In the case of Istituto di Vigilanza v. Italy*,
The European Court of Human Rights, sitting, in accordance with
Article 43 (art. 43) of the Convention for the Protection of Human
Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ("the Convention")** and the relevant
provisions of the Rules of Court, as a Chamber composed of the
Mr R. Ryssdal, President,
Mr R. Bernhardt,
Mr C. Russo,
Mr I. Foighel,
Mr F. Bigi,
Mr A.B. Baka,
Mr M.A. Lopes Rocha,
Mr L. Wildhaber,
Mr J. Makarczyk,
and also of Mr M.-A. Eissen, Registrar, and Mr H. Petzold, Deputy
Having deliberated in private on 23 June and 25 August 1993,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on the
Notes by the Registrar
* The case is numbered 42/1992/387/465. The first number is the case's
position on the list of cases referred to the Court in the relevant
year (second number). The last two numbers indicate the case's
position on the list of cases referred to the Court since its creation
and on the list of the corresponding originating applications to the
** As amended by Article 11 of Protocol No. 8 (P8-11), which came into
force on 1 January 1990.
1. The case was referred to the Court by the European Commission
of Human Rights ("the Commission") on 11 December 1992. It originated
in an application (no. 13567/88) against the Italian Republic lodged
with the Commission under Article 25 (art. 25) of the Convention by
Istituto di Vigilanza, a company registered in Italy, on
25 November 1987.
The Commission's request referred to Articles 44 and 48
(art. 44, art. 48) and to the declaration whereby Italy recognised the
compulsory jurisdiction of the Court (Article 46) (art. 46). The
object of the request was to obtain a decision as to whether the facts
of the case disclosed a breach by the respondent State of its
obligations under Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1).
2. In response to the enquiry made in accordance with
Rule 33 para. 3 (d) of the Rules of Court, the applicant company stated
that it wished to take part in the proceedings and designated the
lawyer who would represent it (Rule 30).
3. On 16 December 1992 the President of the Court decided, in the
interests of the proper administration of justice, that this case - and
the cases of Figus Milone and Goisis v. Italy* - should be examined by
the Chamber constituted to consider the case of Scopelliti v. Italy**
(Rule 21 para. 6). This Chamber included ex officio Mr C. Russo, the
elected judge of Italian nationality (Article 43 of the Convention)
(art. 43), and Mr R. Ryssdal, the President of the Court
(Rule 21 para. 3 (b)), the other seven members, drawn by lot in the
presence of the Registrar, being Mr N. Valticos, Mr I. Foighel,
Mr F. Bigi, Mr A.B. Baka, Mr M.A. Lopes Rocha, Mr L. Wildhaber
and Mr J. Makarczyk (Article 43 in fine of the Convention and
Rule 21 para. 4) (art. 43). Subsequently, Mr R. Bernhardt, substitute
judge, replaced Mr Valticos, who was unable to take part in the further
consideration of the case (Rules 22 para. 1 and 24 para. 1).
* Cases nos. 43/1992/388/466 and 46/1992/391/469.
** Case no. 41/1992/386/464.
4. As President of the Chamber (Rule 21 para. 5), Mr Ryssdal,
acting through the Registrar, consulted the Agent of the Italian
Government ("the Government"), the applicant company's lawyer and the
Delegate of the Commission on the organisation of the proceedings
(Rules 37 para. 1 and 38). Pursuant to the order made in consequence,
the Registrar received memorials and observations from the applicant
company, the Government and the Delegate of the Commission on various
dates between 30 April and 19 July 1993.
5. On 16 March 1993 the Commission had produced the file on the
proceedings before it, as requested by the Registrar on the President's
6. On 23 June 1993 the Chamber decided to dispense with a hearing
in the case, having satisfied itself that the conditions for this
derogation from its usual procedure had been met (Rules 26 and 38).
AS TO THE FACTS
7. Istituto di Vigilanza is a security firm whose headquarters are
On 26 October 1978 Mrs Figus Milone, a former employee, brought
proceedings against it in the Turin magistrate's court (pretore) for
8. At the first hearing, on 28 November 1978, the magistrate
raised of his own motion the question whether certain legislative
provisions were compatible with the constitutional principle of
equality between men and women in the field of employment. On
19 December 1978 he stayed the proceedings pending the decision of the
Constitutional Court (Article 295 of the Code of Civil Procedure).
The Constitutional Court gave judgment on 16 January 1987; the
text of its judgment was filed at the registry on 22 January.
9. The plaintiff resumed the proceedings on 16 February 1987 and
they ended on 28 May with a friendly settlement.
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE COMMISSION
10. The applicant company applied to the Commission on
25 November 1987. It complained of the length of the proceedings
brought against it in the Turin magistrate's court and relied on
Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1) of the Convention.
11. The Commission declared the application (no. 13567/88)
admissible on 13 January 1992. In its report of 1 July 1992 (made
under Article 31) (art. 31), it expressed the unanimous opinion that
there had been a violation of Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1). The full
text of the Commission's opinion is reproduced as an annex to this
* Note by the Registrar: for practical reasons this annex will appear
only with the printed version of the judgment (volume 265-C of
Series A of the Publications of the Court), but a copy of the
Commission's report is available from the registry.
AS TO THE LAW
THE GOVERNMENT'S PRELIMINARY OBJECTION
12. In their memorial of 24 May 1993 the Government maintained at
the outset that the Commission had exceeded the time laid down by
Article 32 para. 1 (art. 32-1) of the Convention, which provides:
"If the question is not referred to the Court in accordance
with Article 48 (art. 48) of [the] Convention within a period
of three months from the date of the transmission of the
report to the Committee of Ministers, the Committee of
Ministers shall decide ... whether there has been a violation
of the Convention."
The Commission had referred the case to the Court only on
11 December 1992, whereas its report had been sent to the Committee of
Ministers on 10 September 1992. The Government therefore invited the
Court to consider the question of its jurisdiction to deal with the
The applicant company expressed no view.
13. The Delegate of the Commission considered that the word
"referred" could be understood as meaning the date on which the
decision to refer the case to the Court was adopted - in this instance,
5 December 1992 - as well as the date on which the document bringing
the case before the Court was lodged. She wondered, however, whether
the Court needed to decide the question in the present case, since the
Government had not formally challenged the Court's jurisdiction and had
made detailed observations on the merits of the case.
14. The Court nevertheless considers itself bound to make a ruling
as the Government have clearly put the issue before it and have
expressly asked the Court to determine it.
The Court points out that by the terms of the French text of
Article 47 (art. 47), it may only "être saisie d'une affaire" (be
seised of a case) within the period of three months provided for in
Article 32 (art. 32). The use of the verb "saisir" appears to be
incompatible with the interpretation of the word "referred" that the
Delegate of the Commission seemed to be advocating. In order to seise
a court, it is not sufficient to decide to seise it. The decision must
be implemented. The same applies, moreover, to the word "refer".
Besides, any other reading of Article 32 para. 1 and Article 47
(art. 32-1, art. 47) would be likely to produce - as regards one of the
conditions to be satisfied by the Contracting States or even by
individuals, non-governmental organisations or groups of individuals
when applying to the Commission itself - results contrary to the letter
and spirit of Article 26 (art. 26) in fine and to the case-law
established in the matter from the very beginning.
That being so, the finding is inescapable that the Commission
exceeded - albeit by only one day - the time allowed it. Furthermore,
no special circumstance of a nature to suspend the running of time or
justify its starting to run afresh is apparent from the file.
The request bringing the case before the Court is consequently
inadmissible as it was made out of time.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT UNANIMOUSLY
Holds that it cannot deal with the merits of the case.
Done in English and in French, and delivered at a public
hearing in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg, on 22 September 1993.
Signed: Rolv RYSSDAL
Signed: Marc-André EISSEN