In the case of Billi 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 following judges:
Mr R. Bernhardt, President,
Mr Thór Vilhjálmsson,
Mr F. Matscher,
Mr L.-E. Pettiti,
Mr C. Russo,
Mr N. Valticos,
Mr S.K. Martens,
Mrs E. Palm,
Mr F. Bigi,
and also of Mr M.-A. Eissen, Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 29 October 1992 and
2 February 1993,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on the
Notes by the Registrar
* The case is numbered 13/1992/358/432. 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 Commission.
** 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 13 April 1992,
within the three-month period laid down by Article 32 para. 1 and
Article 47 (art. 32-1, art. 47) of the Convention. It originated
in an application (no. 15118/89) against the Italian Republic
lodged with the Commission under Article 25 (art. 25) by an
Italian national, Mrs Emma Billi, on 20 January 1989.
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
2. In response to the enquiry made in accordance with
Rule 33 para. 3 (d) of the Rules of Court, the applicant stated
that she wished to take part in the proceedings; the President
of the Court gave her leave to use the Italian language and to
present her own case (Rules 27 para. 3 and 30 para. 1, second
3. On 25 April 1992 the President of the Court decided that,
pursuant to Rule 21 para. 6 and in the interests of the proper
administration of justice, this case and the cases of Pizzetti,
De Micheli, F.M., Salesi, Trevisan and Messina v. Italy* should
be heard by the same Chamber.
* Cases nos. 8/1992/353/427 to 12/1992/357/431 and
4. The Chamber to be constituted for this purpose 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)). On the same day,
in the presence of the Registrar, the President drew by lot the
names of the other seven members, namely Mr Thór Vilhjálmsson,
Mr F. Matscher, Mr L.-E. Pettiti, Mr N. Valticos,
Mr S.K. Martens, Mrs E. Palm and Mr F. Bigi (Article 43 in fine
of the Convention and Rule 21 para. 4) (art. 43).
5. Mr Ryssdal assumed the office of President of the Chamber
(Rule 21 para. 5) and, through the Deputy Registrar, consulted
the Agent of the Italian Government ("the Government"), the
Delegate of the Commission and the applicant on the organisation
of the proceedings (Rules 37 para. 1 and 38). Pursuant to the
order made in consequence, the Registrar received the applicant's
memorial on 17 June 1992. By a letter of 23 July the Government
stated that they wished to refer the Court to their observations
before the Commission. The Delegate of the Commission did not
lodge written observations.
6. On 26 May the Chamber had decided to dispense with a
hearing, having found that the conditions for such a derogation
from the usual procedure were satisfied (Rules 26 and 38).
7. On 3 September the Commission produced the file on the
proceedings before it, as requested by the Registrar on the
8. As Mr Ryssdal was unable to attend the deliberations on
29 October, he was replaced as President of the Chamber by
Mr R. Bernhardt, the Vice-President of the Court (Rule 21
para. 5, second sub-paragraph).
9. On 20 October and 8 November 1992 respectively the
Government and the Commission filed their observations on the
applicant's claims for just satisfaction (Article 50 of the
Convention) (art. 50).
10. On 12 November the Government communicated to the
Registrar certain additional information concerning the facts of
AS TO THE FACTS
11. Mrs Emma Billi resides at Genzano di Roma. The facts
established by the Commission pursuant to Article 31 para. 1
(art. 31-1) of the Convention are as follows (paragraphs 16-21
of its report):
"16. By writ of summons dated 3 June 1969, served on
7 June 1969, the municipality of Perugia instituted
proceedings before the Perugia District Court against SAI,
a friendly society which organised mutual assistance
between employees and pensioners. The SAI was set up to
grant subsidies or loans to its members. It was financed
by specific contributions from members and by means of
deductions from the pay of wage-earning members.
The municipality of Perugia accused the SAI of
misappropriating large sums of money belonging to it
through the accountant who doubled up as secretary-
treasurer of the friendly society and chief accountant of
the municipality. On 22 May 1969 the President of the
court had ordered the interim seizure of the immovable
property belonging to the members of the SAI's governing
body, which then included Milziade Billi, the applicant's
father. Mr Billi died during the trial and the applicant,
as his heir, sought leave to be joined to the proceedings
at the hearing of 25 January 1973. On 22 February 1973
the investigating judge ordered an accountant's report and
arranged for a hearing to be held on 6 April 1973 so that
the expert could take the oath. On 6 April 1973 the
expert was given six months to draw up his report and the
next hearing was arranged for 15 November 1973. After
that date the proceedings were adjourned several times,
sometimes at the request of the expert, who asked for more
time to complete his report on 28 February 1974,
21 May 1974 and 8 October 1974, and sometimes
(on 15 November 1973, 2 May 1974 and 17 October 1974) at
the request of the parties' lawyers, who were waiting for
the expert's report to be filed.
17. On 19 December 1974 the investigating judge ordered
a further expert opinion. On 20 February 1975 the second
expert was given ninety days to draw up his report. The
investigating judge later granted the expert's request for
an extension until 26 September 1975. The next two
hearings were adjourned at the request of counsel, the
first pending the deposit of the expert's report
(19 June 1975), the second to allow them time to study the
report (22 January 1976).
18. The next hearing, initially arranged for
15 June 1976, was first adjourned until 14 December 1976
and then until 21 February 1978 to give counsel time to
file their final submissions. On 21 February 1978 the
case was set down for trial by the District Court.
However, on 12 January 1979 the proceedings were
interrupted because an heir of one of the defendants, who
had been represented in the proceedings up to that time by
his guardian, reached his majority. Counsel for the
municipality asked for the proceedings to be reopened, and
on 17 April 1979 the investigating judge arranged for the
next hearing to be held on 19 October 1979. On that date
the case was adjourned until 25 January 1980, as the file
had been mislaid. Subsequent adjournments, until 30 June
1980, 31 October 1980 and 3 April 1981, were caused by the
transfer of the investigating judge to other duties or by
the absence of the judge dealing with the case.
19. On 3 April 1981, when in the opinion of counsel the
case was ready for trial, the Perugia District Court
decided that a further expert opinion was necessary. In
a decision dated 19 May 1981 the court appointed an
investigating judge, who, on 13 July 1981, instructed the
expert to elucidate a number of points raised by counsel
in their final submissions.
20. There was then a series of adjournments (on
16 December 1981, 10 February 1982, 21 April 1982,
14 June 1982, 20 September 1982 and 16 March 1983) caused
by the need to wait for the additional expert report to be
filed. On 1 October 1982 the investigating judge granted
the expert an extension of the time-limit. The next two
hearings were adjourned, at counsel's request, because the
expert had still not filed his report. After repeatedly
summoning the expert to produce his report, and after
receiving a letter from the expert dated 8 March 1984
asking for a different expert to be appointed, the
investigating judge appointed another expert, who took the
oath on 14 May 1984.
21. Further adjournments followed on 28 November 1984
and 22 April 1985 pending the filing of the expert report.
On 29 May 1985 the report was filed and counsel again
requested an adjournment to give them time to study it.
On 18 September 1985 the investigating judge asked the
registry to supply the criminal file, since the facts
complained of by the municipality had in the meantime led
to criminal proceedings. A number of adjournments then
followed (on 13 November 1985, 18 December 1985,
3 December 1986, 27 January 1987 and 5 February 1987) for
the filing by counsel of their final submissions.
On 21 July 1986 the President of the court had appointed
a new investigating judge. On 5 February 1987 the
investigation was closed and the case set down for trial
by the court on 9 April 1988. In a judgment dated
14 May 1988, deposited with the registry on
7 November 1988, the Perugia District Court rejected the
12. According to the information supplied by the Government
(see paragraph 10 above), no appeal was filed against this
decision by the applicant, in relation to whom it became final
on 7 November 1989.
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE COMMISSION
13. Mrs Billi lodged her application with the Commission on
20 January 1989. Relying on Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1) of the
Convention, she complained of the length of the civil proceedings
14. On 8 July 1991 the Commission declared the application
(no 15118/89) admissible. In its report of 9 December 1991 (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 judgment*.
* Note by the Registrar: for practical reasons this annex will
appear only with the printed version of the judgment
(volume 257-G 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
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 PARA. 1 (art. 6-1)
15. The applicant alleged that the civil action concerning her
had not been tried within a "reasonable time" as required by
Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1) of the Convention, according to
"In the determination of his civil rights and obligations
..., everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a
reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal ..."
The Government contested this claim, whereas the
Commission accepted it.
16. The period to be taken into consideration did not begin on
25 January 1973, the date on which Mrs Billi joined the
proceedings as the heir to her father, Mr Milziade Billi, but
only on 1 August 1973 when the Italian declaration accepting the
right of individual petition (Article 25) (art. 25) took effect.
In order to determine the reasonableness of the length of time
which elapsed after that date, regard must be had however to the
state of the case at that time (see, inter alia, the Pandolfelli
and Palumbo v. Italy judgment of 27 February 1992, Series A
no. 231-B, p. 19, para. 14).
The period in question ended on 7 November 1989.
17. The reasonableness of the length of proceedings is to be
determined with reference to the criteria laid down in the
Court's case-law and in the light of the circumstances of the
case, which in this instance call for an overall assessment.
18. The Government pleaded the complexity of the facts of the
dispute, the number of those taking part in the proceedings and
the difficulty of drawing up the expert reports which the court
needed to give judgment. They also cited the conduct of the
parties - including the applicant -, who had requested
adjournments throughout the proceedings.
Mrs Billi complained of the Italian State's failure to
take appropriate action in the field of the administration of
19. Like the Commission, the Court notes in the first place
that the case was a complex one: beyond any doubt the necessity
of an expert opinion and the presence of several defendants
rendered the proceedings more cumbersome and slowed them down.
It should however be stressed that the majority of the requests
by the parties for adjournments were made on the justifiable
ground that they were waiting for the expert's report to be
In addition, as the Commission correctly pointed out, more
than twelve years elapsed between the hearing at which the first
expert took the oath (6 April 1973) and the date on which the
second lodged his report (29 May 1985). In this connection, the
Court observes that they were both working in the context of
judicial proceedings supervised by a judge, who remained
responsible for the preparation and the speedy conduct of the
trial (see, mutatis mutandis, the above-mentioned Pandolfelli and
Palumbo judgment, p. 19, para. 17).
20. Accordingly, and having regard in addition to the fact
that the case was heard at only one level of jurisdiction, the
Court cannot consider "reasonable" the period of over sixteen
years which elapsed in the proceedings in issue.
In conclusion, there has been a violation of Article 6
para. 1 (art. 6-1).
II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 50 (art. 50)
21. Under Article 50 (art. 50),
"If the Court finds that a decision or a measure taken by
a legal authority or any other authority of a High
Contracting Party is completely or partially in conflict
with the obligations arising from the ... Convention, and
if the internal law of the said Party allows only partial
reparation to be made for the consequences of this
decision or measure, the decision of the Court shall, if
necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party."
22. The applicant claimed 150,000,000 Italian lire for
pecuniary damage and the same sum again for non-pecuniary damage.
She included her costs and expenses in the second amount. The
pecuniary damage had stemmed from the attachment of all the
applicant's moveable and immoveable property, a situation which
had lasted throughout the proceedings.
23. The Government denied that there had been any pecuniary
damage; in any event there was no evidence establishing it.
24. According to the Delegate of the Commission, Mrs Billi had
sustained clear and substantial pecuniary damage. She had
provided sufficient evidence to establish that the damage claimed
was real and the sums which she sought were in no way excessive.
As regards the non-pecuniary damage invoked, a mere finding of
a violation would not constitute sufficient reparation.
25. On the basis of the documentary evidence adduced and in
particular the evidence concerning the details of the attachment
and sale of Mr Milziade Billi's property (judgment of the Perugia
District Court of 14 May 1988 and applicant's memorial), the
Court awards to the applicant 20,000,000 lire, to cover all the
heads of claim.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT UNANIMOUSLY
1. Holds that there has been a violation of Article 6
para. 1 (art. 6-1);
2. Holds that the respondent State is to pay to the
applicant, within three months, 20,000,000 (twenty
million) Italian lire for damage;
3. Dismisses the remainder of the claim for just
Done in English and in French, and delivered at a public
hearing in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg, on 26 February
Signed: Rudolf BERNHARDT
Signed: Marc-André EISSEN