European Court of Human Rights


(Application no. 13079/03)

Legal Summary:{"itemid":["002-1514"]}

Information Note on the Court’s case-law No. 120

June 2009

Ruotsalainen v. Finland - 13079/03

Judgment 16.6.2009 [Section IV]

Article 4 of Protocol No. 7

Right not to be tried or punished twice

Conviction for petty tax fraud and subsequent fuel-fee debit based on substantially the same facts: violation

Facts: The applicant ran his pickup van on fuel that was more leniently taxed than diesel oil but without paying an additional tax. Consequently, a summary penal order was made against him to pay a fine of approximately EUR 120 for petty tax fraud. Subsequently, in separate administrative proceedings, he was issued with a fuel-fee debit in the amount of EUR 15,000 to compensate for the tax advantage he had gained. This was three times higher than the amount he would have had to pay if he had given prior notice to the competent authority. His appeals against the latter decision were unsuccessful.

Law: Whereas the legal characterisation and the nature of the first set of proceedings concerning tax fraud were undoubtedly criminal, the second set of proceedings had not been classified as such under domestic law. However, having regard to the fact that the amount of the fuel-fee due had been trebled, the Court concluded that it had not only a compensatory character, but also a deterrent and punitive one, sufficient to establish the criminal nature of the offence. Since both sanctions concerned the same conduct by the same person and within the same time frames, the Court was required to verify whether the facts giving rise to both sets of proceedings were identical or substantially the same. The facts that had given rise to the summary penal order in the first set of proceedings had related to the applicant’s use of more leniently taxed fuel than diesel oil in his van without paying the additional tax due for such use. The second set of proceedings resulted in a fuel-fee debit that was imposed because the applicant’s van had been run on more leniently taxed fuel. That amount had then been tripled because he had not given prior notice thereof. Thus, the facts in the two sets of proceedings hardly differed and must, in the Court’s view, have been regarded as substantially the same for the purposes of Article 4 of Protocol No. 7.

Conclusion: violation (unanimously).

Article 41 – EUR 1,500 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

© Council of Europe/European Court of Human Rights
This summary by the Registry does not bind the Court.

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