permission can be reinstated no earlier than after ten years. Both courts appealed to the Constitutional Court requesting the Court to clarify whether the said provision of the Law on Safe Traffic on Automobile Roads does not contradict the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania.
The appellants argued that the revocation of the driving permission for a certain time constitutes a sanction which has negative implications for the persons’ rights. According to the appellants, under the existing regulation, a person who drove under the influence is being punished twice: firstly, by depriving them of the driving permission under the Code of Administrative Offences and the Criminal Code up to five years, and secondly, by suspending their driving permission for no less than ten years under the Law on the Safe Traffic on Automobile Roads. The appellants argued that such sanction contradicts the constitutional principle of proportionality. Furthermore, the said provision of the Law on the Safe Traffic on Automobile Roads provides for no exceptions, hence the courts can only formally apply this provision and are prevented from using their discretion in individual cases.
 
Key legal question raised by the Court:
The key legal question raised by the Court was whether Article 24 Paragraph 7 and Paragraph 8 of the Law on Safe Traffic on Automobile Roads contradicts Article 31 Paragraph 5 (No one may be punished for the same crime a second time) of the Constitution, and constitutional principles of non bis in idem, justice, proportionality and the rule of law.
 
Outcome of the case:
The Court concluded that Paragraphs 7 and 8 of Article 24 of the Law on Safe Traffic on Automobile Roads contradict Article 31 Paragraph 5 of the Constitution, providing that no one may be punished for the same crime a second time. Paragraph 8 of Article 24 of the said law provides that if a person was deprived of his or her driving permission three times, this permission can be reinstated after no less than ten years. The Court held that under the Constitution, inter alia, constitutional principle of the rule of law, it is in the public interest to ensure safe traffic, inter alia, on automobile roads; the legislator must enact such safe traffic requirements, which are necessary to ensure public order, public safety, human life and health. The Court also held that the legislator may enact such regulation, under which the driving permission may be suspended for persons who conducted serious violations of traffic rules; the legislator may also provide for sanctions in such cases. However, the Court also drew attention to the constitutional principle non bis in idem, which means a prohibition to punish someone twice for the same unlawful activity; according to the Court, this principle in itself does not negate a possibility of applying more than one sanction of the same type to the same person; whether non bis in idem principle is violated, it can be said only after evaluating the nature of legal violations, for which the sanctions are provided, also the aims of public importance, which are sought by the legislator. Furthermore, the Court held that constitutional principles of justice and the rule of law suggest, that punitive measures provided for legal violations must be proportionate to the violation; there must be the right balance (proportionality) between the aim to punish the offenders and ensure prevention of legal violations, and the means chosen to achieve this aim. The Court held that the term of ten years of suspension of the driving permission, provided by Paragraphs 7 and 8 of Article 24 of the Law on Safe Traffic on Automobile Roads, by its nature amounts to a sanction, which can be applied to a person who drove under the influence twice or was deprived of their driving permission three times because of safe traffic violations, which is applied together with sanctions foreseen in the Code of Administrative Offences and the Criminal Code – suspension of the driving permission for up to a maximum of five years. According to the Court, the contested provisions of the Law on Safe Traffic on Automobile Roads impose a sanction of suspension of driving permission for 10 years. Therefore a sanction, that is applied under the Code of Administrative Offences and the Criminal Code for the same legal offence, that is, suspension of the driving permission for up to 5 years, is being rendered meaningless. Such legal regulation, providing for both administrative and criminal sanction (suspension of driving permission) to be imposed for the same offence, where administrative sanction is stricter than the criminal one, is to be considered as contradictory. Accordingly, the Court concluded that the relevant provisions of the Law on Safe Traffic on Automobile Roads contradict the constitutional non bis in idem principle. The Court also held, that the legislator, by enacting this legal regulation, ignored the imperatives of consistency and cohesion of the legal framework, arising from the constitutional rule of law principle, and the requirements of reasonableness, justice and proportionality.