European court rules in Estonia's favor on expulsion of convicted criminal

Court gavel. Photo is illustrative. Source: Blogtrepreneur/Wikimedia Commons

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in Estonia's favor when it declared as inadmissible a complaint filed by a drug criminal with Russian citizenship who was born in Estonia and has family in the country regarding the revocation of his residence permit and expulsion from the country.

On May 19, the ECHR published the unanimous ruling of a four-member committee in the case of Grigory Scherbakov v. Estonia, which involved the revocation of the applicant's long-term residence permit and the plaintiff's expulsion from Estonia.

The applicant was born in Estonia, but is a citizen of the Russian Federation, and was living in Estonia under a residence permit. In 2009, the applicant repeatedly transported narcotic substances between Estonia and Russia. In 2012, he was found guilty of the unlawful handling of large quantities of narcotic substances and was sentenced to more than ten years in prison, the serving of which was to be complete on October 14, 2020. In addition to this crime, the applicant had also been found guilty in 2007 of drunk driving, and had previously been punished ten times for misdemeanors.

PPA revokes residence permit, issues entry ban

On April 25, 2017, the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) revoked the applicant's long-term residence permit, signed a deportation order and issued a five-year entry ban to Estonia. The PPA found that despite the fact that the applicant had been born in Estonia, he had not made any significant efforts to integrate into Estonian society.

The applicant had obtained an A1-level (breakthrough or beginner) command of the Estonian language, but only while in prison. Based on information provided by the prison, the applicant had also maintained contact with people known to be involved in organized crime and hat such persons had visited him while he was serving his sentence.

The applicant is tied to the Russian Federation via citizenship, his native language is Russian and he had previously founded a metalworks company in Russia, leading the PPA to conclude that the applicant would not encounter difficulties in relocating to Russia, finding work there and integrating into Russian society.

The applicant would be able to continue communicating with his family members via phone and email, and while the PPA acknowledged that the applicant's expulsion from Estonia would complicate his seeing them, the agency considered that the applicant would pose an "actual and sufficiently serious threat to public order and security" and that public interest outweighed the applicant's personal interest.

Scherbakov takes matter to court

The applicant took the matter to court, and in May 2018, the first-tier Tartu Administrative Court accepted his appeal and annulled the PPA's decision. That November, the second-tier Tartu Circuit Court accepted the PPA's appeal in turn of the firs-tier court's ruling and issued a new ruling rejecting the applicant's complaint.

The circuit court found that the PPA had correctly assessed that the applicant posed a threat to public order and security and that the PPA had likewise properly analyzed all relevant circumstances related to the applicant.

On February 26, 2019, the Supreme Court of Estonia rejected the applicant's appeal in cassation. On March 12, 2019, the applicant also requested that the Ministry of the Interior revoke the entry ban, but the ministry rejected his request.

The applicant thereafter took the matter to the ECHR, complaining that the revocation of his residence permit and the obligation to leave Estonia upon his release from prison had violated his private and family life and his right to respect for his home.

ECHR assessments

In its assessments, the ECHR reached the conclusion that the decision to expel the applicant from the country does not have to be considered from a "family life" perspective, although the applicant's adult children, siblings and mother all live in Estonia.

While the applicant claimed that his mother's welfare was dependent on him, the ECHR found that it had not been proven that his mother was dependent on him. The applicant had been imprisoned for an extended period of time, and there were other relatives in Estonia who could help her. The applicant had likewise claimed he had the right to receive maintenance from his children, but the court noted that there was no evidence in the case supporting the applicant's right to this.

Regarding his partner, the applicant had not raised this aspect in his Supreme Court appeal at all. Moreover, the applicant's children and partner had previously visited him in prison, but since 2016 had only been in contact with him via phone and written correspondence.

The ECHR also assessed the applicant's claim that rulings against him had interfered with his right to private life, finding that the expulsion order was lawful. The ECHR also did not agree with the applicant's claims that the PPA had not identified him as an "actual and sufficiently serious threat to public policy or public security."

The European court agreed that the offense upon which the PPA primarily relied when deciding to expel the applicant from the country was undoubtedly very serious, as evidenced by the fact that he was sentenced to ten years in prison, also noting that this crime was committed while he was still on probation for his prior drunk driving offense.

The ECHR thereafter examined the applicant's respective ties to Estonia and the Russian Federation. The court noted that in order to maintain public order, contracting states have the power to expel an alien convicted of criminal offenses, even in circumstances where an alien entered the host country at a very young age or was born there. The court found that while the applicant's ties to Russia were weaker than his ties to Estonia, his native language was nonetheless Russian and he had previously founded a company in Russia.

The court also noted that, given the applicant's age and field of employment, he should not face insurmountable difficulties in strengthening his ties with Russia and settling there.

Regarding the entry ban imposed on the applicant, the ECHR noted that as the applicant had not exhausted all legal remedies available to him in Estonia regarding the matter, it would not analyze whether the duration of the entry ban imposed was proportionate.

In conclusion, the ECHR found that the interference with the applicant's private life caused by his ordered expulsion from Estonia was proportionate and that it is appropriate to reject the applicant's complaint under Article 8 of the Convention as manifestly ill-founded pursuant to Article 35 of the Convention.

The full text of the ECHR ruling can be read here.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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