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Findings arising from a legally effective criminal judgment to be exempted from assessment in administrative court proceedings SK 8/20

On 4 July 2023 at 9.30 a.m., the Constitutional Tribunal publicly delivered its judgment issued at a sitting in camera with regard to a constitutional complaint concerning the extent to which an administrative court is bound by a legally effective criminal judgment of conviction.

The Tribunal adjudicated that Article 11 of the Act of 30 August 2002 on Proceedings Before Administrative Courts (Journal of Laws – Dz. U. of 2023 item 259, as amended) – insofar as the said provision binds administrative courts also in the cases of persons other than the accused against whom a legally effective judgment of conviction has been delivered in criminal proceedings – is consistent with Article 45(1) in conjunction with Article 31(3) of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland.
Moreover, the Tribunal discontinued the proceedings as to the remainder.
The ruling was adopted by a majority vote.
There were two dissenting opinions, filed by the following Judges of the Constitutional Tribunal: Judge Michał Warciński and Judge Andrzej Zielonacki.

Pursuant to challenged Article 11 of the Act on Proceedings Before Administrative Courts, the content of a legally effective judgment of conviction delivered in criminal proceedings, with regard to the commission of a criminal offence, is binding on an administrative court. In the constitutional complaint, it was alleged that the challenged provision infringed on the right to a fair trial, and in particular the right to a hearing and the right to fair proceedings, since a legally effective criminal judgment of conviction was binding not only for the accused against whom the conviction had been issued, but also for a person against whom tax proceedings were being carried out and who had not been an accused person in the criminal proceedings. Consequently, the latter person was deprived of the possibility of proving, in the course of the tax proceedings, the circumstances weighing in her/his favour but contradicting the findings established in the legally effective criminal judgment of conviction.

The Tribunal analysed the allegations, taking account of the principle of proportionality of limitations on rights and freedoms, as set out in Article 31(3) of the Constitution. The evidentiary restriction arising from the challenged provision has been established by statute. Therefore, the formal prerequisite for the admissibility of introducing a limitation on the right to a fair trial has been fulfilled. The rule that an administrative court is bound by a legally effective criminal judgment of conviction has been established for the purpose of avoiding discrepancies in the jurisprudence of courts with relation to such an important issue as assigning the commission of a criminal offence to a particular person. The legislator has decided that the binding stance in that respect may only be made by a criminal court, especially that administrative courts neither conduct evidentiary proceedings nor determine the aforementioned cases on their merits. Moreover, the said solution eliminates the need to conduct evidentiary proceedings twice in order to determine the same facts in different court proceedings and in administrative proceedings, thus ensuring the efficiency and expediency of the proceedings. Therefore, the Tribunal held that Article 11 of the Act on Proceedings Before Administrative Courts fulfils the criterion of usefulness. When analysing the criterion of necessity, the Tribunal underlined that the principle established in Article 11 of the aforementioned Act is indispensable for the protection of other constitutional values, i.e. the certainty of law and the stability of court rulings, which are meant for ensuring security and public order, as referred to in Article 31(3) of the Constitution. When assessing whether the prerequisite of proportionality in a strict sense had been met, i.e. whether the legislator’s intended purpose had been achieved in a manner that was not excessively rigorous and burdensome for the individual, the Tribunal pointed out that the evidentiary restriction arising from the challenged provision, despite the claims put forward in the complaint, did not prevent a party to the proceedings from filing motions for the examination of any evidence that the party regarded as appropriate to assert its claims. Nor did the said restriction relieve a competent public authority of the obligation to comprehensively examine a given case in accordance with the general principles of the Administrative Procedure Code. In this context, a formal review falls within the ambit of an administrative court. The rule expressed in Article 11 of the Act on Proceedings Before Administrative Courts is interpreted in a restrictive and narrow way – it merely comprises the findings arising from the operative part of a legally effective judgment of conviction. Consequently, neither the competent court nor the competent administrative authority is bound by other determinations of a criminal court, any determinations issued in other proceedings than criminal proceedings, or the reasoning for a criminal judgment of conviction – within that scope, the competent administrative authority is obliged to establish findings on its own. Thus, in the Tribunal’s view, the challenged provision does not impose on the citizen disproportionate burdens which would be incompatible with the pursuit of the public interest expressed in Article 11 of the Act on Proceedings Before Administrative Courts.

The restriction of the right to a fair trial, arising from Article 11 of the Act on Proceedings Before Administrative Courts, meets – in the Tribunal’s opinion – all the criteria of the proportionality test. Therefore, the Tribunal adjudicated that the said provision, within the scope indicated in the complaint, is consistent with Article 45(1) in conjunction with Article 31(3) of the Constitution.

The adjudicating bench of the Constitutional Tribunal in the case was composed of: Judge Andrzej Zielonacki – Presiding Judge; Judge Wojciech Sych – Judge Rapporteur; Judge Piotr Pszczółkowski; Judge Jakub Stelina; Judge Michał Warciński.