Ždanoka v Latvia, 16 March 2004 [ECtHR]

Case no 58278/00


73.  The applicant complained that her disqualification from standing for election to the national parliament, on the ground that she had actively participated in the CPL after 13 January 1991, constituted a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1, which provides:

“The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.”

A.  The Chamber’s judgment

74.  The Chamber considered at the outset that the duty of political loyalty established by the Court in relation to the limitations on the political activities of public servants could not be applied to the same extent in the context of the eligibility of individuals to stand for Parliament. It further found that the disqualification of the applicant pursued legitimate aims, namely the protection of the State’s independence, democratic order and national security. The Chamber observed that the restriction was not limited in time, and that a permanent disqualification could only be justified in cases of grievous criminal offences, such as war crimes or treason. At the same time, it considered that barring the leading figures of the former regime from standing as parliamentary candidates could be considered a legitimate and balanced measure during the early years following the re-establishment of Latvia’s independence, without it being necessary to look into the conduct of the individual concerned.

75.  However, after a certain time it became necessary to establish whether other factors, particularly an individual’s personal participation in the disputed events, continued to justify his or her ineligibility. In the view of the Chamber, since the domestic courts only had limited, if any, powers to assess the real danger posed to the current democratic order by each individual to whom the restriction applied, the Court had itself to examine whether the applicant’s conduct more than a decade previously still constituted sufficient justification for barring her from standing in parliamentary elections. It noted in this connection that although the applicant had occupied an important position within the CPL structure, there was no evidence that her actual conduct at the material time in 1991 justified the continuing restriction. The Chamber also considered it noteworthy that the applicant was never prosecuted for an offence, that the CPL had not been dissolved until after the events of August 1991 and that there was no proof that the applicant’s current conduct justified the continuing restriction. It further criticised the Latvian legislature for adopting the impugned restriction only in 1995, and not before the elections held in 1993. This showed that former leading figures at the CPL were not considered to pose a danger to democracy. In sum, and having regard in particular to the case-law principles derived from Article 11 of the Convention to support its reasoning and conclusion, the Chamber considered that the applicant’s disqualification from standing as a parliamentary candidate was disproportionate and therefore in violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1.


C.  The Court’s assessment

1.  The facts in dispute

96.  The Court observes, in the first place, that a number of historical events are disputed between the parties. Thus, the applicant contests the Government’s version of events with regard to the origin and nature of the first attempted coup in January 1991, the plebiscite of March 1991 and the CPL’s collaboration with the perpetrators of the second attempted coup in August 1991 (see paragraphs 20-29, 32, 37-44 and 55-56 above). However, in exercising its supervisory jurisdiction, the Court’s task is not to take the place of the competent national authorities but rather to review the decisions they delivered pursuant to their power of appreciation. In so doing, it has to satisfy itself that the national authorities based their decisions on an acceptable assessment of the relevant facts, and did not reach arbitrary conclusions (see, for example, Vogt, cited above, § 52; Socialist Party and Others v. Turkey, 25 May 1998, § 44, Reports 1998-III; Freedom and Democracy Party (ÖZDEP) v. Turkey [GC], no. 23885/94, § 39, ECHR 1999-VIII). Furthermore, the Court will abstain, as far as possible, from pronouncing on matters of purely historical fact, which do not come within its jurisdiction; however, it may accept certain well-known historical truths and base its reasoning on them (see Marais v. France, no. 31159/96, Commission decision of 24 June 1996, Decisions and Reports (DR) 86-B, p. 184, and Garaudy v. France (dec.), no. 65831/01, ECHR 2003-IX).

97.  In the present case, there is no indication of arbitrariness in the way in which the Latvian courts evaluated the relevant facts. In particular, the CPL’s participation in the events of 1991 has been established by a Supreme Court judgment in the context of a criminal case brought against two former senior officials of the party (see paragraph 32 above). Equally, the Court does not see any reason to dispute either the findings of fact made by the Riga Regional Court and the Civil Division of the Supreme Court with regard to the events of 1991 and the applicant’s standing in the CPL at the material time, or the reasons given by the Supreme Council to justify the suspension of the CPL’s activities in September 1991. It accepts the facts concerning the CPL’s role during the events of January and August 1991, as well as its activities in the wake of these events, as established by the Latvian judicial and parliamentary authorities (see paragraphs 20-29, 32, 37-44 and 55-56 above).

2.  The general principles established by the case-law under the Convention

(a)  Democracy and its protection in the Convention system

98.  Democracy constitutes a fundamental element of the “European public order”. That is apparent, firstly, from the Preamble to the Convention, which establishes a very clear connection between the Convention and democracy by stating that the maintenance and further realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms are best ensured on the one hand by an effective political democracy and on the other by a common understanding and observance of human rights. The Preamble goes on to affirm that European countries have a common heritage of political traditions, ideals, freedom and the rule of law. This common heritage consists in the underlying values of the Convention; thus, the Court has pointed out on many occasions that the Convention was in fact designed to maintain and promote the ideals and values of a democratic society. In other words, democracy is the only political model contemplated by the Convention and, accordingly, the only one compatible with it (see, among many other examples, United Communist Party of Turkey and Others, cited above, § 45; Refah Partisi (the Welfare Party) and Others v. Turkey [GC], nos. 41340/98, 41342/98, 41343/98 and 41344/98, § 86, ECHR 2003-II; and, lastly, Gorzelik and Others v. Poland [GC], no. 44158/98, § 89, ECHR 2004-I).

99.  It cannot be ruled out that a person or a group of persons will rely on the rights enshrined in the Convention or its Protocols in order to attempt to derive therefrom the right to conduct what amounts in practice to activities intended to destroy the rights or freedoms set forth in the Convention; any such destruction would put an end to democracy. It was precisely this concern which led the authors of the Convention to introduce Article 17, which provides: “Nothing in this Convention may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein or at their limitation to a greater extent than is provided for in the Convention” (see Collected Edition of the “Travaux Préparatoires”: Official Report of the Consultative Assembly, 1949, pp. 1235-39). Following the same line of reasoning, the Court considers that no one should be authorised to rely on the Convention’s provisions in order to weaken or destroy the ideals and values of a democratic society (see Refah Partisi (the Welfare Party) and Others, cited above, § 99).

100.  Consequently, in order to guarantee the stability and effectiveness of a democratic system, the State may be required to take specific measures to protect itself. Thus, in the above-cited Vogt judgment, with regard to the requirement of political loyalty imposed on civil servants, the Court acknowledged the legitimacy of the concept of a “democracy capable of defending itself” (§§ 51 and 59). It has also found that pluralism and democracy are based on a compromise that requires various concessions by individuals, who must sometimes be prepared to limit some of their freedoms so as to ensure the greater stability of the country as a whole (Refah Partisi (the Welfare Party) and Others, cited above, § 99). The problem which is then posed is that of achieving a compromise between the requirements of defending democratic society on the one hand and protecting individual rights on the other (see United Communist Party of Turkey and Others, cited above, § 32). Every time a State intends to rely on the principle of “a democracy capable of defending itself” in order to justify interference with individual rights, it must carefully evaluate the scope and consequences of the measure under consideration, to ensure that the aforementioned balance is achieved.

101.  Finally, with regard to the implementation of measures intended to defend democratic values, the Court stated in Refah Partisi (the Welfare Party) and Others (cited above, § 102):

“The Court considers that a State cannot be required to wait, before intervening, until a political party has seized power and begun to take concrete steps to implement a policy incompatible with the standards of the Convention and democracy, even though the danger of that policy for democracy is sufficiently established and imminent. The Court accepts that where the presence of such a danger has been established by the national courts, after detailed scrutiny subjected to rigorous European supervision, a State may ‘reasonably forestall the execution of such a policy, which is incompatible with the Convention’s provisions, before an attempt is made to implement it through concrete steps that might prejudice civil peace and the country’s democratic regime’. ...”

(b)  The Court’s test under Article 3 of Protocol No. 1

102.  Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 differs from other rights guaranteed by the Convention and its Protocols as it is phrased in terms of the obligation of the High Contracting Party to hold elections which ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people rather than in terms of a particular right or freedom. However, having regard to the preparatory work to Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 and the interpretation of the provision in the context of the Convention as a whole, the Court has established that this provision also implies individual rights, including the right to vote and to stand for election (see Mathieu-Mohin and Clerfayt v. Belgium, 2 March 1987, §§ 46-51, Series A no. 113).

103.  The rights guaranteed under Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 are crucial to establishing and maintaining the foundations of an effective and meaningful democracy governed by the rule of law. Nonetheless, these rights are not absolute. There is room for “implied limitations”, and Contracting States must be given a margin of appreciation in this sphere. The Court reaffirms that the margin in this area is wide (see Mathieu-Mohin and Clerfayt, cited above, § 52; Matthews, cited above, § 63; Labita, cited above, § 201; and Podkolzina v. Latvia, no. 46726/99, § 33, ECHR 2002-II). There are numerous ways of organising and running electoral systems and a wealth of differences, inter alia, in historical development, cultural diversity and political thought within Europe, which it is for each Contracting State to mould into its own democratic vision (see Hirst v. the United Kingdom (no. 2) [GC], no. 74025/01, § 61, ECHR 2005-IX).

104.  It is, however, for the Court to determine in the last resort whether the requirements of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 have been complied with; it has to satisfy itself that the conditions imposed on the rights to vote or to stand for election do not curtail the exercise of those rights to such an extent as to impair their very essence and deprive them of their effectiveness; that they are imposed in pursuit of a legitimate aim; and that the means employed are not disproportionate (see Mathieu-Mohin and Clerfayt, cited above, § 52). In particular, any such conditions must not thwart the free expression of the people in the choice of the legislature – in other words, they must reflect, or not run counter to, the concern to maintain the integrity and effectiveness of an electoral procedure aimed at identifying the will of the people through universal suffrage (see Hirst, cited above, § 62).

105.  In relation to the cases concerning the right to vote, that is, the so-called “active” aspect of the rights under Article 3 of Protocol No. 1, the Court has considered that exclusion of any groups or categories of the general population must be reconcilable with the underlying purposes of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (see, mutatis mutandis, Aziz v. Cyprus, no. 69949/01, § 28, ECHR 2004-V). In particular, the Court has found that domestic legislation imposing a minimum age or residence requirements for the exercise of the right to vote is, in principle, compatible with Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (see Hilbe v. Liechtenstein (dec.), no. 31981/96, ECHR 1999-VI; see also Hirst, cited above, § 62). The Convention institutions have also held that it was open to the legislature to remove political rights from persons convicted of serious or financial crimes (see Holland v. Ireland, no. 24827/94, Commission decision of 14 April 1998, DR 93-A, p. 15, and M.D.U. v. Italy (dec.), no. 58540/00, 28 January 2003). In Hirst (§ 82), however, the Grand Chamber underlined that the Contracting States did not have carte blanche to disqualify all detained convicts from the right to vote without having due regard to relevant matters such as the length of the prisoner’s sentence or the nature and gravity of the offence. A general, automatic and indiscriminate restriction on all detained convicts’ right to vote was considered by the Court as falling outside the acceptable margin of appreciation.

106.  The Convention institutions have had fewer occasions to deal with an alleged violation of an individual’s right to stand as a candidate for election, that is, the so-called “passive” aspect of the rights under Article 3 of Protocol No. 1. In this regard the Court has emphasised that the Contracting States enjoy considerable latitude in establishing constitutional rules on the status of members of parliament, including criteria governing eligibility to stand for election. Although they have a common origin in the need to ensure both the independence of elected representatives and the freedom of choice of electors, these criteria vary in accordance with the historical and political factors specific to each State. The multiplicity of situations provided for in the constitutions and electoral legislation of numerous member States of the Council of Europe shows the diversity of possible approaches in this area. Therefore, for the purposes of applying Article 3, any electoral legislation must be assessed in the light of the political evolution of the country concerned (see Mathieu-Mohin and Clerfayt, § 54, and Podkolzina, § 33, both cited above).

107.  In Podkolzina, the Court found a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 with regard to restrictions on an individual’s eligibility to stand as a candidate for election. In that case, the applicant was removed from the list of parliamentary candidates on account of her allegedly insufficient knowledge of the official language of the State. The Court acknowledged that a decision determining a parliament’s working language was in principle one which the State alone had the power to take, this being a factor shaped by the historical and political considerations specific to the country concerned. A violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 was found, however, because the procedure applied to the applicant to determine her proficiency in the official language was incompatible with the requirements of procedural fairness and legal certainty, with the result that the negative conclusion reached by the domestic authorities in this connection could be deemed deficient (§§ 33-38).

108.  In Melnychenko v. Ukraine (no. 17707/02, §§ 53-67, ECHR 2004‑X), the Court also recognised that legislation establishing domestic residence requirements for a parliamentary candidate was, as such, compatible with Article 3 of Protocol No. 1. At the same time, the decision of the Ukrainian authorities to deny the applicant registration as a parliamentary candidate was found to be in breach of the above provision, given that the domestic law governing proof of a candidate’s residence lacked the necessary certainty and precision to guarantee the applicant adequate safeguards against arbitrary treatment. The Court underlined in that case that, while the Contracting States have a wide margin of appreciation when establishing eligibility conditions in the abstract, the principle that rights must be effective requires that the eligibility procedure itself contains sufficient safeguards to prevent arbitrary decisions (§ 59).

109.  In certain older cases, the former Commission was required on several occasions to consider whether the decision to withdraw an individual’s so-called “active” or “passive” election rights on account of his or her previous activities constituted a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1. In all those cases, the Commission found that it did not. Thus, in the cases of X v. the Netherlands (no. 6573/74, Commission decision of 19 December 1974, DR 1, p. 87) and X v. Belgium (no. 8701/79, Commission decision of 3 December 1979, DR 18, p. 250), it declared inadmissible applications from two persons who had been convicted following the Second World War of collaboration with the enemy or “uncitizen-like conduct” and, on that account, were permanently deprived of the right to vote. In particular, the Commission considered that “the purpose of legislation depriving persons convicted of treason of certain political rights and, more specifically, the right to vote [was] to ensure that persons who [had] seriously abused, in wartime, their right to participate in the public life of their country are prevented in future from abusing their political rights in a manner prejudicial to the security of the State or the foundations of a democratic society” (see X v. Belgium, p. 253).

110.  In the case of Van Wambeke v. Belgium (no. 16692/90, Commission decision of 12 April 1991, unreported), the Commission declared inadmissible, on the same grounds, an application from a former member of the Waffen-SS, convicted of treason in 1945, who complained that he had been unable to take part in the elections to the European Parliament in 1989. In the case of Glimmerveen and Hagenbeek v. the Netherlands (nos. 8348/78 and 8406/78, Commission decision of 11 October 1979, DR 18, p. 187), the Commission declared inadmissible two applications concerning the refusal to allow the applicants, who were the leaders of a proscribed organisation with racist and xenophobic tendencies, to stand for election. On that occasion, the Commission referred to Article 17 of the Convention, noting that the applicants “intended to participate in these elections and to avail themselves of the right [concerned] for a purpose which the Commission [had] found to be unacceptable under Article 17” (ibid., p. 197). In that case it was also underlined that the standard of tolerance does not prevent a democratic society from taking steps to protect itself against activities intended to destroy the rights or freedoms set forth in the Convention. Article 3 of Protocol No. 1, which enshrines the individual’s capacity to influence the composition of the law-making power, does not therefore exclude that restrictions on electoral rights are imposed on an individual who has, for example, seriously abused a public position or whose conduct threatened to undermine the rule of law or democratic foundations.

1114.  In the context of employment restrictions imposed on public officials on political grounds, the Court has held that Article 10 of the Convention may apply in connection with their dismissal. A violation of Article 10 was found in this respect in Vogt (cited above, §§ 43-44), where the applicant was dismissed as a civil servant in relation to her specific activities as a member of the Communist Party in West Germany. However, in Volkmer v. Germany ((dec.), no. 39799/98, 22 November 2001) and Petersen v. Germany ((dec.), no. 39793/98, ECHR 2001-XII), the Court declared inadmissible as unsubstantiated the applicant civil servants’ complaints under Article 10 about their dismissal on account of their collaboration with the regime and secret services of the former German Democratic Republic. In the case of Sidabras and Džiautas v. Lithuania (nos. 55480/00 and 59330/00, §§ 51-62, ECHR 2004-VIII), the Court found a violation of Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 8 as regards the existence of wide-ranging restrictions barring former KGB officers in Lithuania from access to various spheres of employment in the private sector, which were introduced almost a decade after the re-establishment of Lithuanian independence. At the same time, it is to be noted that those applicants’ dismissal from their positions as, respectively, a tax inspector and prosecutor, on the ground of their former KGB employment was not considered to amount to an interference with their rights under Article 10 of the Convention (ibid., §§ 67-73).

112.  It is also relevant in this context to note that Article 3 of Protocol No. 1, or indeed other Convention provisions, do not prevent, in principle, Contracting States from introducing general policy schemes by way of legislative measures whereby a certain category or group of individuals is treated differently from others, provided that the interference with the rights of the statutory category or group as a whole can be justified under the Convention (see, in the context of a legislative ban on a police officer from engaging in political activities, examined by the Court under Articles 10 and 11 of the Convention, Rekvényi, cited above, §§ 34-50 and 58-62).

113.  In Rekvényi, no violation of the Convention was found in that the domestic legislation in issue was judged to be sufficiently clear and precise as to the definition of the categories of persons affected (members of the armed forces, police and security services) and as to the scope of the application of the impugned statutory restriction, the statute’s underlying purpose of excluding the whole group from political activities being compatible with the proportionality requirements under Articles 10 and 11 of the Convention. It was thus immaterial for the Court’s assessment of the compatibility of the impugned measures with the Convention whether or not the applicant in that case could have requested the domestic courts to scrutinise whether his own political involvement represented a possible danger to the democratic order (ibid.). Similarly, in Podkolzina and Melnychenko, both cited above, the Court did not state that the Convention required that the domestic courts be empowered to review matters such as the proportionality of the statutory obligations imposed on those applicants to comply with, respectively, language and residence requirements in order to exercise their rights to stand as candidates for election, given that those statutory requirements were in themselves perfectly acceptable from the Convention point of view.

114.  It follows from the above analysis that, as long as the statutory distinction itself is proportionate and not discriminatory as regards the whole category or group specified in the legislation, the task of the domestic courts may be limited to establishing whether a particular individual belongs to the impugned statutory category or group. The requirement for “individualisation”, that is the necessity of the supervision by the domestic judicial authorities of the proportionality of the impugned statutory restriction in view of the specific features of each and every case, is not a precondition of the measure’s compatibility with the Convention.

(c)  The Court’s conclusion as to the principles to be applied under Article 3 of Protocol No. 1

115.  Against the background of the aforementioned cases, the Court reaches the following conclusions as to the test to be applied when examining compliance with Article 3 of Protocol No. 1.

(a)  Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 is akin to other Convention provisions protecting various forms of civic and political rights such as, for example, Article 10 which secures the right to freedom of expression or Article 11 which guarantees the right to freedom of association including the individual’s right to political association with others by way of party membership. There is undoubtedly a link between all of these provisions, namely the need to guarantee respect for pluralism of opinion in a democratic society through the exercise of civic and political freedoms. In addition, the Convention and the Protocols must be seen as a whole. However, where an interference with Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 is in issue the Court should not automatically adhere to the same criteria as those applied with regard to the interference permitted by the second paragraphs of Articles 8 to 11 of the Convention, and it should not necessarily base its conclusions under Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 on the principles derived from the application of Articles 8 to 11 of the Convention. Because of the relevance of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 to the institutional order of the State, this provision is cast in very different terms from Articles 8 to 11 of the Convention. Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 is phrased in collective and general terms, although it has been interpreted by the Court as also implying specific individual rights. The standards to be applied for establishing compliance with Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 must therefore be considered to be less stringent than those applied under Articles 8 to 11 of the Convention.

(b)  The concept of “implied limitations” under Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 is of major importance for the determination of the relevance of the aims pursued by the restrictions on the rights guaranteed by this provision. Given that Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 is not limited by a specific list of “legitimate aims” such as those enumerated in Articles 8 to 11 of the Convention, the Contracting States are therefore free to rely on an aim not contained in that list to justify a restriction, provided that the compatibility of that aim with the principle of the rule of law and the general objectives of the Convention is proved in the particular circumstances of a case.

(c)  The “implied limitations” concept under Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 also means that the Court does not apply the traditional tests of “necessity” or “pressing social need” which are used in the context of Articles 8 to 11 of the Convention. In examining compliance with Article 3 of Protocol No. 1, the Court has focused mainly on two criteria: whether there has been arbitrariness or a lack of proportionality, and whether the restriction has interfered with the free expression of the opinion of the people. In this connection, the wide margin of appreciation enjoyed by the Contracting States has always been underlined. In addition, the Court has stressed the need to assess any electoral legislation in the light of the political evolution of the country concerned, with the result that features unacceptable in the context of one system may be justified in the context of another (see, inter alia, Mathieu-Mohin and Clerfayt and Podkolzina, both cited above).

(d)  The need for individualisation of a legislative measure alleged by an individual to be in breach of the Convention, and the degree of that individualisation where it is required by the Convention, depend on the circumstances of each particular case, namely the nature, type, duration and consequences of the impugned statutory restriction. For a restrictive measure to comply with Article 3 of Protocol No. 1, a lesser degree of individualisation may be sufficient, in contrast to situations concerning an alleged breach of Articles 8 to 11 of the Convention.

(e)  As regards the right to stand as a candidate for election, that is, the so-called “passive” aspect of the rights guaranteed by Article 3 of Protocol No. 1, the Court has been even more cautious in its assessment of restrictions in that context than when it has been called upon to examine restrictions on the right to vote, the so-called “active” element of the rights under Article 3 of Protocol No. 1. In Melnychenko (cited above, § 57), the Court observed that stricter requirements may be imposed on eligibility to stand for election to Parliament than is the case for eligibility to vote. In fact, while the test relating to the “active” aspect of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 has usually included a wider assessment of the proportionality of the statutory provisions disqualifying a person or a certain group of persons from the right to vote, the Court’s test in relation to the “passive” aspect of the above provision has been limited largely to a check on the absence of arbitrariness in the domestic procedures leading to disqualification of an individual from standing as a candidate (see, in particular, paragraphs 106‑08 above).

3.  Application of these principles in the present case

116.  Turning to the circumstances of the present case, the Court notes that the applicant alleges a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 in view of her exclusion from standing as a candidate for election to the Latvian parliament pursuant to section 5(6) of the Parliamentary Elections Act 1995 on the ground that she had “actively participated” in the activities of the CPSU (CPL) after 13 January 1991.

117.  The Court points out in the first place that the criterion of political loyalty which may be applied to public servants is of little, if any, relevance to the circumstances of the instant case, which deals with the very different matter of the eligibility of individuals to stand for Parliament. The criterion of “political neutrality” cannot be applied to members of parliament in the same way as it pertains to other State officials, given that the former cannot be “politically neutral” by definition.

118.  The Court further finds that the impugned restriction pursued aims compatible with the principle of the rule of law and the general objectives of the Convention, namely the protection of the State’s independence, democratic order and national security.

119.  It remains to be established whether the restriction was proportionate. It is to be observed in this connection that Latvia, along with the other Baltic States, lost its independence in 1940 in the aftermath of the partition of central and eastern Europe agreed by Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union by way of the secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, an agreement contrary to the generally recognised principles of international law. The ensuing annexation of Latvia by the Soviet Union was orchestrated and conducted under the authority of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), the Communist Party of Latvia (CPL) being a satellite branch of the CPSU. In the late 1980s, a feeling of discontent with the Soviet regime among the Latvian population led to a movement in favour of State independence and democratisation of the political system, which was confirmed by the results of a national plebiscite.

120.  In March 1990, the newly elected parliament (the Supreme Council) adopted a declaration re-establishing Latvia’s independence. As the Court has observed (see paragraphs 96-97 above), it sees nothing arbitrary in the domestic courts’ findings that the unsuccessful attempted coups in the Baltic States in January 1991 and then in August 1991 were organised and conducted under the direction of the CPSU and its regional branches, including the CPL. The applicant referred to the CPL’s official programme in order to exonerate the party from any responsibility for the events of 1991. In her opinion, the programme showed that this organisation had chosen the path to democratisation since 1990. However, the intentions of a party must be judged, above all, by the actions of its leaders and members rather than by its official slogans.

121.  The impugned restriction introduced by the Latvian legislature by way of section 5(6) of the 1995 Act, precluding persons from standing for Parliament where they had “actively participated” in the activities of the CPL between 13 January 1991 and the date of that party’s dissolution in September 1991, must be assessed with due regard to this very special historico-political context and the resultant wide margin of appreciation enjoyed by the State in this respect (see paragraph 115 (c) above).

122.  The parties disagree as to whether the impugned restriction constituted a preventive or punitive measure. In the Court’s opinion, what was at the heart of the impugned legislation was not an intention to punish those who had been active in the CPL. Rather, it was to protect the integrity of the democratic process by excluding from participation in the work of a democratic legislature those individuals who had taken an active and leading role in a party which was directly linked to the attempted violent overthrow of the newly-established democratic regime. It is true that it is not stated in the legislation that the disqualification is unlimited in time, but nor does it appear that it is temporary. Notwithstanding this ambiguity, the intention of the legislature was clearly motivated by prevention rather than by punishment. The Constitutional Court’s conclusions of 30 August 2000 and the subsequent periodic review of the legislation at the national level confirm this conclusion (see paragraphs 61-62 above).

123.  In Refah Partisi (the Welfare Party) and Others (cited above, § 115) the Court held that acts of leaders of a party were imputable to the party unless it distanced itself from them. The corollary may be equally true in circumstances such as those of the instant case, namely that the acts of a party are imputable to its members, particularly those who are leading figures in it, unless those members distance themselves from those acts. A politician’s conduct usually includes not only actions or speeches but also omissions or a lack of response, which can equally constitute acts indicating that politician’s stance. In view of the critical events surrounding the survival of democracy in Latvia which occurred after 13 January 1991, it was reasonable for the Latvian legislature to presume that the leading figures of the CPL held an anti-democratic stance, unless by their actions they had rebutted this presumption, for example, by actively dissociating themselves from the CPL at the material time. However, the applicant has not made any statement distancing herself from the CPSU/CPL at the material time, or indeed at any time thereafter (see paragraphs 21, 23 and 120 above).

124.  Criminal proceedings were never brought against the applicant. If this had been the case, she would have benefited from safeguards such as the presumption of innocence and the resolution of doubts in her favour in respect of such proceedings. The disqualification imposed under section 5(6) of the 1995 Act constitutes a special public-law measure regulating access to the political process at the highest level. In the context of such a procedure, doubts could be interpreted against a person wishing to be a candidate, the burden of proof could be shifted onto him or her, and appearances could be considered of importance. As observed above, the Court is of the opinion that the Latvian authorities were entitled, within their margin of appreciation, to presume that a person in the applicant’s position had held opinions incompatible with the need to ensure the integrity of the democratic process, and to declare that person ineligible to stand for election. The applicant has not disproved the validity of those appearances before the domestic courts; nor has she done so in the context of the instant proceedings.

125.  It should also be recalled that the Convention does not exclude a situation where the scope and conditions of a restrictive measure may be determined in detail by the legislature, leaving the courts of ordinary jurisdiction only with the task of verifying whether a particular individual belongs to the category or group covered by the statutory measure in issue. This is particularly so in matters relating to Article 3 of Protocol No. 1. The Court’s task is essentially to evaluate whether the measure defined by Parliament is proportionate from the standpoint of this provision, and not to find fault with the measure simply on the ground that the domestic courts were not empowered to “fully individualise” the application of the measure in the light of an individual’s specific situation and circumstances (see paragraphs 112-15 above).

126.  It is to be observed in this respect that section 5(6) of the 1995 Act is worded in relatively narrow terms. The very fact that the restriction relates only to those having “actively participated” in CPL activities at the material time confirms that the legislature clearly distinguished between the various forms of involvement in the party of its former members, as correctly pointed out in the Constitutional Court’s decision of 30 August 2000.

127.  Further, the Act conferred on individuals affected by the provisions of section 5(6) the right to have determined by a court the issue of whether they belonged to the category defined by the legislature, that is to say whether they could be deemed to have been “active participants”. It is clear that this was not an illusory right (see paragraph 45 above). The applicant does not allege that the proceedings in her case were not adversarial. The Court also recalls that it has accepted the domestic courts’ findings that the applicant was more than a formal member of the CPL, that she had participated in the party’s activities after the critical date of 13 January 1991, and that the CPL itself had taken an active role in the events of 1991, including the abortive coup (see paragraphs 23 and 37-44 above). The procedures applied in the applicant’s case, or indeed the conclusions reached by the domestic courts in applying the relevant domestic legislation, could not be considered arbitrary (see, by contrast, the Podkolzina and Melnychenko cases referred to in paragraphs 107-08 above).

128.  In view of the above considerations, the Court considers that the impugned legislation was clear and precise as to the definition of the category of persons affected by it, and it was also sufficiently flexible to allow the domestic courts to examine whether or not a particular person belonged to that category. In the present case, a sufficient degree of individualisation as required by Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 was thus effected by the Latvian parliament in adopting section 5(6) of the 1995 Act, and thereafter by the domestic courts in establishing that the impugned statutory measure applied to the applicant. There was no obligation under Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 for the Latvian parliament to delegate more extensive jurisdiction to the Latvian courts to “fully individualise” the applicant’s situation so as to enable them to establish as a fact whether or not she had done anything which would justify holding her personally responsible for the CPL’s activities at the material time in 1991, or to reassess the actual danger to the democratic process which might have arisen by allowing her to run for election in view of her past or present conduct (see, by way of contrast, paragraph 75 above).

129.  Furthermore, it is not of central importance, for the purpose of justifying the applicant’s inability to run for the national parliament, that she was never prosecuted for a criminal offence and was not one of the fifteen members of parliament who were stripped of their seats (see paragraphs 29 and 75 above). On the contrary, by choosing to bring a criminal prosecution only against the two former leaders of the CPL (see paragraph 32 above) and imposing more lenient restrictions on the political rights of other CPL activists such as the applicant, the Latvian authorities demonstrated a certain flexibility towards the latter group of persons.

130.  Moreover, the Court considers irrelevant the question whether the CPL should be regarded as a legal or an illegal organisation during the period after 13 January 1991, given that the subversive nature of its activities was obvious at least from that date (see paragraphs 96, 97 and 120 above). It is clear that the applicant chose to support the CPL’s anti-democratic stance, and her silence in the face of the events at the material time was just as telling as any overt action in support of the CPL’s activities (see paragraphs 123-24 above).

131.  Finally, the fact that the impugned statutory measure was not introduced by Parliament immediately after the restoration of Latvian independence does not appear in this case to be crucial, any more than it was in Rekvényi (cited above), where the provision excluding police officers from political activities became effective almost four years after Hungary’s transition to a democratic system. It is not surprising that a newly established democratic legislature should need time for reflection in a period of political turmoil to enable it to consider what measures were required to sustain its achievements. This is all the more so in the case of Latvia, where troops of a foreign country, Russia, remained until 1994 (see Slivenko v. Latvia [GC], no. 48321/99, ECHR 2003-X). Furthermore, the fact that the Latvian parliament enacted the statutory measure only in 1995 cannot be equated with the much more far-reaching restriction of personal rights barring former KGB officers in Lithuania from access to various spheres of employment in the private sector, which were introduced almost a decade after the re-establishment of Lithuanian independence, and which were considered, partly for this reason, disproportionate from the point of view of the Convention (see Sidabras and Džiautas, cited above, ibid.). It cannot therefore be concluded that the fact of Latvia having introduced the measure only in 1995 showed that the State itself did not deem such a restriction to be necessary to protect the democratic process in the country.

4.  The Court’s observations in conclusion

132.  The Latvian authorities’ view that even today the applicant’s former position in the CPL, coupled with her stance during the events of 1991 (see, in particular, paragraphs 123-24 above), still warrant her exclusion from standing as a candidate to the national parliament, can be considered to be in line with the requirements of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1. The impugned statutory restriction as applied to the applicant has not been found to be arbitrary or disproportionate. The applicant’s current or recent conduct is not a material consideration, given that the statutory restriction in question relates only to her political stance during the crucial period of Latvia’s struggle for “democracy through independence” in 1991.

133.  While such a measure may scarcely be considered acceptable in the context of one political system, for example in a country which has an established framework of democratic institutions going back many decades or centuries, it may nonetheless be considered acceptable in Latvia in view of the historico-political context which led to its adoption and given the threat to the new democratic order posed by the resurgence of ideas which, if allowed to gain ground, might appear capable of restoring the former regime.

134.  The Court therefore accepts in the present case that the national authorities of Latvia, both legislative and judicial, are better placed to assess the difficulties faced in establishing and safeguarding the democratic order. Those authorities should therefore be left sufficient latitude to assess the needs of their society in building confidence in the new democratic institutions, including the national parliament, and to answer the question whether the impugned measure is still needed for these purposes, provided that the Court has found nothing arbitrary or disproportionate in such an assessment. In this respect, the Court also attaches weight to the fact that the Latvian parliament has periodically reviewed section 5(6) of the 1995 Act, most recently in 2004. Even more importantly, the Constitutional Court carefully examined, in its decision of 30 August 2000, the historical and political circumstances which gave rise to the enactment of the law in Latvia, finding the restriction to be neither arbitrary nor disproportionate at that point in time, that is, nine years after the events in question (see paragraphs 61-63 above).

135.  It is to be noted that the Constitutional Court observed in its decision of 30 August 2000 that the Latvian parliament should establish a time-limit on the restriction. In the light of this warning, even if today Latvia cannot be considered to have overstepped its wide margin of appreciation under Article 3 of Protocol No. 1, it is nevertheless the case that the Latvian parliament must keep the statutory restriction under constant review, with a view to bringing it to an early end. Such a conclusion seems all the more justified in view of the greater stability which Latvia now enjoys, inter alia, by reason of its full European integration (see paragraph 51 above). Hence, the failure by the Latvian legislature to take active steps in this connection may result in a different finding by the Court (see, mutatis mutandis, Sheffield and Horsham v. the United Kingdom, 30 July 1998, § 60, Reports 1998-V; see also the follow-up judgment to that case, Christine Goodwin v. the United Kingdom [GC], no. 28957/95, §§ 71‑93, ECHR 2002-VI).

136.  The Court concludes that there has been no violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1.


137.  The applicant complained that her disqualification from standing for election to the national parliament as well as municipal councils amounted to a violation of Articles 10 and 11 of the Convention 

A.  The Chamber’s judgment

138.  The Chamber considered that there had been a disproportionate interference with the applicant’s rights, in breach of Article 11 of the Convention. The Chamber also considered that it was not required to rule on the applicant’s complaints under Article 10.


C.  The Court’s assessment

141.  The Court considers in the circumstances of the case that Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 is the lex specialis, and no separate examination of the applicant’s complaints is warranted under Article 11. Nor can the Court find any argument that would require a separate examination of the applicant’s complaints about her inability to stand for election from the point of view of Article 10.

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