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12.12.15

EPO Central Staff Committee Warns That EPO President Illegally Changes the Rules to Remove the Rights of the Accused, Crush Dissent/Unions

Posted in Europe, Patents at 4:44 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Main court in Warsaw
Main court in Warsaw, photo by Michal Zacharzewski

Summary: The Rule of Law is no longer applicable in Eponia, where people can be dismissed or suspended based on mere allegations

THE EPO‘s attempts to silence Techrights have made it the de facto publication for almost everything deep inside Eponia (the stuff not announced to the outside world). We often get material from several sources simultaneously these days.

“I’m sure you’ll get several copies of this one, but just to make sure,” said one source, here it is.

Zentraler Personalausschuss
Central Staff Committee
Le Comité central du Personnel

11.12.2015
sc15452cp – 0.2.1/4.5/0.3.2

Amendment of the Service Regulations on suspension

Suspension of staff members is increasingly en vogue at the EPO. After staff representatives serving on the internal Appeals Committee and a member of the Boards of Appeal, the President of the Office decided to suspend on 18 November 2015 three elected staff representatives, also SUEPO executives. Not to mention “normal” employees suspended in less conspicuous investigative and disciplinary procedures.

“Suspension of staff members is increasingly en vogue at the EPO.”The President put on the agenda of the GCC meeting scheduled on 09 December a proposal to delete a protecting clause from Article 95 ServRegs, just in time before the Administrative Council (AC) of 16/17 December 2015.

Pursuant to Article 95 ServRegs, the appointing authority may decide to suspend an employee if an alleged misconduct is so serious that it becomes incompatible with his/her continuing in service, for instance if continuation of service would be against the interests of the Office, would endanger the investigation process or even other employees. Suspension is not a disciplinary sanction: it is essentially an interim measure until the appointing authority decides on a disciplinary sanction following the completion of a statutory disciplinary procedure.

“The President put on the agenda of the GCC meeting scheduled on 09 December a proposal to delete a protecting clause from Article 95 ServRegs, just in time before the Administrative Council (AC) of 16/17 December 2015.”The appointing authority may also decide to withhold part of the remuneration, up to half of the employee’s basic salary. A salary reduction is warranted when the foreseeable disciplinary measure would have a financial effect, i.e. only in case of relegation in step, downgrading or dismissal1. Presently, the Service Regulations include a single provision protecting employees against excessively slow investigation and disciplinary procedures: if no final decision is given within four months from the date of suspension, the employee shall again receive his/her full remuneration2. Furthermore, in that case, the employee is entitled to reimbursement of the amount of remuneration withheld3.

Similar provisions are included in the Service Regulations of other International Organisations, either in the form of a fixed duration for a suspension (e.g. non-extendable six months in the EU regulations), or in a more flexible form, with an advance written statement setting out and justifying its duration (UN and WHO). However, after the abolition of Article 95(3) ServRegs the EPO would be the only international organisation that would have nothing in place. While any extension of
_____
1 Article 93 ServRegs
2 old Article 95(3) ServRegs, to be deleted soon
3 old Article 95(4) ServRegs, to be amended soon


any time limit over the presently four months would still be objectionable because it is not in the interest of staff, the abolition thereof is unacceptable because it is illegal: Article 6(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights states that everyone is entitled to a fair trial within a reasonable time (emphasis added).

The amended Article will have immediate effect on all suspensions ongoing on the date of its entry into force. The Administrative Council, assisted by the Office, has “house-banned” and suspended the member of the Boards of Appeal in December 2014, and is now being confronted with a decision of the Enlarged Board of Appeal (EBoA) not proposing his removal from office, as would be required by Article 23(1) EPC. The AC has asked once more the EBoA to propose removal from office and it is now tempted to buy time. Prolonging the suspension on a reduced salary is the President’s selling argument for the AC to approve the amendment. However, the Council would be ill-advised to lose credit by approving such a drastic proposal.

“…the abolition thereof is unacceptable because it is illegal: Article 6(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights states that everyone is entitled to a fair trial within a reasonable time (emphasis added).”A “collateral” but possibly not completely undesired effect is that suspension of any EPO employee on a reduced salary may go on for an unlimited period of time, without justification and against ILO-AT case law4, with no incentive for the President or the AC to investigate speedily the alleged misconduct and decide in a reasonable time5. This de facto negates the interim character of a suspension and turns a salary reduction into a financial sanction. Such disproportionate decisions may in principle be challenged with the Administrative Tribunal but the review is limited due to their discretionary nature, and a judgment will be long to come.

Factually, suspension will become an additional punishment. Thus the present proposal of the President is neither in line with the Service Regulations nor with ILO-AT case law. It is a violation of the EPC, for much the same reason. It is also a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights. Therefore, the AC should dismiss the proposal.

“Thus the present proposal of the President is neither in line with the Service Regulations nor with ILO-AT case law. It is a violation of the EPC, for much the same reason.”It should be noted that any damaging effect on any EPO employee this change of Article 95 ServRegs may in turn lead to court cases against Contracting States before the European Court of Human Rights. Therefore, this amendment will bring into disrepute the Organisation, the Office, as well as the respective Contracting States if they were to be convicted.

Finally, it is remarkable that President Battistelli comes with such a proposal for tougher punishment tools in what looks like a “suspension policy” against staff, although the AC gave him in March 2015 the clear mandate to engage into “social dialogue” with staff.

The Central Staff Committee
_____
4 see for instance Judgment No.2698
5 see for instance Judgment No.2698

This document is quite self explanatory and is written in plain (not legal) language/terms, so there is little that we can or need to add to it.

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