CASE OF JAVOR AND JAVOROVÁ v. SLOVAKIA
(Application no. 42360/10)
15 September 2015
This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Javor and Javorová v. Slovakia,
The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Luis López Guerra,
Iulia Antoanella Motoc,
Branko Lubarda, judges,
and Marialena Tsirli, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 25 August 2015,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 42360/10) against the Slovak Republic lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by two Slovak nationals, Mr Jozef Javor (“the first applicant”) and Mrs Eva Javorová (“the second applicant”) (jointly “the applicants”), on 15 July 2010.
2. The applicants were represented by Mr M. Valachovič, a lawyer practising in Bratislava.
The Government of the Slovak Republic (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Ms M. Pirošíková.
3. The applicants alleged that their third-party claim for damages, which they had attached to criminal proceedings concerning an offence of which they were the victim, had not been determined within a reasonable time as provided for by Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
4. On 15 September 2011 the application was communicated to the Government.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
5. The applicants were spouses born in 1952 and 1954 respectively. In 2013 the first applicant died, following which the second applicant expressed the wish to continue the application both in her own name and in the name of her late husband. The second applicant lives in Bratislava.
6. On 11 October 2002 the applicants lodged a criminal complaint with the Bratislava V District Office of Investigation alleging that an individual, A., had obtained an amount of money from them in return for the promise of arranging for the renovation of the flat in which they lived, that she had failed to keep that promise, and that she had not even been in the possession of the appropriate business licence for so doing. They considered that the criminal offence of fraud could have been committed in that connection, alleged that they had suffered the equivalent of some 7,300 euros worth of damage, and submitted that A. had refused to compensate them.
7. On 3 December 2002 the second applicant was questioned by an investigator. According to the transcript of the questioning, she inter alia referred to Article 43 of the 1961 Code of Criminal Procedure (Law 141/1961 Coll., as applicable at the relevant time - “the 1961 CCP” - see paragraph 19 below), submitted that she wished to join the proceedings as a civil party claiming damages, and proposed that the amount of the compensation be determined by a sworn expert.
8. On 23 January 2003 a criminal investigation was opened into the suspicion of the offence of fraud having been committed by one or more persons unknown in connection with the events mentioned above.
9. On 13 March 2003 the investigator appointed a sworn expert to establish the value of the pecuniary damage allegedly sustained by the applicants. The expert filed his report on 22 May 2003.
10. On 4 November 2004 A. was charged but the charges were quashed by the Bratislava V District Office of the Public Prosecution Service (“the PPS”) on 10 January 2005. The matter was thus remitted to the investigation stage.
11. Meanwhile, on 3 January 2005, the District Office of the PPS had informed the applicants that unjustified delay had been established in the proceedings, that it was due to the existing caseload and the staffing situation, and that the investigator’s attention had been brought to the need to accelerate the proceedings.
12. In a letter of 5 February 2005 the Bratislava Regional Office of the PPS responded to the applicants’ repeated complaint by accepting that there had been unjustified delay in the proceedings, which had been repeatedly indicated to the investigator. However, except for flagging up the delays to the investigator, notifying the investigator’s superior, and changing the investigator, the PPS had no means of ensuring acceleration of the proceedings.
13. On 21 January 2008 the District Office of the PPS responded to a further complaint from the applicants by again accepting that the investigation was in general vitiated by significant delays. This had repeatedly been indicated to the investigator’s superior, but had not produced the expected improvement. The case had not been reassigned to another investigator because this did not appear to be efficient in view of the staff shortage. However, the investigator had again been reminded of the delays and if no improvement was to be seen, a new investigator would be appointed.
14. On 14 January 2010 the investigator decided to terminate the proceedings. Referring to evidence from the second applicant, five witnesses and the expert, as well as to documentary evidence, he concluded that there was no criminal case to answer. This decision was upheld by the District Office of the PPS on 1 February 2010, following the applicants’ interlocutory appeal. No further appeal was available.
15. Meanwhile, on 6 October 2009, the applicants had lodged a complaint under Article 127 of the Constitution (Law no. 460/1992 Coll., as amended) with the Constitutional Court. They challenged the length of the proceedings on their third-party claim for damages attached to the above criminal proceedings and alleged a violation of the reasonable-time requirement under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention and its constitutional equivalent.
16. On 25 March 2010 the Constitutional Court declared the complaint inadmissible. As to the facts, it observed that the second applicant had attached their third-party claim for damages to the proceedings orally in the interview of 3 December 2002. As to the law, the Constitutional Court referred to the Court’s judgment in the case of Krumpel and Krumpelová v. Slovakia (no. 56195/00, 5 July 2005) and acknowledged that an aggrieved party (obeť) of a criminal offence who attached a third-party claim for damages (adhézny nárok) to the criminal proceedings was entitled to the guarantees of the civil limb of Article 6 of the Convention. However, referring to unspecified practice of the ordinary courts and to the nature of things, the Constitutional Court held that it was a condition for the aggrieved party to benefit from the guarantees in question to have made the claim against a specific person and that that person could be identified no earlier than when charges were brought against him or her. The Constitutional Court further referred to its previous case-law on the subject and held specifically that the aggrieved party claiming damages in the criminal proceedings only benefited from the right to a hearing within a reasonable time under Article 6 after a charge had been brought against a specific person. In that regard, the Constitutional Court noted that the charges against A. of 4 November 2004 had been quashed on 10 January 2005 (see paragraph 10 above). Therefore, at the time of the constitutional complaint, the applicants had no longer benefited from the constitutional guarantees relied on.
The decision was served on 12 May 2010 and no appeal lay against it.
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW AND PRACTICE
17. The “right to judicial and other legal protection” is laid down in Section (Oddiel) Seven of Part (Hlava) Two, dealing with “basic rights and freedoms”. The relevant part of Article 46 provides as follows:
“1. Everyone shall be able to assert his or her rights in a procedure provided for by a statute before an independent and impartial court of law and, in cases defined by a statute, before another organ of the Slovak Republic...
4. Conditions and details of judicial and other legal protection shall be provided for by a statute.”
B. 1961 Code of Criminal Procedure and relevant practice
18. The 1961 CCP was adopted by the National Assembly of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic in 1961. Standing as an aggrieved party in criminal proceedings is governed by the seventh Section (Oddiel) of its second Chapter (Hlava).
19. Article 43 §§ 1 and 2 provide, inter alia, that an aggrieved party of a criminal offence may attach a third-party claim for damages to the criminal proceedings and request that the court convicting the person charged with a criminal offence order the latter to pay compensation for the damage caused to the aggrieved party by the offence. The aggrieved party further has the right to adduce evidence and to comment on it, to inspect the court file, to take part in the hearing and to make submissions.
20. If a court convicts a person indicted for an offence (obžalovaný) by which pecuniary damage was caused, it usually orders the defendant to pay the aggrieved party damages (Article 228 § 1), unless the evidence taken is not sufficient for making such a ruling, in which case the court refers the aggrieved party to make the claim before civil courts (Article 229 § 1).
21. The Plenary session of the Supreme Court of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic summarised the existing judicial practice in respect of third-party claims for damages in criminal proceedings at its session of 22 February 1967 under file no. Pls 3/67. This summary was published in the Collection of Judicial Decisions and Standpoints (Zbierka súdnych rozhodnutí a stanovísk) under no. III/1967.
22. In so far as relevant, the 1967 summary provides that, in order for a criminal court to be able to rule on compensation for damage suffered by the aggrieved party of the offence in question, a claim to that effect has to have been submitted. In other words, no damages may be awarded of the court’s own motion.
In order for the claim to be validly made, it has to be made properly (for a definition of the term “properly” see paragraph 24 below) and in time.
The definition of the earliest possible moment when a third-party claim may be validly made is particularly relevant from the point of view of the statute of limitation. Criminal proceedings often commence in response to a criminal complaint by the aggrieved party who includes a third-party claim for damages. The question is thus whether claims for damages so made may be considered as being validly made and whether as such they may serve as a basis for a judicial ruling on damages.
The relevant provisions do not prevent that and, on the contrary, rather indicate that a third-party claim for damages may be validly made from the very outset of criminal proceedings, that is even before a criminal investigation has commenced. The criminal complaint made by an aggrieved party must be considered an integral part of the criminal proceedings, being the first step in it.
23. In a decision of 1 August 1967, no. 1 Tz 28/67, published in the Collection of the Supreme Court’s decisions under no. R 5/68, the Supreme Court allowed a complaint in the interests of the law in a case in which three individuals had previously been convicted of a criminal offence and ordered to pay damages to the aggrieved party. In so far as relevant, the reasons for the Supreme Court’s decision were that the order for damages had erroneously been directed against all three of the defendants, although the third-party claim had only been filed against two of them. There was accordingly no legal basis for directing the order against the third defendant.
When referring to the defendants, the decision uses the term for the person charged with a criminal offence.
24. According to a summary of the relevant judicial practice published in the Collection of Judicial Decisions and Standpoints of the Supreme Court under no. 22/1979, a third-party claim for damages is properly made if it specifies the defendant against whom it is made, the ground on which it is made, and its amount.
When referring to the defendant, the summary uses the term for the person charged with a criminal offence. Nevertheless, as regards the earliest possible moment when a third-party claim for damages may be included into criminal proceedings, the 1979 summary refers to the 1967 summary and specifically endorses the premise that it is so immediately with the criminal complaint.
25. For the territory of Slovakia, subject to amendments, the 1961 CCP remained in force until 31 December 2005. In the Czech Republic, subject to amendments, it is still a valid law. The principles formulated in the summary of 1967 were specifically referred to and found to be still applicable by the Supreme Court of the Czech Republic in a series of decisions and judgments, including a decision of 27 April 2011 in an appeal on points of law no. 25 Cdo 3300/2010 (with further references).
C. 2005 Code of Criminal Procedure (Law no. 301/2005 Coll. as amended and relevant academic writing
26. As from 1 January 2006, the 1961 CCP was entirely replaced by the 2005 Code. In so far as relevant, the 2005 Code contains provisions (Article 46 §§ 1 and 3) similar to those of the 1961 CCP (see paragraphs 19 and 20 above).
27. A third-party claim must specify the ground and scope of the claim and may only be attached to the criminal proceedings if the matter of compensation has not already been decided upon in civil or other proceedings (Article 46 §§ 3 and 4).
28. Pursuant to Article 287 § 1, where a court convicts a person charged with an offence which has caused damage to third persons within the meaning of Article 46 § 1, as a rule it orders him or her to compensate such damage, provided that the claim has been filed correctly and in due time.
29. Under Article 288 § 1, a court shall refer a person claiming damages to a civil court (or to another authority) if the evidence available is not sufficient to determine that claim or if the taking of further evidence exceeding the scope of the criminal case is required and the criminal proceedings would thereby be unduly prolonged.
30. According to an article by JUDr. Jozef Čentéš, PhD., published by the Judicial Academy (Justičná akadémia) of the Slovak Republic (Uplatnenie nároku na náhradu škody v adhéznom konaní), for a third-party claim for damages to be valid, it has to be attached to the underlying criminal proceedings in good time. The 2005 CCP does not regulate specifically when at the earliest is an aggrieved party entitled to attach a third-party claim to the criminal proceedings. However, in the author’s view, its provisions are to be understood so that the condition of being lodged in due time is fulfilled when the third-party claim is included in a criminal complaint. Judicial practice indicates that the aggrieved party must make the third-party claim against a specific person charged with a criminal offence. Without this condition being fulfilled, the criminal court has no power to rule on the aggrieved party’s compensation. In that respect, the article refers to the Supreme Court’s decision of 1 August 1967, published in the collection of its decisions under no. R 5/68 (see paragraph 23 above).
D. Code of Civil Procedure and relevant practice
31. Under Article 83, where proceedings have commenced in a specific matter, the same matter cannot be made the subject of other judicial proceedings.
32. If a third-party claim for damages is duly lodged in criminal proceedings and if the aggrieved party properly pursues it, it is considered a pending matter for the purposes of Article 83 of the Code (Collection of Judicial Decisions and Standpoints no. 22/1979, R 31/1974 and R 29/85).
E. Civil Code and relevant practice
33. Under Article 112, if creditors make and duly pursue a claim in respect of their rights before a court or another authority, the statute of limitations is stayed from the day the claim is made.
34. This includes the submission of a civil-party claim for damages in criminal proceedings including in their pre-trial stage (see, for example, Collection of Judicial Decisions and Standpoints Nos. III/1967, 131/1974 and 29/1985 and Selection of Decisions and Standpoints (Výber rozhodnutí a stanovísk) No. 27/1984) (for more detail see also paragraphs 21 and 22 above).
F. Constitutional Court Practice
35. The Constitutional Court has held (see for example its judgments in cases nos. I. ÚS 157/02; III. ÚS 183/05; I. ÚS 18/06 and I. ÚS 67/2010) that a third party who attached criminal proceedings with a claim for damages has the right to a hearing “without unjustified delay” (Article 48 § 2 of the Constitution) as such a duly lodged claim excludes the possibility of having it decided upon in civil proceedings (Article 83 of the Code of Civil Procedure).
36. In a decision of 12 December 2013 in a case no. II. US 660/2013, relying on its previous decisions nos. I. US 212/07, III. US 109/06, III. US 254/10, III. US 508/12 and IV. US 188/13, the Constitutional Court upheld the principle that, in accordance with the Court’s judgment in Krumpel and Krumpelová (cited above), an aggrieved party of a criminal offence, who had attached a third-party claim for damages to the criminal proceedings, was entitled to the guarantees of the civil limb of Article 6 of the Convention. However, the aggrieved party only benefited from the right to a hearing within a reasonable time under Article 6 after a charge had been brought against a specific person. Despite a direct argument by the complainant to that effect, the Constitutional Court gave no answer to the fact that in its judgment in the case of Bíro v. Slovakia (no. 2) (no. 57678/00, § 44, 27 June 2006), the Court had found that, as a matter for principle, civil-party claims for damages made in Slovakia jointly with or subsequently to the lodging of a criminal complaint enjoy the guarantees in question from the moment they were made.
I. LOCUS STANDI OF THE FIRST APPLICANT
37. The first applicant died in the course of the proceedings before the Court in 2013. His wife, the second applicant, expressed the wish to pursue the application in her late husband’s stead as well as in her own.
38. The Court accepts that the second applicant in the present case, who is the first applicant’s widows, has a legitimate interest in pursuing the application in the late first applicant’s stead (see, mutatis mutandis, Horváthová v. Slovakia, no. 74456/01, § 27, 17 May 2005).
It will therefore continue dealing with the case as being pursued by both applicants.
II. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 OF THE CONVENTION
39. The applicants complained that the length of the proceedings on their third-party claim for damages attached to the criminal proceedings was incompatible with the “reasonable time” requirement provided for in Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, the relevant part of 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 ...”
1. The parties’ arguments
40. The Government objected that the application was incompatible with the provisions of the Convention partially ratione personae and wholly ratione materiae.
As to the first limb of the objection, they pointed out that, in her oral submissions of 3 December 2002, the second applicant had only advanced the compensation claim in her own name and not in the name of the first applicant. The latter thus could not be considered as having been a party to the ensuing proceedings and, consequently, his Article 6 rights could not have been engaged.
On the second count of their objection, the Government relied on the position taken by the Constitutional Court in its decision of 25 March 2010 to the effect that, in any event, neither of the applicants could have benefited from the Article 6 guarantees because, under the domestic law, such guarantees only extended to compensation claims in criminal proceedings after a charge had been brought against a specific person, in combination with the fact that, in the present case, the charge against A. had been quashed and no new charge had been brought. They considered that the fact last mentioned distinguished the present case from that of Krumpel and Krumpelová (cited above).
In support of their argument, the Government further relied on the judgment in case no. 1 Tz 28/67, reflected in academic writing of one author (see paragraphs 23 and 30 above), and suggested that these sources showed that “one of the basic conditions for making an order for compensation of damage [in criminal proceedings] is that the aggrieved party makes the claim against a specific person charged with a criminal offence” and that, unless this condition was fulfilled, the criminal court was prevented from examining the claim.
Other than that, the Government admitted that the application was not manifestly ill-founded.
41. In response, the applicants disagreed and submitted, in particular, that they had lodged their compensation claim jointly already in their criminal complaint (see paragraph 6 above) and that the submission of the second applicant of 3 December 2002 (see paragraph 7 above) only concerned the method of calculating the scope of that claim, having no impact on the fact that the claim had been made by both of them. In addition, and irrespective of that, the applicants had been spouses. As such, they had had a matrimonial property regime, in respect of which the actions of one of them had been by virtue of law binding on the other. The first applicant unequivocally pursued the compensation claim alongside the second applicant by implication; and they had both been treated as aggrieved parties of the offence imputed to A. by all authorities throughout the proceedings.
As to the Government’s objection of incompatibility ratione materiae, the applicants submitted that it had basis neither in domestic law nor in the Convention case-law. They had made their compensation claim in compliance with the applicable rules and against a defendant that was identified, the making of that claim had interrupted the running of the statute of limitation, and it had constituted a bar to submitting the same claim again in other proceedings. In conclusion, the applicants invited the Court to adhere to the position it had taken in Krumpel and Krumpelová (cited above), Bíro (no. 2) (cited above) and Loveček and Others v. Slovakia (no. 11301/03, 21 December 2010).
2. The Court’s assessment
(a) Compatibility ratione personae
42. The Court observes at the outset that there is a dispute between the parties as to when and on whose behalf the compensation claim referred to by the applicants was made.
43. As regards the time when the claim was made, the Court observes that, in the applicants’ criminal complaint of 11 October 2002, they specified the damage they alleged to have sustained and submitted that A. had refused to compensate it (see paragraph 6 above).
The Court is mindful of the subsidiary nature of its role. Nevertheless, it considers it questionable whether a submission such as that of the applicants of 11 October 2002 may be considered as constituting a valid legal claim and notes the finding of fact by the Constitutional Court in its decision of 25 March 2010 to the effect that the compensation claim was made by the second applicant during her questioning on 3 December 2002 (see paragraphs 7 and 16 above).
44. As to the question on whose behalf the claim was made, the Court reiterates that it must be cautious in taking on the role of a first-instance tribunal of fact in situations as the present one, in which the question has not been examined and resolved at the domestic level. It observes that the applicants were spouses, that their criminal complaint and the damage they alleged to have suffered related to the reconstruction of the flat in which they lived, that the compensation claim was formally lodged on 3 December 2002 by the second applicant, that the position of the first applicant as an aggrieved party of the alleged crime had never been questioned, that both applicants were treated as such by the authorities throughout the proceedings and, most importantly, that the applicants’ constitutional complaint, in so far as pertaining to the first applicant, was not rejected on account of lack of standing to complain.
45. The Court finds that these elements lead to a conclusion that the third-party claim for compensation included into the proceedings ensuing from applicants’ criminal complaint was effectively made in the name and on behalf of both applicants.
The Government’s objection of incompatibility ratione personae with the provisions of the Convention must therefore be dismissed.
(b) Compatibility ratione materiae
46. As to the remainder of the Government’s inadmissibility objection, the Court observes first of all that it is not aimed at the applicability of the reasonable time guarantee under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention to compensation claims attached to criminal proceedings as a matter of principle, nor is it aimed at the applicability of the said guarantee to such claims at the pre-trial stage of the proceedings in general.
47. The applicability of those guarantees in the Slovak legal order as a matter of principle was established by the Court as early as in its judgment in Krumpel and Krumpelová (cited above, §§ 35-41) and it appears to have been accepted by the domestic courts (see paragraph 36 above).
As to the applicability of this guarantee at the pre-trial stage of the proceedings as such, the Court notes that it was not questioned before it in Krumpel and Krumpelová (cited above), Bíro (no. 2) (cited above) and Loveček and Others (cited above), has not been disputed between the parties in the present case, and the Court has established nothing to doubt it (see, for example, Perez v. France [GC], no. 47287/99, §§ 57, 61, 65 and 70, ECHR 2004 I; Gorou v. Greece (no. 2) [GC], no. 12686/03, §§ 24 and 25, 20 March 2009; Patrono, Cascini and Stefanelli v. Italy, no. 10180/04, §§ 30-33, 20 April 2006; and Sottani v. Italy (dec.), no. 26775/02, 24 February 2005).
48. The specific point in dispute, as raised in the Government’s objection in the present case, is rather the definition of the specific moment at the pre-trial stage of the proceedings from which a third-party claimant may benefit from the guarantees in question. The Court examined that matter in Bíro (no. 2) (cited above, § 44), where it concluded that
“as a matter of principle, civil-party claims for damages made in Slovakia jointly with or subsequently to the lodging of a criminal complaint enjoy the guarantees of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention from the moment they are made”.
49. As held by the Constitutional Court in the present case and in many others (see paragraph 36 above), the Court’s conclusion in Bíro (no. 2) (cited above) as to the starting point for the application of those guarantees appears not to have been adopted at the domestic level.
50. At the outset of its analysis of the Constitutional Court’s position, the Court reiterates that, in accordance with Article 19 of the Convention, its duty is to ensure that the obligations undertaken by the Contracting Parties to the Convention are observed. In particular, it is not its function to deal with errors of fact or law allegedly committed by a national court, unless and in so far as they may have infringed rights and freedoms protected by the Convention (see García Ruiz v. Spain [GC], no. 30544/96, § 28, ECHR 1999-I).
51. The cornerstone of the Constitutional Court’s stance on the subject is the premise that a third-party claim for damages may only benefit from the guarantees in question if it is made against a specific defendant and that that defendant cannot be specific before he or she is charged. This line of reasoning appears now to be established in the case-law of the Constitutional Court. In its support, the Constitutional Court relies on the practice of the ordinary courts, which it however has not specified.
52. To the extent that the Government have sought to substantiate the Constitutional Court’s abstract reference to the case-law of the ordinary courts by relying on the judgment no. 1 Tz 28/67, which was reflected in academic writing (see paragraphs 23 and 30 above), the Court notes that the essential point of that judgment does not concern the status of the defendant of a third-party claim as a person charged with a criminal offence or otherwise, but rather the fact that, for the criminal court to be able to order the defendant to pay damages, a claim for damages must first be filed. It is true that the judgment in question refers to the defendant as to a person charged with a criminal offence, but it contains no analysis in that respect and the identification of the defendant as such appears to be of no relevance for the legal principle addressed by the judgment.
53. In contrast to that, the Court notes that the ordinary courts’ case-law appears clearly, directly and unequivocally to have resolved the question as to what is the earliest possible moment when a third-party claim may validly be attached to criminal proceedings. This is from the very outset of criminal proceedings, that is even before criminal investigation has commenced. In that context, it has been recognised that a criminal complaint made by an aggrieved party, which is often accompanied by a third-party claim for damages, is to be considered an integral part of the criminal proceedings, being the first step in it (see paragraphs 22 and 24).
54. Moreover, the Court observes that, on careful reading, the very academic writing relied on by the Government not only seemingly and by implication supports their argument (by referring to the defendant of a third-party claim as a person charged with a criminal offence), but at the same expressly supports the position referred to in the preceding paragraph (see paragraph 30 above).
55. The Court is aware of the scarcity of any relevant recent case-law in Slovakia and of the facts that the decisive authority as regards the relevant domestic practice dates back to the 1960s and the 1970s and that since then a new CCP has been enacted in Slovakia. However, there is no indication that the relevant principles have changed in any way.
Moreover, those principles were upheld by the Supreme Court of the Czech Republic in the current times. In that respect, the Court is also aware that the doctrine of binding precedent is not as such formally recognised in Slovakia and, even if it were, it would not extend to precedents from another country. Nevertheless, the Court observes that the law applied by the Supreme Court of the Czech Republic is essentially the same as that applied in Slovakia until the adoption of the 2005 CCP. It therefore finds the recent confirmation of the relevant principles by the Supreme Court of the Czech Republic to be of indicative relevance to the present case.
56. Furthermore, the Court considers that the incongruity between the position of the Constitutional Court and the practice of the ordinary courts should not be interpreted as undermining the protection available under the Convention, which is to be practical and effective as opposed to theoretical or illusory (see Matthews v. the United Kingdom [GC], no. 24833/94, § 34, ECHR 1999-I).
57. In addition, the Court observes that there appears to be no explanation provided by the Constitutional Court for taking a different stance from that of the Court in Bíro (no. 2) (cited above), despite specific arguments to that effect (see paragraph 36 above).
58. The above considerations allow for no conclusion other than that the Constitutional Court’s position as regards the applicability of the Article 6 guarantees to third-party claims prior to the bringing of charges against a specific person lacks the basis in the practice of the ordinary courts on which it relies. It remains to be ascertained whether its application on the facts of the present case was compatible with the applicant’s rights under the Article in question.
59. The Court reiterates that Article 6 § 1 of the Convention guarantees everyone’s right to have his or her civil rights and obligations determined by a court. It thus enshrines a “right to a court”, of which the right of access, namely the right to apply to a court in civil proceedings, is only one aspect (see, for example, Georgel and Georgeta Stoicescu v. Romania, no. 9718/03, § 68, 26 July 2011, with further references). It further reiterates that the right to a fair trial holds so prominent a place in a democratic society that there can be no justification for interpreting Article 6 § 1 restrictively (see, for example, Perez (cited above), § 64).
60. While accepting the Contracting Parties’ sovereignty in designing the framework for realisation of that right, the Court observes that claims for damages normally fall to be asserted before civil courts. At the same time, the Court observes that neither Article 6, nor any other provision of the Convention may be interpreted as compelling the Contracting Parties to enable third-party claims for damages in criminal proceedings as such.
61. The Court is of the view that, where a Contracting Party decides to provide for the possibility of making third-party claims in the framework of criminal proceedings, and depending on its specific features, the guarantees of Article 6 must be provided and complied with.
62. The Slovakian legal order undoubtedly provided for the possibility of attaching third-party claims to criminal proceedings (see paragraphs 17, 19, 20 and 26 et seq. above). As to the features of the procedural framework for its determination, the Court notes that if such a claim is properly made and duly pursued, it constitutes an obstacle to the lodging of the same claim before the civil courts and has further legal consequences, for example, in respect of statute of limitations (see paragraphs 22 and 24 above).
63. The Court notes that for any such a claim to be considered as having been properly made, it has to specify its defendant, legal basis and amount (see paragraph 24 above).
64. As to the earliest time when a third-party claim for damages may be made in Slovakia, as noted above, under the domestic law and practice of the ordinary courts, a third-party claim for damages may be included into criminal proceedings with the consequences mentioned in the preceding paragraphs as early as with the criminal complaint and without depending on whether charges have been raised against a concrete person.
65. In addition, in considering the applicability of the guarantees of Article 6 to third-party claims attached to a criminal complaint, in Bíro (no. 2) (cited above, § 44) the Court took into account that, once a criminal complaint is lodged, the law enforcement authorities in Slovakia are under a duty to follow it through.
66. In view of the above, and in so far as the Government’s objection of incompatibility ratione materiae has been substantiated, the Court has found no reasons for departing from its previous findings that the guarantees of the civil limb of Article 6 of the Convention apply to third-party claims for damages attached to criminal proceedings in Slovakia (see Krumpel and Krumpelová, cited above, § 48) and that, in so far as they are joined to a criminal complaint against a specific defendant or made subsequently to it, they enjoy the said guarantees from the moment they are made (see Bíro (no. 2), cited above, § 44).
The Government’s objection must accordingly be dismissed.
67. Taking account of the Government’s admission (see paragraph 41 above in fine), 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.
68. 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).
69. It considers that, when assessing the reasonableness of the length of the proceedings on a third-party claims attached to criminal proceedings in the present case, regard should be had to the specific features of the given procedural framework and context, including the fact that the determination of a third-party claim in criminal proceedings in Slovakia is an auxiliary matter to the primary function of such proceedings to apply criminal law.
70. The proceedings on the applicants’ third-party claim commenced when it was lodged on 3 December 2002 (see also Csiki v. Romania, no. 11273/05, § 91, 5 July 2011 and Codarcea v. Romania, no. 31675/04, § 79, 2 June 2009) and ended with the discontinuation of the proceedings with final effect on 1 February 2010. They thus lasted more than 7 years at the pre-trial stage of the proceedings without a single decision having been taken in respect of the applicants’ claim.
71. There has not been any allegation and the Court has found no indication that the case was of any particular complexity or that the applicants contributed to the length of the proceedings in any way. On the other hand, as regards the conduct of the authorities, significant delays had been repeatedly found by the PPS which however considered that they had no effective means of ensuring redress (see paragraphs 11-13 above).
72. The foregoing considerations are sufficient to enable the Court to conclude that the duration and unfolding of the proceedings under review were at blatant variance with the “reasonable time” requirement bordering on denial of justice.
There has accordingly been a violation of Article 6 of the Convention.
III. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
73. 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.”
74. The applicants claimed 6,086 euros (EUR) in respect of pecuniary damage, this amount corresponding to what they considered to have suffered as damage resulting from the actions and omissions of A. In addition, they claimed 8,000 each in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
75. The Government argued that there was no causal link between the violation found and the pecuniary damage alleged and contested the claim in respect of non-pecuniary damage for being overstated.
76. The Court agrees with the Government in finding that there is no causal link between the violation found and the pecuniary damage alleged. The claim in respect of pecuniary damage must therefore be rejected.
77. On the other hand, it accepts that the applicants sustained non-pecuniary damage. Ruling on an equitable basis, it awards them EUR 5,200 jointly, plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage, to be paid to the second applicant.
B. Costs and expenses
78. The applicants also claimed EUR 2,013.80 in respect of legal fees before the Court and EUR 16.70 in respect of postal expenses. The former claim was supported by a contract under which the applicants agreed to pay their lawyer compensation calculated under the formula applicable at the national level and by an invoice for an advance on this compensation in the amount of EUR 300. The latter claim was also supported by an invoice.
79. The Government submitted that the claim in respect of legal fees should be determined in accordance with the Court’s case-law and that they had no objection to the claim for compensation of the postal expenses.
80. According to the Court’s case-law, an applicant is entitled to the reimbursement of costs and expenses only in so far as it has been shown that these have been actually and necessarily incurred and are reasonable as to quantum.
In the present case, regard being had to the documents in its possession and the above criteria, the Court considers it reasonable to award the sum of EUR 1,000, plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicants, covering costs under all heads, to be payable to the second applicant.
C. Default interest
81. 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 Article 6 of the Convention;
(a) that the respondent State is to pay the second applicant, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, the following amounts:
(i) EUR 5,200 (five thousand two hundred euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage;
(ii) EUR 1,000 (one thousand euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicants, 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 applicants’ claim for just satisfaction.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 15 September 2015, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Marialena Tsirli Josep Casadevall
Deputy Registrar President