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THE FACTS

The applicant, Mr Robert Montcornet de Caumont, is a French national who was born in 1930 and lives in Briançon. He was represented before the Court by Mr E. de Caumont, of the Paris Bar.

A.  The circumstances of the case

The facts of the case, as submitted by the applicant, may be summarised as follows.

The applicant was prosecuted for exceeding the speed limit authorised outside built-up areas (173 k.p.h. instead of the permitted 130 k.p.h.) at Peyrolles on 1 June 1992.

In a judgment delivered on 16 December 1992, the Aix-en-Provence Police Court acquitted him, finding that there was insufficient evidence to convict.

On an appeal by the prosecution, the Aix-en-Provence Court of Appeal reversed that judgment on 5 May 1994 and found the applicant guilty of exceeding the speed limit. It imposed a fine of 3,000 French francs and disqualified him from driving for one month.

In its judgment, it held, inter alia:

“The aforementioned particulars in the incident report which served as the basis for the prosecution show that it was indeed the accused's vehicle, whose registration number and make were correctly noted, which was intercepted after its speed had been recorded. The gendarmes' findings are not refuted by the accused's bare denials ...

Consequently, ... this Court reverses the judgment appealed against and, there being no need to order additional investigations, finds the accused guilty as charged.”

The applicant appealed on points of law but, in a judgment delivered on 22 February 1995, the Court of Cassation dismissed his appeal.

The applicant's conviction therefore became final and on 22 April 1996 the Finance Department of the City of Marseilles issued a formal demand for payment of the fine that had been imposed by the Aix-en-Provence Court of Appeal in its judgment of 5 May 1994.

The applicant applied to the Aix-en-Provence Court of Appeal for relief under the Amnesty Act (Law no. 95-884 of 3 August 1995). The application was rejected by the Court of Appeal in a judgment of 15 December 1997, in which it found: “The offence the applicant has been found guilty of is excluded from the Amnesty Act by virtue of section 25(10) of that Act.”

The applicant appealed to the Court of Cassation. In a single ground of appeal, he relied on Article 6 § 1 of the Convention and “the rights of the defence as a whole”, essentially arguing that the Court of Appeal had not given adequate reasons to explain why the offence did not qualify for an amnesty under the Act. In his submission, he was entitled to an amnesty, as the only way he could be deprived of that right was by the retrospective application of the Amnesty Act.

In a judgment delivered on 21 September 1999 and served on 21 December 1999, the Court of Cassation dismissed the appeal.

B.  Relevant domestic law

1.  The Amnesty Act (Law no. 95-884 of 3 August 1995)

Section 25

“The following shall be excluded from the scope of this Act:

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(10)  The minor road-traffic offences referred to in sub-paragraph 2 of Article R. 256 of the Highway Code as worded on 18 May 1995.”

2.  The Highway Code

Article R. 256

This provision was worded as follows under the decree of 23 November 1992, which came into force on 18 May 1995:

“Any breach of the Articles listed below ... shall give rise to the automatic deduction of points as follows:

1.  Six points shall be deducted for relatively serious offences [délits] under the following Articles:

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2.  Four points shall be deducted for minor offences under the following Articles:

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–  ... exceeding the speed limit by 40 k.p.h. or more;

3.  Three points shall be deducted for minor offences under the following Articles:

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4.  Two points shall be deducted for minor offences under the following Articles:

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5.  One point shall be deducted for minor offences under the following Articles:

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I. –  This decree shall enter into force on 1 December 1992.

II. –  (a)  The number of points to be deducted for offences proved ... prior to 1 December 1992 shall continue to be calculated in accordance with the provisions of the aforementioned decree of 25 June 1992.

     (b)  The number of points to be deducted for offences committed before 1 December 1992 but not proved until after that date shall be calculated in accordance with the provisions of this decree.

III. –  The number of points allotted to each driving licence on 30 November 1992 shall be doubled on 1 December 1992.”

COMPLAINTS

1.  Relying on Article 7 § 1 of the Convention, the applicant submitted that he should have received an amnesty under the Amnesty Act. He said that he had been excluded from the benefit of that legislation by virtue of section 25(10), which referred to Article R. 256 of the Highway Code dealing with the points system for driving licences. However, in his submission, since the offence with which he had been charged was committed on 1 June 1992, it had preceded the date the Driving Licence Points Act entered into force (1 July 1992) and its implementing decrees of 23 June and 23 November 1992. Consequently the application of section 25(10) of the 1995 Act and, therefore, Article R. 256 of the Highway Code in his case constituted a violation of the rule guaranteed by Article 7 of the Convention that criminal legislation shall not have retrospective effect.

2.  He also alleged a violation of Article 6 § 3 (a) in fine of the Convention, arguing that if the offence was regarded as capable of resulting in the deduction of points under Article R. 256 of the Highway Code, the accused's right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him would thereby have been infringed. In the applicant's submission, it followed that he should have been given an amnesty and not have been liable to have points deducted from his licence.

 

THE LAW

The applicant submitted that the decision that had been taken by virtue of section 25(10) of the Amnesty Act not to grant him an amnesty violated Article 7 § 1 of the Convention, which provides:

“No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the criminal offence was committed.”

He also argued that deducting points from his licence was akin to imposing on him a penalty whose nature and cause were unknown to him at the time of the accusation, as the system of deducting points from the driving licence had only come into force after the offence was committed. He complained of a breach of Article 6 § 3 (a) of the Convention, which provides:

“3.  Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:

(a)  to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him;”

The Court notes at the outset that any complaint by the applicant about the proceedings that ended with the judgment delivered by the Court of Cassation on 22 February 1995 must be regarded as being out of time under Article 35 § 1 of the Convention.

The Court therefore only has jurisdiction to examine the complaints regarding the proceedings which began with the appeal to the Aix-en-Provence Court of Appeal and ended with the Court of Cassation's judgment of 21 September 1999.

The Court reiterates that, under its settled case-law, an applicant will only have satisfied the rule requiring the exhaustion of domestic remedies if he or she has expressly, or at least in substance, referred to the domestic authorities the complaints he or she now makes to the Court (see, among other authorities, Ankerl v. Switzerland, judgment of 23 October 1996, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1996-V, p. 1565, § 34). It is clear from the applicant's written submissions to the Court of Cassation and that court's judgment of 21 September 1999 that the applicant relied only on “Article 6 § 1 of the Convention and the rights of the defence as a whole”, while at the same time emphasising within that context that the offence had been committed before the points system came into force.

It follows that Articles 6 § 3 (a) and 7 of the Convention were only partly and implicitly referred to in the domestic courts.

However, even assuming that the applicant has relied on those provisions in substance, the Court considers that the entire application is inadmissible for the following reasons.

The first issue raised is the applicability of Article 6 of the Convention. As the applicant himself has pointed out, the relevant proceedings, which ended with the Court of Cassation's judgment of 21 September 1999, only concerned the conditions of applicability of amnesty legislation to a conviction that was already final. They did not concern a dispute (“contestation”) over “civil rights and obligations”, or the “determination of a criminal charge” under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, but an issue relating to the execution of a sentence. The Convention institutions have consistently held that Article 6 of the Convention does not apply to such proceedings (see A.B. v. Switzerland, no. 20872/92, Commission decision of 22 February 1995, Decisions and Reports (DR) 80-B, p. 66). That is true, inter alia, when the proceedings concern the examination of a request for an amnesty (see Asociación de Aviadores de la República and Others v. Spain, no. 10733/84, Commission decision of 11 March 1985, DR 41, p. 211).

The reason for this is that since an amnesty may, as in the applicant's case, concern a person who has been convicted in a final judgment, they no longer relate to a criminal charge against that person within the meaning of Article 6 of the Convention. Accordingly, disputes over the existence or scope of amnesty legislation fall outside the criminal limb of Article 6.

Consequently, Article 6 of the Convention is not applicable ratione materiae.

As regards the alleged violation of Article 7 of the Convention, the Court considers by analogy that a failure to apply amnesty legislation (even if the amnesty is capable of cancelling the conviction) does not constitute a conviction under criminal law or concern the conditions in which the accused was convicted (in particular, the lawfulness of the sentence or the rule against retrospective effect). It does not, therefore, come within the scope of Article 7 of the Convention.

In addition and in any event, the Court notes that the complaints of an alleged violation of Article 7 of the Convention overlap those of an alleged violation of Article 6 of the Convention, as shown by the applicant's legal submissions in the Court of Cassation, in which he argued that the legislation was retrospective while relying solely on Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

Lastly, in the alternative, the Court finds that the evidence before it does not show that points were deducted from the applicant's driving licence for the offence, that being a hypothetical possibility that was raised only by the applicant. To that extent, the complaint cannot be considered to have been substantiated.

It follows that the application as a whole must be rejected as manifestly ill-founded pursuant to Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.

For these reasons, the Court unanimously

Declares the application inadmissible.

MONTCORNET DE CAUMONT v. FRANCE DECISION


MONTCORNET DE CAUMONT v. FRANCE DECISION