CASE OF FERREIRA ALVES v. PORTUGAL
(Application no. 78165/12)
30 April 2015
This judgment is final but it may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Ferreira Alves v. Portugal,
The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting as a Committee composed of:
Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska,
Paulo Pinto de Albuquerque,
Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos, judges,
and André Wampach, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 7 April 2015,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 78165/12) 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 national, Mr Jorge de Jesus Ferreira Alves (“the applicant”), on 23 November 2012.
2. The Portuguese Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mrs M. F. da Graça Carvalho, Deputy-Attorney General.
3. On 4 March 2014 the application was communicated to the Government.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
4. The applicant, a lawyer, was born in 1953 and lives in Matosinhos.
5. On 22 February 2008 the Porto Ethics Council (Conselho Deontológico do Porto) of the Portuguese Bar Association (Ordem dos Advogados) instituted disciplinary proceedings against the applicant, following a complaint introduced by the Administrative Central Court of the North (Tribunal Central Administrativo do Norte) against the latter (disciplinary proceedings no. 100/2008). In particular, the complaint concerned the applicant’s request made in the course of four different tort actions against the State, in which he was a legal representative, to have a judgment from the European Court of Human Rights translated and paid by the domestic court.
6. On 10 March 2008 the applicant was summoned of the disciplinary proceedings and on 13 March 2008 he presented his submissions.
7. On 9 November 2012 the Ethics Council dismissed the case for being time-barred.
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW
8. Article 125 of the Statute of the Portuguese Bar Association reads as follows in the relevant parts:
“The disciplinary penalties are:
e) suspension up to ten years;
f) expulsion ...”
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLES 6 § 1 AND 13 OF THE CONVENTION
9. The applicant complained that the length of the proceedings had been incompatible with the “reasonable time” requirement. He also complained that he had not had an effective remedy in this respect. He relied on Articles 6 § 1, 8, 13 and 35 of the Convention. The Court considers that the applicant’s complaints concerning the length of proceedings should be examined only from the standpoint of Articles 6 § 1 and 13 of the Convention, which reads as follows in the relevant parts:
Article 6 § 1
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time by a ... tribunal ...”
“Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in the Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority”
10. The Government contested the applicant’s argument.
11. The period to be taken into consideration began on 10 March 2008 and ended on 9 November 2012. It thus lasted four years and eight months for one level of jurisdiction.
A. Alleged violation of Article 6 § 1
(a) Whether Article 6 § 1 is applicable
12. The Government contested that Article 6 § 1 of the Convention was applicable to the present case. As to the civil head of this Article, the Government argued that the applicant’s right to practice as a lawyer was not at stake in the disciplinary proceedings at issue.
13. The Court finds that the applicant’s right to practice as a lawyer is a “civil right” within the meaning of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention (see De Moor v. Belgium, 23 June 1994, § 47, Series A no. 292-A, with reference to H. v. Belgium, 30 November 1987, §§ 44-48, Series A no. 127-B).
14. The Court recalls that it has constantly held that disciplinary proceedings in which the right to continue to exercise a profession is at stake give rise to “contestations” (disputes) over civil rights within the meaning of Article 6 § 1 (see, among others, Philis v. Greece (no. 2), 27 June 1997, § 45, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1997- IV ; König v. Germany, 28 June 1978, Series A no. 27, §§ 87-95).
15. In the present case, the disciplinary proceedings had been instituted against the applicant for his conduct as legal representative in the course of four different domestic proceedings. Under Article 125 of the Statute of the Portuguese Bar Association a disciplinary offence may lead to the suspension or exclusion of a lawyer from the Bar Association.
16. It follows that, with the institution of the disciplinary proceedings, the applicant’s right to continue to practice as a lawyer was at stake in the disciplinary proceedings against him. Accordingly, Article 6 § 1 is applicable under its civil head (see Ferreira Alves v. Portugal [Committee], no.25861/11, §§ 11-15, 18 February 2014). The Government’s objection must therefore be rejected.
(b) Whether the applicant suffered a significant disadvantage
17. The Government also submitted that the applicant has never been prevented from exercising his profession and, consequently, he has not suffered a significant disadvantage due to the length of proceedings. In addition, the Government argued that he has benefited from the delay considering that the alleged disciplinary proceedings had been dropped as time-barred.
18. The Court considers that the fact that it took four years and eight months for the Portuguese Bar Association to dismiss the above disciplinary proceedings, during which period the applicant did not know which disciplinary penalty would be applied to him, must have had a negative effect on his personal situation. Thus, it cannot be said that he did not suffer a significant disadvantage as a result of the alleged violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. The Government’s objection concerning the alleged lack of a significant disadvantage must therefore be rejected.
19. The Court notes that this complaint 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.
20. 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).
21. 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 and Ferreira Alves,cited above).
22. 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, the Court considers that in the instant case the length of the proceedings was excessive and failed to meet the “reasonable time” requirement.
23. There has accordingly been a breach of Article 6 § 1.
B. Alleged violation of Article 13 of the Convention
24. The applicant further complained of the fact that in Portugal there was no court to which application could be made to complain of the excessive length of proceedings. He relied on Article 13 of the Convention.
25. The Court notes that this complaint 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.
26. The Court recalls that Article 13 guarantees an effective remedy before a national authority for an alleged breach of the requirement under Article 6 § 1 for a case to be heard within a reasonable time (Kudła v. Poland [GC], no. 30210/96, § 156, ECHR 2000-XI).
27. Having regard to its case-law on the subject (Martins Castro and Alves Correia de Castro v. Portugal, no. 33729/06, 10 June 2008 ; Garcia Franco and Others v. Portugal, no. 9273/07, § 50, 22 June 2010) and the fact that the Government have not submitted any arguments which would require it to depart from these findings in the present case, the Court considers that the applicant had had no effective remedy against the excessive length of the proceedings.
II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
28. 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.”
29. The applicant claimed 16,000 euros (EUR) in
30. The Government contested the claim.
31. The Court considers that the applicant must
non-pecuniary damage. Ruling on an equitable basis, it awards him
EUR 3,250 under that head.
B. Costs and expenses
32. The applicant also claimed EUR 3,700 for the costs and expenses incurred before the Court.
33. The Government contested the claim.
34. Regard being had to the documents in its
possession and to its
case-law, the Court considers it reasonable to award the applicant, who was not represented by a lawyer, the sum of EUR 500 under this head.
C. Default interest
35. The Court considers it appropriate that the default interest rate should be based on the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank, to which should be added three percentage points.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT, UNANIMOUSLY,
1. Declares the application admissible;
2. Holds that there has been a violation of Articles 6 § 1 and 13 of the Convention;
(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months, the following amounts:
(i) EUR 3,250 (three thousand two hundred fifty euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage;
(ii) EUR 500 (five hundred euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicant, in respect of costs and expenses;
(b) that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amounts at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;
4. Dismisses the remainder of the applicant’s claim for just satisfaction.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 30 April 2015, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
André Wampach Mirjana
Deputy Registrar President