European Court of Human Rights - case of Putz v. Austria (1993) (excerpts)

European Court of Human Rights - case of Putz v. Austria (1993) (excerpts)



37.     The Court notes that Article 235 of the Code of Criminal

Procedure concerning responsibility for keeping order at hearings

provides for the imposition of a fine not exceeding ATS 10,000

or, where essential for maintaining order, a custodial sentence

not exceeding eight days.  If the fine proves to be

irrecoverable, the custodial sentence will be for a term of at

most eight days (Article 7 of the Code of Criminal Procedure -

see paragraph 21 above).  As regards written proceedings,

Article 220 of the Code of Civil Procedure provides for the

imposition of a fine not exceeding ATS 20,000 and, in the event

of inability to pay, a custodial sentence not exceeding ten days.

In the instant case the Austrian courts sentenced Mr Putz to pay

fines of ATS 5,000, 7,500 and 10,000 (see paragraphs 8, 10 and

15 above).  Two of them were converted into prison sentences, but

after payment the applicant did not have to serve these (see

paragraphs 9 and 11 above).


        In this respect, the Court notes a number of

dissimilarities between the instant case and the Ravnsborg case,

in which the amount of the fines could not exceed 1,000 Swedish

kronor and the decision to convert them into custodial sentences

required a prior hearing of the person concerned.  This finding,

however, is qualified by three features of the instant case:

firstly, as in the Ravnsborg case, the fines are not entered in

the criminal record; secondly, the court can only convert them

into prison sentences if they are unpaid, and an appeal lies

against such decisions (see paragraph 21 above), as it does

against custodial sentences imposed straight away at the hearing

where that course was essential for maintaining order; lastly,

whereas in the Ravnsborg case the term of imprisonment into which

a fine could be converted ranged from fourteen days to three

months, in the instant case it cannot exceed ten days.


        However real they may be, the dissimilarities, which

reflect the characteristics of the two national legal systems,

therefore do not appear to be decisive.  In both cases the

penalties are designed to enable the courts to ensure the proper

conduct of court proceedings (see paragraph 33 above).


        Having regard to all these factors the Court considers,

like the Government, that what was at stake for the applicant was

not sufficiently important to warrant classifying the offences

as "criminal".