a) Armenia / b) Constitutional Court / c) / d) 03-06-2014 / e) / f) On the conformity with the Constitution of the provisions of Customs Code / g) Tegekagir (Official Gazette) / h) .
Keywords of the Systematic Thesaurus:
Constitutional Justice - Jurisdiction - The subject of review - Laws and other rules having the force of law.
Institutions - Executive bodies.
Fundamental Rights - Civil and political rights - Right to property - Other limitations.
The seizure of property guarantees the effectiveness of a procedure instituted as a consequence of a breach in customs rules. One of the principles of administrative responsibility is responsibility in accordance with guilt, which serves as a mandatory mental element of an administrative offence and sole prerequisite for responsibility. This principle also refers to the principle of personal responsibility, according to which a person is deemed responsible only for the offence committed by himself or herself. Interfering with the right to property as a result of another person’s wrongdoing to guarantee the fulfilment of obligations of the offender constitutes a disproportionate interference with the right to property of the innocent person.
I. The applicant challenged the provision of the Customs Code that allows customs authorities to seize property subject to transportation, irrespective of ownership, to guarantee payment of a fine issued to the person transporting the goods for breaching customs rules. The applicant argued that the regulation contradicts the right to property stipulated in the Constitution, as it deprives a person not responsible for the offence from his or her property. The applicant also stated that the impugned interference with the right to property is not ? necessary and appropriate mean for achieving the goals of customs policy. The reason, according to the applicant, is that the elimination of the interference is conditioned by the behaviour of a third party, not the owner of the property.
II. In framing the case, the Constitutional Court assessed the completeness of the legislative mechanisms of the challenged regulation to ascertain the constitutional content of «deprivation of property». The Court also considered whether the argued regulation falls within the ambit of the meaning of deprivation of property enshrined in Article 31 of the Constitution, whether it causes restriction to right to property, whether it pursues a legitimate aim and is proportionate and necessary in a democratic society for reaching the legitimate aim, and whether the legislation stipulates necessary and sufficient guarantees for protection of human rights within execution of the considered regulation.
Governed by the respective provisions of the Customs Code as well as the Law on Legal Acts, stipulating that chapeaux of articles of laws shall comply with their content, the Constitutional Court stated that the article prescribing the argued provision shall pursue merely an aim to stipulate the terms of returning of the seized goods. The reason is that, as it carries relevant chapeaux, whilst besides its direct content, the discussed article includes the institute of seizure of goods for ensuring the payment of fines and customs payments. In this context, the Court also noted that the Customs Code includes neither a provision stating the appropriate authority of customs authorities, nor a provision regulating the procedure to exercise that authority. Due to the aforementioned, the Court held that a person is deprived of the possibility to protect his or her rights within the current regulation.
Regarding deprivation of property, the Court reiterates the relevant legal positions expressed in its previous decisions. It also stated that in case of deprivation of property, the suspension of right to property towards certain goods is being executed beyond the will of the owner and without any compensation. The deprivation of property is exercised as a sanction, and leads to simultaneous and complete suspension of all proprietary rights without guaranteeing their continuity. The Court considered the discussed institute of seizure of goods in light of the mentioned criteria. It found that it did not fall within the scope of deprivation of property as the goods are being taken for guaranteeing the payment of fines and customs payments. Also, the Court noted that it is not executed as a sanction, and the interference is eliminated after the customs obligetions are fulfilled.
The Court referred to Article 1 Protocol 1 ECHR and held that the discussed interference with the right to property aims to ensure the fulfilment of the constitutional obligations concerning the payment of taxes, fines and other payments. Simultaneously the Court stated that the interference is proportionate and necessary for achieving the legitimate aim only if it is directed at restricting the right to property of the wrongdoer and merely within the amount equivalent with the obligation.
Based on the aforementioned, the provision allowing the customs authorities to take the property irrespective of its ownership has been declared unconstitutional and void.