Legislation in question: Article 212.1 of the Criminal Court of the Russian Federation
Legal issue: The constitutionality of the criminal prosecution for a violation of the procedure for conducting meetings, assemblies, manifestations and picketing, given that the accused has already been repeatedly (more than twice within 180 days) brought to administrative responsibility.
Ratio decidendi: The Court found the provisions in question not to be contrary to the Constitution, but gave them a narrow interpretation. It pointed out, inter alia, that:
- crime has to be characterized by a particular social danger; otherwise even an action which might appear to be formally criminal should not be regarded as such;
- federal legislator, when deciding which actions that are dangerous for persons, State and society should be considered as crimes must avoid an excessive use of criminal repression;
- federal legislator may use criminal liability in the interest of proper protection of constitutionally significant values even when the illicit action is being committed by a person who has already been administratively punished for analogous actions, that is, may use so-called “administrative res judicata”;
- all the same, if such violation was merely formal and did not in reality entail negative consequences or a danger thereof, it may not be considered as having a criminal social danger, and therefore making the accused responsible on the sole basis of repeated perpetration of such offence would be outside the realm of constitutionally admissible restriction of citizen rights by criminal legislation;
- punishment in the form of deprivation of freedom is possible only in the absence of other means to ensure achievement of the purposes of criminal liability;
- court decisions on bringing a person to administrative liability, although being prejudicial in nature, may not be regarded as incontestable; this requires the verification by a court of all the circumstances of previous violations on the basis of equality of parties and in an adversarial procedure.