ECtHR

In the European Court of Human Rights

Paksas v. Lithuania

Rolandas Paksas presently serves as one of Lithuania’s twelve members of the European Parliament.1 As followers of events in Lithuania know, Mr. Paksas was impeached from the office of President on 6 April 2004 by Seimas for committing a gross violation of the Constitution and breaching the constitutional oath. He was later prohibited from running for Seimas by legislation adopted after his impeachment that permanently banned anyone who had been removed from office from office. Mr. Paksas appealed to the European Court of Human Rights claiming violations of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. On 6 January 2011, the European Court of Human Rights decided Paksas v. Lithuania, in a 48-page decision, including a partial dissent.

The Court only reached those issues related to the legislative permanent ban on standing for election to Seimas, finding a violation of Article 3 of Protocol 1 as a disproportionate measure in response to the impeachment from the presidency. All other claims were inadmissible. The permanent ban on running for President after impeachment could not be addressed because Article 3 of Protocol 1 only applies to elections to the legislature. Thus, most of Mr. Paksas' claims were also inadmissible, including denial of a fair trial and double jeopardy, because they related to his impeachment and its subsequent proceedings, not his desire to run for Seimas, the issue taken up by the Court.

The opinion notes the guidelines on elections adopted by the Venice Commission (para. 59) and discusses the law and practice of impeachment in the member states (paras. 60-62). Notably, Lithuania stands alone in a permanent ban on running for the legislature after having been impeached (paras. 105-06).

No damages were awarded because the amounts requested all related to Paksas' claimed denial of ability to run for President -- such as loss of presidential salary and pension -- so there was no causal link between the claimed damage and the violation found.  His claim for costs and expenses was dismissed because he did not submit any itemized particulars.

Assuming Lithuania amends its legislation to modify the permanent ban from running for Seimas after having been impeached, Paksas could run for Seimas in 2012.

Responses to the Ruling

In response to the ruling, Lithuania’s government planned to name an expert task group to decide on implementation of the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). According to Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius in a statement to reporters on 10 January 2011:

The court said that Lithuania had all Constitutional rights for making the decision on impeachment. The only ruling is that the ban for election as member of the Seimas cannot be valid for life; it does not meet the principle of proportion. Therefore, we will have to come up with a solution that would meet the proportion principle. The ban should be applied for a certain limited time.2

The Minister of Justice Remigijus Šimašius was also quoted during a press conference as saying, “The experts will have to work hard on harmonizing these things (and advice) on amendment of the Constitution or other solutions.” The Minister indicated that this could be done before the 2012 elections but doubted if it is necessary to hasten the process. “Without doubt, it is possible but I would not say it is the best way we could act,” the Minister said.3

 The former president has indicated his desire to return to Lithuania to run for the parliament (Seimas) in the 2012 elections. The decision of the European Court comes six years after the decision of the highest Lithuanian Court in the matter, the Lithuanian Constitutional Court.4 A complete chronology of events is in the decision of the Court.

by Patricia A. Streeter
January 29, 2011

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Notes

1 See his profile at <http://www.europarl.europa.eu/members/expert/groupAndCountry/view.do?country=LT&partNumber=1&language=EN&id=96694> (accessed 27 January 2011).

2 The Lithuanian Tribune, 10 January 2011, available at <http://www.lithuaniatribune.com/2011/01/10/task-group-set-to-decide-on-paksas%E2%80%99-fate> (accessed 26 January 2011).

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

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