Judge suspended, to maintain public confidence in court system, after being prosecuted for offences presumed to have been committed in performance of former duties: Violation of the rights to a fair hearing & to respect for private life (ECtHR)

In Chamber's judgment dated 10.10.2023 in the case of Pengezov v. Bulgaria (application no. 66292/14) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 6 (right to a fair hearing) of the European Convention on Human Rights as concerned the insufficient extent of the judicial review carried out by the Supreme Administrative Court.

The Court held also that there had been no violation of Article 6 (right to a fair hearing) of the Convention as concerned the independence and impartiality of the Supreme Administrative Court, and a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private life). 

The case concerned a judge’s temporary suspension from his duties on account of his indictment for irregularities allegedly committed in the performance of his former duties. 

The Court noted that following the applicant’s prosecution, he had been suspended from his duties as a judge, indefinitely and without pay, by a decision of the Supreme Judicial Council that had not been accompanied by adequate procedural safeguards. In that connection, it found that the scope of the Supreme Administrative Court’s judicial review had not been sufficient. 

Having regard to the length of the criminal proceedings (seven years) and to the absence of legal remedies for requesting that the suspension (which had lasted two and a half years) be lifted, the Court found that the applicant had been left in a state of uncertainty as to the duration of his suspension. Such a situation had also carried an inherent risk for the accused judge’s independence, which the Court had to take into account as well. 

Accordingly, the Court found that the applicant’s suspension from his duties had not been accompanied by adequate safeguards against abuse and had not been justified on relevant and sufficient grounds; it had therefore not been proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued (namely, guaranteeing the integrity of the judiciary and maintaining public confidence in the court system).

The Court held that Bulgaria was to pay the applicant 4,500 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 1,626.19 in respect of costs and expenses. (source: echr.coe.int)

The judgment is available (in French) here



George Kazoleas, Lawyer

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