Court Watch Ethnically Motivated Court Sentence Violates Article 14 EHCR

Thursday, 1 April 2010,

On 25 March 2010, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), in the case of Paraskeva Todorova vs. Bulgaria (Application no. 37193/07), ruled that the Bulgarian courts had discriminated against a Romani woman, in deciding to impose a custodial rather than the suspended sentence recommended by the prosecution. The ECtHR found that in so doing, the Bulgarian courts had motivated their decision on the basis of her ethnic origin.
In 2005, Ms Todorova was prosecuted for fraud. Based on several extenuating circumstances, including her health condition, the prosecution in her case recommended a suspended sentence to the first-instance Plovdiv District Court. However, the Plovdiv District Court refused to grant the suspended sentence opining that to do so would encourage a feeling of impunity, especially among members of minority groups, "for whom a suspended sentence is not a sentence". This position was upheld by both superior courts on appeal.
On the facts of this case, the ECtHR held that the applicant had been subjected to a different treatment, which was clear from the outset in view of the Plovdiv District Court's reference to the applicant's ethnic origin. The ECtHR pointed out that the first-instance court's reasoning about a possible impression of impunity was made with respect to both minority groups and the applicant, and this, together with the applicant's Romani ethnicity, presented the presumption that the Court aimed to impose a sentence that would serve as an example to the Roma community. Consequently, the ECtHR found that there had been a violation of Article 14 (non-discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 6 (1) (fair trial) of the Convention. In the judgment, the Strasbourg Court highlighted the seriousness of the situation complained of by the applicant, given that in the contemporary multicultural societies of Europe, the eradication of racism has been a priority objective of all state s.