Tuesday 28 October 2014

Cased closed

The European Court of Human Rights has dismissed Scientology's bid to challenge its convictions for organised fraud in France. A second such French conviction could threaten its very existence there.1

I confess I missed this one.

But then again, I don't think Scientology put out a press release on it.

I recently checked with the European Court of Human Rights about Scientology's bid to take France to task for having convicted the movement for organised fraud. (They were arguing that, for a number of reasons, they were denied a fair trial.2)

Here's the response I got back from the ECHR press unit on Rosenberg and Jacquart v. France.

“The application in question was declared inadmissible on 5 June 2014 by a Single-Judge formation.”

According to the court's rules, a single judge can sit to consider an application “where inadmissibility is clear from the outset”, they explained.

In other words, their case was such a non-starter the court did not even consider it necessary to gather a full bench to reject it.

And there's no appeal.

“Being a Single-Judge decision, there is no decision available but only the letter that was sent to the applicants to inform them of this decision,” they explained.

In October last year France's top court, the Cour de Cassation, rejected Scientology's final bid to have the convictions quashed. In 2012, an appeal court had already confirmed the original 2009 convictions.

The reason this was was such a big deal of course, was that unlike previous Scientology convictions in France – and there have been a few – this time the organisation itself had been found guilty, not just a few key members.

When the Cour de Cassation handed down its ruling, effectively ending the legal battle inside France, Scientology made it clear they would take the case to the Strasbourg court.

In a statement, the movement even described that latest setback as an opportunity.

Now it could “...bring this affair before an international jurisdiction ... where the legal debate can unfold in the legal domain, far from the pressures of the executive, in a dispassionate space sensitive to the respect of fundamental rights.”3

Beginning of the end?

Well, they got their dispassionate ruling over the summer – and now they have to face up to the reality of those French convictions.

They also have to deal with the possibility that, if convicted as an organisation for a second time, they could, under French law, face dissolution.

And since the existing fraud conviction characterises some of the Scientology's core practices as fraudulent this poses a serious problem to the movement.

The original 2009 judgment described the personality test used to pull in recruits as “devoid of any scientific value and analysed with the sole aim of selling various products and services”.

The appeal judgment agreed, pointing out that the test “is not recognised by the scientific community and has no scientific value”.4

The original ruling quoted extensively from L. Ron Hubbard's own writings to condemn the hard-sell techniques against paying customers.

The appeal court judgment followed exactly the same line of reasoning.

It referred to Scientology staffers' relentless pursuit of money, “the payment of which was sought at very short notice, without normal regard to the resources of the people concerned, which inevitably, far from solving their problems, had serious consequences on their personal situation...,” which the Scientologists dealing with clients knew would happen.5

These practices, together with the constant harassment by staffers for money – by post, by telephone and at one's home – were all hard-sell techniques sanctioned by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard in his official writings.

This obsession with money was thus at the heart of the Scientology enterprise, the court concluded.

So this was more than just fraud committed by individuals, the appeal court judgment noted. The fraud had been committed by “people acting by a common resolution, in the framework of an elaborate system where the roles of each one was strictly defined and distributed...,” it insisted.6

That was what made it organised fraud, said the judgment: that was why the organisation as well as the individuals were convicted.

As I've reported previously, Scientology is facing at least two other investigations into alleged criminal activity here.

Perhaps most interesting is a case in 12 employees of a building firm say their employer forced them to take part in Scientology courses. Prosecutors in Versailles, near Paris, have opened a preliminary investigation into allegations of workplace harassment and abuse of weakness.7

Among those targeted in the investigation is one of the two Scientology organisations convicted of organised fraud: the Paris Celebrity Center, l’Association spirituelle de l’Eglise de scientologie (ASES-CC).

The other case is a long-running one resurrected last year by the Paris Court of Appeal. It concerns a private school that allegedly sneaked Scientology material on to its curriculum – and here again, the Paris Celebrity Centre is among the organisations targetted.8

It is a long road yet to any trials or convictions – assuming even that either case gets to court.

But since French law allows for the dissolution of an organisation that is twice convicted of a criminal offence, some of Scientology's most outspoken critics here say the movement's very existence here could eventually be in question.

For them, last year’s confirmation of the fraud convictions by the Cour de Cassation signalled the beginning of the end for Scientology in France.

How such a dissolution would work in practice of course, is another story. For some rights campaigners this would likely be a step too far.

Nor can there be any doubt that Scientology would seek to challenge any such sanction at the European Court of Human Rights.

And on that issue at least, they might get a more sympathetic hearing at the Strasbourg court.
For a guide to Infinite Complacency's comprehensive coverage of the Paris fraud trial and convictions, see here.

1   This is a revised, extended version of the piece I filed at Tony Ortega's Underground Bunker on October 24: “Scientology had a big legal loss in Europe in June and we're just now finding out about it
2   For an idea of what their case was, at least as presented to the Cour de Cassation, France's top court, see “An Impossible Defence”, elsewhere at this site.
3   “Porter l’affaire devant la cour europĂ©enne des droits de l’homme”, an October 16, 2013 release posted at the Scientologie Presse website. That reference to the “pressures of the executive” reflects Scientology's repeated allegations that the government had put pressure on the judiciary to get these convictions – and to make sure they stuck.
4   Page 25 of the February 2, 2012 Appeal Court judgment.
5   Page 26 of the February 2, 2012 Appeal Court judgment.
6   Page 28 of the February 2, 2012 Appeal Court judgment.
7   “French prosecutors investigating claims that a company forced Scientology on workers”, at Tony Ortega's Underground Bunker, July 25, 2014.
8   For more on this case, see the piece I filed at Tony Ortega's Underground Bunker on January 13, 2014: “New criminal case for Scientology in France could shut it down permanently in that country