Rights Court Slams Portugal Justices for Rejecting Cases on Formalities

STRASBOURG, France (CN) — The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday found that the Portuguese high court had been “excessively formal” in denying review of cases based on issues like typos.

The ruling, which is only available in French, joins together four unrelated cases. In each, applicants had their appeals to the Portuguese Constitutional Court rejected and all felt the denials were unjust.

The European Court of Human Rights building in Strasbourg, France.

In two of the cases, the seven-judge panel of the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, agreed.

Founded in 1959, the Strasbourg-based court was established by the European Convention on Human Rights and handles cases on human, civil and political rights.

In the first successful case, Maria da Graça dos Santos Calado was granted early retirement in 2008 and was given a fixed monthly pension amount. She contested the amount, bringing a complaint before the Lisbon administrative court in 2012, which was dismissed. Her appeal to the Constitutional Court was rejected for citing the wrong paragraph of the civil code, a mistake that Dos Santos Calado said was a typo.

In the second case, Amador de Faria e Silva, together with several colleagues at the Portuguese Roads Department, brought a complaint to the Coimbra Administrative and Tax Court in 2005, claiming their job titles were not reflecting the work that they were doing. Their case was also rejected by the justices on the Constitutional Court for failing to address the issue of unconstitutionality in their appeal, despite doing so during an early stage in their legal battle.

The ECHR found Tuesday that in both of these cases, the Constitutional Court had been “excessively formal,” but it disagreed with the applicants that the court was not impartial. The Strasbourg-based court ordered the Portuguese government to pay 3,300 euros ($3,600) in damages to the applicants in the two cases.

Despite strict measures to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus known as Covid-19, the ECHR is still issuing decisions for cases it heard before the restrictions were put in place.

The other two cases involving the Portuguese high court were not successful. In one, Fernando Manuel Antunes Cardoso, who was convicted of fraud in 2014, claimed that because he had been acquitted on related charges, his conviction was unjust as it constituted double jeopardy. His appeal was rejected by the Constitutional Court, but the ECHR held that the appeal lacked a constitutional question and was instead a discussion of the merits, which had already been adjudicated by two lower courts.

The case of Manuel José da Silva, who was convicted of domestic violence in 2015, was declared inadmissible because he hadn’t filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court over its initial rejection. The ECHR is considered a court of last resort, so applicants must first exhaust their options in their national courts before filing a complaint.

In each case, all parties have three months to appeal or the rulings will become final.

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