CASE OF EUROATLANTIC AIRWAYS - TRANSPORTES AÉREOS, S.A. v. PORTUGAL
(Application no. 34676/13)
8 December 2015
This judgment is final but it may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Euroatlantic Airways - Transportes Aéreos, S.A. v. Portugal,
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting as a Committee composed of:
Paulo Pinto de Albuquerque,
Iulia Antoanella Motoc, judges,
and Fatoş Aracı, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 17 November 2015,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 34676/13) against the Portuguese Republic lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Portuguese company, Euroatlantic Airways - Transportes Aéreos, S.A. (“the applicant”), on 13 May 2013.
2. The Portuguese Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mrs M. F. da Graça Carvalho, Deputy Attorney-General.
3. On 19 May 2014 the application was communicated to the Government.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
4. The applicant is a Portuguese airline company headquartered in Sintra.
5. The circumstances of the case concern a dispute between the applicant and an Israeli company over the execution of a wet lease contract pursuant to which the applicant undertook, in 2007, to lend an aircraft to the latter.
6. On 20 April 2009 the applicant instituted civil proceedings in the Lisbon Civil Court against the company for the alleged failure to comply with the contract.
7. On 28 July 2009 the plaintiff lodged its submissions in reply (contestação).
8. On 30 September 2009 the applicant lodged new submissions in reply (réplica) and on 22 October 2009 the plaintiff submitted new submissions (tréplica).
9. On 28 May 2010 the Lisbon Civil Court held a preliminary hearing aiming at a friendly settlement of the parties. The conciliation procedure was not possible and on the same day the plaintif submitted an additional pleading (articulado superveniente) to which the applicant replied on 7 June 2010. On 18 June and on 30 June 2010 the plaintiff and the applicant lodged new submissions in reply, respectively.
10. On 12 July 2010 a second preliminary hearing was held and the judge gave directions setting out the matters that had already been established and those that remained outstanding (despacho saneador).
11. On 21 July and 8 September 2010 the parties submitted their evidence.
12. On 2 February 2011 the court held the first hearing. Between 2 February 2011 and 30 June 2011 the Lisbon Civil Court listed fifteen hearings. During this period, both parties submitted several documents to the court, some of which in a foreign language.
13. On 3 October 2011 the Lisbon Civil Court adopted a decision with regard to the factual basis (matéria de facto). On 13 October and on 25 October 2011, both the applicant and the plaintiff submitted their allegations of law, respectively.
14. On 19 July 2012 the Lisbon Civil Court rendered a judgment in which it ruled against the applicant and annulled the contract.
15. On 1 October 2012 the applicant appealed against the first-instance judgment and on 31 October 2012 the plaintiff submitted its allegations.
16. On 13 February 2014 the Lisbon Court of Appeal ruled partially in favour of the applicant.
17. On 20 March 2014 the applicant appealed against the decision before the Supreme Court of Justice and on 28 April 2014 the plaintiff lodged a cross-appeal.
18. On 7 October 2014 the Supreme Court of Justice adopted a judgment in favour of the applicant.
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 § 1 OF THE CONVENTION
19. The applicant complained that the length of the proceedings had been incompatible with the “reasonable time” requirement, laid down in Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which reads as follows:
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time by a ... tribunal...”
20. The Government contested that argument.
21. The Court notes that the application is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention. It further notes that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.
22. The period to be taken into consideration began on 20 April 2009 and ended on 7 October 2014. It thus lasted five years and six months for three levels of jurisdiction.
23. The Government argued that the impugned proceedings could not be considered to have been excessively long in view of the complexity of the case.
24. The Court reiterates that the reasonableness of the length of proceedings must be assessed in the light of the circumstances of the case and with reference to the following criteria: the complexity of the case, the conduct of the applicant and the relevant authorities and what was at stake for the applicant in the dispute (see, among many other authorities, Frydlender v. France [GC], no. 30979/96, § 43, ECHR 2000-VII).
25. Turning to the facts of the present case, the Court notes that the proceedings concerned the execution of a wet lease contract. It involved the examination of several documents, without any expert studies conducted in the case. Thus, it was neither procedurally nor factually of exceptional complexity.
26. The Court acknowledges that the parties somewhat contributed to the length of the proceedings by submitting different submissions between 30 September 2009 and 30 October 2010 (see paragraphs 8-9 above). It however considers that the parties’ behaviour alone cannot justify the overall length of the proceedings.
27. As to the conduct of the authorities dealing with the case, the Court observes that the Lisbon Civil Court took almost five months to schedule a first hearing after the last submission of the parties had been lodged (see paragraphs 11-12 above). It further notes that the Lisbon Civil Court took almost nine months to deliver a judgment in the proceedings, after having held the last hearing (see paragraphs 13-14 above).
28. The Court has frequently found violations of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention in cases raising issues similar to the one in the present case (see Frydlender, cited above).
29. Having examined all the material submitted to it, the Court considers that the Government have not put forward any fact or argument capable of persuading it to reach a different conclusion in the present case. Having regard to its case-law on the subject (see Martins Castro and Alves Correia de Castro v. Portugal, no. 33729/06, 10 June 2008), the Court considers that in the instant case the length of the proceedings was excessive and failed to meet the “reasonable time” requirement.
30. There has accordingly been a breach of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
31. Article 41 of the Convention provides:
“If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.”
32. The applicant did not submit a claim for just satisfaction. Accordingly, the Court considers that there is no call to award him any sum on that account.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT, UNANIMOUSLY,
1. Declares the application admissible;
2. Holds that there has been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 8 December 2015, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Fatoş Aracı Boštjan M. Zupančič
Deputy Registrar President