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Lithuania likely to amend Constitution after Strasbourg verdict

  • 2011-01-13
  • By Linas Jegelevicius

FIGHTING BACK: Rolandas Paksas’ Strasbourg court victory doesn’t mean the Constitution needs to be changed, says Stasys Sedbaras.

KLAIPEDA - After the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Lithuania was wrong to bar ex-President Rolandas Paksas for life from running for parliament after he had been ousted from power in 2004, the news sent ripples through the country, refreshing memories of recent history. As Paksas and his party, Tvarka ir teisingumas (Order and Justice), are trying to capitalize on the verdict and its related publicity, claiming that the ECHR’s ruling means that the 2004 impeachment was wrong, judicial institutions scrambled to cautiously explain what should be the proper way to implement the Court’s verdict. However, all the flaring discussions boil down to the whether Lithuania has to change its Constitution to carry out the verdict.

Alternatively, will an amendment to the effective Election Law suffice?
On Jan. 10, Remigijus Simasius,  minister at Lithuania’s Ministry of Justice, revealed that the Ministry is going to convoke a working group consisting of prominent judicial experts of the Lithuanian Constitution. “It should be free of politics and include experts who bear wide academic and legal doctrine knowledge and who can propose a doctrinal consensus,” Simasius said. According to him, the group should figure out whether Lithuania will have to change its Constitution, or find another way to embody the verdict. “After the verdict, one important facet of the Lithuanian judicial system has turned up – we do not have a clearly defined proportion between our Constitution and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Therefore, one attitude comes out from the approach to the Constitution, and another one derives from the Convention. However, in the both cases, the issue boils down to the different approach regarding the aftermath of the presidential perjury and ouster. Experts of the would-be working group will have to puzzle over that – how to reconcile things.

The possible options are few: whether to amend the Constitution or adopt other decisions,” Simasius pointed out.
Lithuania has to inform the ECHR within six months what decisions it will adopt regarding the verdict. The judgment by the Strasbourg court is binding, meaning that Lithuania, an EU member state, will have to act on it to prevent any similar violation in the future.

While Paksas’ party activists beforehand accused the government of creating possible impediments that would delay the decision-making until the Seimas election in 2012, Simasius is trying to cool everyone off, cautioning that any hurrying is harmful. He rejected the notion that the issue’s solution will be deliberately dragged out.
After the same meeting, Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, asked whether Paksas would be able to participate in the 2012 Seimas election, scoffed, rephrasing the question, “Together with Jurijus Borisovas?”

In 2004, Lithuania’s Constitutional Court found that Paksas had illegally arranged Lithuanian citizenship for a Russian-born businessman, Yuri Borisov, and, thereafter, leaked to him a state secret. Having regained a matter-of-fact composure, Kubilius then refused to predict whether the needed judicial amendments will be adopted by that date, which would allow Paksas to participate in the Seimas election. Once again, Kubilius emphasized that the European Court of Human Rights did not review the process of the Paksas impeachment. “The Court has ruled that Lithuania was constitutionally empowered to adopt the impeachment rulings. The ECHR has only declared that the Lithuanian Constitutional Court had passed a disproportional verdict of ‘permanent and irreversible’ ban on Paksas from holding any state office that requires taking an oath,” Kubilius reiterated. He added, “We will have to find such a decision that would match the proportionality principle.”

The prime minister says that the working group will be formed as early as next week. However, Paksas, upbeat and high on the favorable verdict, claims vehemently, “In denying the Constitutional Court’s verdict, the ECHR has denied the impeachment, too. While striving to implement fairly the ECHR’s verdict, the government has to review and appropriately estimate the lawfulness of the impeachment process. However, bearing in mind that many active participants of the then-coup have sufficient authority and power, it would be naive to believe that they will try to implement the Court’s verdict expeditiously,” Paksas said.

Speaking to The Baltic Times, Stasys Sedbaras, chairman of Seimas’s Legal Affairs and a Constitutional Court former judge, asserted that “there is no need to amend the Constitution as far as the ECHR’s verdict concerns Paksas. Show me a Constitution article that obliges us to change anything. I do not see it. As you know, our Committee is responsible for the execution of ECHR rulings and I will firmly pursue forming the working group in the matter. However, I firmly stand my ground, asserting that it suffices to amend the Seimas Election Law, but not the Constitution, in order to comply with the ECHR’s verdict.” He reiterated that there is no article in the Constitution banning an impeached and ousted person from running for Seimas again. “The Constitutional Court’s ruling fixating the ban should be considered the Court’s ‘opinion,’ but not a constitutional rule,” Sedbaras pointed out.

The favorable verdict for Paksas, some law experts assert, may facilitate the murky plight of another recently impeached politician, ex-parliamentarian Linas Karalius. “I think that, while amending and adopting solutions in the context of the Paksas case, Karalius’ impeachment case will also emerge, as it is obvious that the law standards that we are going to review, and possibly correct, will concern the ex-parliamentarian as well,” Juozys Zilys, law professor at Mykolas Romeris University, emphasized.

At the end of the day, Jan. 10, the Constitutional Court issued a press release underlining that, according to the Lithuanian Constitution, a person who was impeached and ousted as a result of a constitutional infringement or perjury and whose mandate, thereafter, was annulled, can never assume a position which obliges them to take an oath of office. Sticking to this, the Constitutional Court stated that there is a certain incongruity between the Constitution and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Therefore, the Court infers, in order to implement the ECHR’s verdict over Paksas, appropriate Constitutional amendments have to be done.

To recall, shortly after the verdict was announced, Paksas declared he would participate in the 2012 Seimas election. Since 2009, Rolandas Paksas has been a member of the European Parliament and belongs to the group Europe of Freedom and Democracy, which stands against an expansion of the competences of the European Union. Paksas’ center-right Order and Justice Party currently holds 18 seats in the 141-seat Lithuanian Parliament. Paksas was impeached in 2004 after serving as prime minister twice, before becoming president in 2003.