European Court of Human Rights - case of Kadubec v. Slovakia (1998) (excerpts)

51.  The Court notes, and it was not disputed by those appearing before it, that it is apparent from sections 2(1) and 47 of the Minor Offences Act that the minor offence of which the applicant was convicted is not characterised under domestic law as “criminal” (see paragraphs 19 and 22 above). However, the indications furnished by the domestic law of the respondent State have only a relative value (see the Öztürk v. Germany judgment of 21 February 1984, Series A no. 73, p. 19, § 52).

It is therefore necessary to examine the minor offence in the light of the second and third criteria mentioned above (paragraph 50 above). In this respect, the Court recalls that these criteria are alternative and not cumulative: for Article 6 to apply by virtue of the words “criminal charge”, it suffices that the offence in question should by its nature be “criminal” from the point of view of the Convention, or should have made the person concerned liable to a sanction which, by its nature and degree of severity, belongs in general to the “criminal” sphere (see, inter alia, the Lutz v. Germany judgment of 25 August 1987, Series A no. 123, p. 23, § 55). This does not exclude that a cumulative approach may be adopted where the separate analysis of each criterion does not make it possible to reach a clear conclusion as to the existence of a “criminal charge” (see, among other authorities, the above-mentioned Garyfallou AEBE judgment, p. 1830, § 33; and the Bendenoun v. France judgment of 24 February 1994, Series A no. 284, p. 20, § 47).

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56.  The Court recalls at the outset that the right to a fair trial, of which the right to a hearing before an independent tribunal is an essential component, holds a prominent place in a democratic society (see, mutatis mutandis, the De Cubber v. Belgium judgment of 26 October 1984, Series A no. 86, p. 16, § 30 in fine). In order to determine whether a body can be considered to be “independent” of the executive it is necessary to have regard to the manner of appointment of its members and the duration of their term of office, the existence of guarantees against outside pressures and the question whether the body presents an appearance of independence (see, inter alia, the Le Compte, Van Leuven and De Meyere v. Belgium judgment of 23 June 1981, Series A no. 43, p. 24, § 55, and the Campbell and Fell v. the United Kingdom judgment of 28 June 1984, Series A no. 80, pp. 39–40, § 78).

57.  The Court notes that the Piešťany local office and the Trnava district office are charged with carrying out local State administration under the control of the government (see paragraph 31 above). The appointment of the heads of those bodies is controlled by the executive and their officers, whose employment contracts are governed by the provisions of the Labour Code, have the status of salaried employees (see paragraphs 32–34 above). Therefore, the manner of appointment of the officers of the local and district offices together with the lack of any guarantees against outside pressures and any appearance of independence clearly show that those bodies cannot be considered to be “independent” of the executive within the meaning of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

While entrusting the prosecution and punishment of minor offences to administrative authorities is not inconsistent with the Convention, it is to be stressed that the person concerned must have an opportunity to challenge any decision made against him before a tribunal that offers the guarantees of Article 6 (see the above-mentioned Öztürk judgment, pp. 21–22, § 56). In the instant case, however, the applicant was unable to have the decisions of the local and district offices reviewed by an independent and impartial tribunal (see paragraphs 13 and 30 above).