Information Note on the Court’s case-law 187
Rutkowski v. Poland - 72287/10
Judgment 7.7.2015 [Section IV] See:  ECHR 662
Respondent State required to take further measures to secure right to a hearing within a reasonable time and to ensure effectiveness of domestic remedy
Absence of effective compensatory remedy in length of proceedings cases: violation
Facts - Following the European Court’s judgment in Kudła v. Poland ([GC], 30210/96, 26 October 2000, Information Note 23), Poland enacted the Law of 17 June 2004 (“the 2004 Act”) with a view to affording domestic remedies in length-of-proceedings cases. The Court subsequently found in a series of cases decided in 2005* that these remedies were effective for the purposes of Articles 35 § 1 and 13 of the Convention. However, while a number of applications were rejected in 2005 on grounds of non-exhaustion, it became apparent with time that, in practice, the remedies were proving to be deficient and large numbers of well-founded length-of-proceedings complaints were lodged with the Court by persons who had already exhausted the remedies under the 2004 Act.
At the end of 2012 and pending the outcome of the pilot-judgment procedure in the present case the Court put on hold Polish applications alleging exclusively excessive length of judicial proceedings. As of the date of adoption of the judgment in the instant case, 650 cases involving mainly or partly complaints about the length of civil (157 cases) and criminal (493 cases) proceedings were pending before the Court.
All three applicants in the present case complained of the length of domestic proceedings in which they were involved. Before applying to the European Court, they had lodged claims with the domestic courts under the 2004 Act. The first applicant was awarded the equivalent of EUR 500 in respect of criminal proceedings that had lasted almost 8 years. The complaints of both the second and third applicants in respect of civil proceedings that had lasted over 11 and 13 years respectively were dismissed. Applying the so-called “fragmentation of proceedings” principle that had been established by the Polish Supreme Court in a series of judgments between 2005 and 2013, the domestic courts did not take into account the overall length of the proceedings but, in the first and third applicants’ cases, only the period starting from the date the 2004 Act had entered into force and, in the second applicant’s case, only the period after an appeal court had quashed the judgment at first instance.
In a Resolution of 28 March 2013 the Supreme Court Polish Supreme Court found that in the light of Convention standards the principle of “fragmentation” of proceedings no longer had any basis and that a complaint under the 2004 Act, if limited only to the current stage of proceedings, was not an “effective remedy” within the meaning of Article 13 of the Convention.
In the Convention proceedings all three applicants complained under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention of the length of their proceedings before the Polish courts and under Article 13 that the Polish courts had defectively applied the 2004 Act in that they had refused to acknowledge the excessive length of the proceedings and in consequence to grant them appropriate and sufficient just satisfaction.
Law - Article 6 § 1: The length of the proceedings before the Polish courts in the cases of all three applicants had been unreasonable. While the first applicant’s case had been of more than average complexity - involving a large number of accused - this did not justify the entire length of proceedings of 7 years and 10 months at one level of jurisdiction. The cases of the second and third applicants had not been particularly complex and there had been no justification for the delays that had led to proceedings lasting 11 years and 8 months and 13 years and 2 months.
Conclusion: violation (unanimously).
Article 13: Shortly after the introduction of the 2004 Act the Court had examined the remedies it introduced and had found them to be “effective” within the meaning of Articles 13 and 35 § 1 of the Convention. However, in the light of the circumstances of the present case and developments in the Polish judicial practice the Court saw good cause for reconsidering its previous position on the effectiveness of the compensatory remedy under the 2004 Act.
Contrary to the Court’s established case-law on the assessment of the reasonableness of the length of proceedings, the Polish courts which heard the applications for compensation under the 2004 Act had not examined the overall length of the proceedings but only selected parts of them. Thus, in the first and third applicants’ cases, they had disregarded periods before the entry into force of the 2004 Act, while in the case of the second applicant they had limited their assessment to the level of jurisdiction in which the main proceedings were pending. This approach reflected the so-called principle of “fragmentation of proceedings” established by the Supreme Court in various rulings between 2005 and 2012. The “fragmentation” of the proceedings had decisive consequences for the outcome of the applicants’ claims for compensation, which were either rejected in their entirety or, in the first applicant’s case, granted only partly.
While States which had introduced remedies in length-of-proceedings cases designed both to expedite proceedings and to afford compensation could award lower amounts than those awarded by the Court such amounts could not be unreasonably low compared with the Court’s awards in similar cases. The second and third applicants’ claims had been rejected as unjustified even though at the material time the proceedings in each case had been pending for over eleven years and, in accordance with the Court’s case-law, should have resulted in domestic awards of compensation reaching 11,000 Polish zlotys each. Likewise, the amount of compensation granted to the first applicant corresponded to only 5.5% of what the Court would have awarded him had there been no domestic remedy. That award thus had to be considered manifestly unreasonable in the light of the standards set by the Court.
In sum, a complaint under the 2004 Act had failed to provide the applicants with “appropriate and sufficient redress” in terms of adequate compensation for the excessive length of the proceedings in their cases.
Conclusion: violation (unanimously).
Article 46: Since the introduction of the remedy under the 2004 Act in Poland, the Court had delivered 280 judgments finding a breach of the reasonable-time requirement in cases where the applicants had unsuccessfully attempted to obtain a ruling acknowledging that breach and to be granted compensation before the Polish courts. In addition, in 358 similar cases such a breach had been acknowledged by the Government and they had paid compensation under the terms of a friendly settlement or a unilateral declaration. There were currently about 650 similar cases pending before the Court and over 300 Polish cases involving the excessive length of judicial proceedings were pending at the execution stage before the Committee of Ministers.
Having regard to the considerable scale of the problem of excessive length of proceedings in Poland accompanied by the lack of sufficient redress, the Court found that the situation of which the applicants complained amounted to a practice incompatible with the Convention and revealing the existence of a systemic problem. It was therefore appropriate to apply the pilot-judgment procedure.
(a) Measures required with respect to Article 6 § 1 (reasonable-time) - The systemic problem that had been identified in the applicants’ cases required the implementation of comprehensive, large-scale legislative and administrative actions, involving authorities at various levels. The Court abstained from indicating any detailed measures, however, as the Committee of Ministers was better placed to monitor the measures that needed to be adopted. While welcoming the measures that had previously been adopted in execution of the Kudła judgment, the scale and complexity of the problem in Poland required the respondent State to continue to make further, consistent long-term efforts to achieve compliance by the national courts with the “reasonable-time” requirement laid down in Article 6 § 1.
(b) Measures required with respect to Article 13 (effective remedy) - The Court had noted two interrelated root causes behind the violation of Article 13 in the instant case: the application by the Polish courts of the “fragmentation of proceedings” practice and the failure by the Polish courts to award compensation in line with the Court’s own awards.
The Court accepted that the March 2013 Resolution in which the Polish Supreme Court had decided that in the light of Convention standards the principle of “fragmentation” of proceedings no longer had any basis could be regarded as an important measure aimed at correcting the defective judicial practice and ensuring the Polish courts’ compliance with the relevant Convention standards. However, it could not, by itself, suffice to put an end to the systemic situation that had been identified in the applicants’ case, especially as it had not yet been established that the lower courts had put it into practice. In contrast, the developments of the Court’s caseload in 2013 and 2014 showed an increased inflow of repetitive cases involving length of proceedings and insufficient just satisfaction at domestic level. Nor could the 2013 Resolution resolve the problems of the past raised in the hundreds of cases that were already pending before the Court.
Accordingly, Poland was required to take appropriate general measures to secure the effective implementation of the 2013 Resolution by the Polish courts dealing with complaints under the 2004 Act and their compliance with the Court’s standards for the assessment of the reasonableness of the length of proceedings and “appropriate and sufficient redress” for violations of the right to a hearing within a reasonable time.
(c) Procedural issues - As regards the procedure to be followed in similar cases and bearing in mind that while awaiting the outcome of the pilot-judgment procedure the processing of Polish cases involving length of judicial proceedings had practically been suspended since the end of 2012, the Court sought a procedural solution which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, would accommodate both the applicants’ interests and the need for the Polish State to take without delay appropriate measures addressing the problem underlying their complaints. In view of the significant number of pending cases and the need for global, rapid action, the Court decided to communicate all pending applications where the primary issue concerned the length of judicial proceedings to the respondent Government immediately within the framework of the pilot-judgment procedure.
It was necessary to allow the Government a two-year time-limit to process those communicated applications and afford redress to all victims. The adversarial proceedings in all those cases would accordingly be adjourned for two years from the date on the pilot judgment became final.
As regards future cases lodged after the delivery of the pilot judgment, adversarial proceedings would be adjourned for one year and a decision would be taken on the further procedure at that stage in the light of subsequent developments and, in particular, any measures taken by Poland in execution of the present judgment.
Article 41: awards in respect of non-pecuniary damage of EUR 9,200 to the first applicant, EUR 8,800 to the second applicant and EUR 10,000 to the third applicant.
*Charzyński v. Poland (dec.), 15212/03, 1 March 2005, Information Note 73; Ratajczyk v Poland (dec.), 11215/02, 31 May 2005, Information Note 75; and Krasuski v. Poland, 61444/00, 14 June 2005, Information Note 77.
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