(Application no. 46407/99)
17 May 2001
This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention.
In the case of Stoidis v. Greece,
The European Court of Human Rights (Second Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Mr A.B. BAKA, President,
Mr C.L. ROZAKIS,
Mrs V. STRážNICKá,
Mr P. LORENZEN,
Mr M. FISCHBACH,
Mrs M. TSATSA-NIKOLOVSKA,
Mr A. KOVLER, judges,
and Mr E. FRIBERGH, Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 31 August 2000 and 3 May 2001,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that last-mentioned date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 46407/99) against Greece lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Greek national, Mr Nikolas Stoidis (“the applicant”), on 8 February 1999.
2. The Greek Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr E. Volanis, President of the State Legal Council.
3. The applicant complained about the length of the civil proceedings he instituted following his dismissal.
4. The application was allocated to the Second Section of the Court (Rule 52 § 1 of the Rules of Court). Within that Section, the Chamber that would consider the case (Article 27 § 1 of the Convention) was constituted as provided in Rule 26 § 1 of the Rules of Court.
5. By a decision of 31 August 2000 the Court declared the application admissible.
6. The applicant and the Government each filed observations on the merits (Rule 59 § 1).
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
7. Until 31 December 1992, when he was fired, the applicant used to work for the State Electricity Company (Δημόσια Επιχείρηση Ηλεκτρισμού, hereinafter DEI).
8. On 23 March 1993 he instituted civil proceedings before the single-member first instance civil court of Athens to challenge his dismissal and ask for non-pecuniary damages. In asking for non-pecuniary damages the applicant claimed that DEI had invaded his privacy by sending a doctor to his house, while he was on sick leave, to check the state of his health. He also claimed that DEI wished to defame him because of his “anti-Greek” and “pro-Skopje” activities. The introductory writ ran in 163 pages and contained 20 different claims.
9. A hearing was fixed for 6 October 1993 but was cancelled because of the elections. On 10 October 1993 the applicant asked the court to fix a new hearing date. The court decided to resume the examination of the case on 9 February 1994 when it ordered an adjournment until 1 June 1994. On 1 June 1994 the defendant was not present in court. The court decided to adjourn the examination of the case until 9 January 1995. On 9 January 1995 none of the parties was present in court and the hearing was cancelled. On 10 January 1995 the applicant asked the court to fix a new hearing date. The court decided to resume the examination of the case on 18 May 1995 when the applicant’s action was finally heard. Judgment was delivered on 6 October 1995. The text was finalised in December 1995. The court ordered DEI to rehire the applicant and to pay him salary arrears. However, the court refused to grant the applicant compensation for non-pecuniary damage.
10. On 21 December 1995 DEI appealed. The applicant, who obtained a copy of the finalised text of the judgment on 22 December 1995, also appealed on 29 December 1995. He invoked 27 grounds and submitted 234 documents. The Court of Appeal of Athens decided to join the two appeals and hear them on 5 March 1996. On 25 June 1996 the court allowed DEI’s appeal and dismissed the applicant’s. The applicant claims that he received a copy of the decision in August 1997.
11. On 30 September 1997 the applicant appealed in cassation, invoking 65 grounds. The Court of Cassation heard the appeal on 27 October 1998. On 11 May 1999 the Court of Cassation rejected the applicant’s appeal. The text of the decision was finalised on 23 June 1999 and was filed on 12 July 1999.
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW
12. According to section 32 of Law no. 1545/1985, in labour disputes the hearing must be scheduled to take place at the latest fifteen days after the institution of the proceedings and the decision must be issued within one month from the hearing.
ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 OF THE CONVENTION
13. The applicant complains about the length of the proceedings. He invokes Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which, insofar as relevant, provides as follows:
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal...”
14. The Government submit that the applicant’s case was complex. The deadlines set by domestic law in respect of labour disputes are indicative. The first instance court had planned to hear the applicant’s action within six months from its lodging, which was reasonable in the circumstances of the case. The authorities were not responsible for the delays caused by the various cancellations and adjournment of the first instance hearing. The first cancellation was caused by the elections. The Government submit that it was the parties that requested the adjournment of 9 February 1994. The adjournment of 1 June 1994 must have been requested by the applicant himself, the defendant being absent from the court that day. The hearing of 9 January 1995 was cancelled because of the absence of both parties. The court took care to fix the next hearing date shortly after each adjournment or cancellation. Moreover, its decision was issued within a reasonable time after the hearing. There were no delays before the court of appeal. It took the applicant thirteen months to appeal in cassation against the court of appeal’s judgment. The Court of Cassation heard the case and issued its judgment within a reasonable time in the particular circumstances. The applicant could have taken steps to expedite the finalisation of the text of the judgment of the Court of Cassation. In the light of all the above, the Government submit that there was no breach of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
15. The applicant submits that the domestic courts repeatedly acted in breach of national law by not respecting the strict deadlines it sets in respect of labour disputes. The applicant holds the Government responsible for the delays caused by the cancellation due to the elections. According to the applicant, it was the defendant who requested the adjournment of 9 February 1994. On 1 June 1994 the court decided to adjourn the examination of the case proprio motu. The applicant does not accept that the first instance and appeal courts’ decisions were issued within a time that was reasonable in the circumstances of the case. He also claims that he received a copy of the appeal court’s decision only in August 1997. The applicant points out that the Court of Cassation decided to hear his appeal almost one year after it had been lodged. Moreover, it took the Court of Cassation eight and a half months to finalise the text of the decision, which the applicant did not receive before December 1999. The applicant considers that, given what was at stake in the proceedings, it was unacceptable that it should have taken the domestic courts six and a half years to issue a final judgment in his case.
A. Period to be taken into consideration
16. The Court notes that the proceedings started on 23 March 1993, when the applicant instituted the proceedings, and ended on 11 May 1999, when the Court of Cassation rejected his appeal. Therefore, they lasted six years, one month and eighteen days.
B. Reasonableness of the length of the proceedings
17. The reasonableness of the length of proceedings must be assessed in the light of the particular circumstances of the case and having regard to the criteria laid down in the Court’s case-law, in particular the complexity of the case, the conduct of the applicant and of the relevant authorities, and the importance of what was at stake for the applicant in the litigation (see, among other authorities, the Styranowski v. Poland judgment of 30 October 1998, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1998-VIII, p. 3376, § 47).
18. The Court finds, firstly, that the nature of the case was not, as such, complex. However, it notes that, by his numerous and voluminous submissions before the domestic courts, the applicant rendered its examination complex.
19. Moreover, the Court reiterates that only delays for which the State can be held responsible may justify a finding that a “reasonable time” has been exceeded (Papachelas v. Greece [GC], no. 31423/96, § 40, ECHR 1999-II).
20. It notes that the proceedings before the First Instance Court (two years, six months and thirteen days) were rather lengthy. Part of the responsibility for that period’s delays can be attributed to the parties, which were not present in court on two occasions. On the contrary, the proceedings before the Athens Court of Appeal (six months and four days) were particularly speedy. The proceedings in the Court of Cassation lasted a year, seven months and eleven days, which was not excessive, regard being had in particular to the fact that the applicant invoked sixty-five grounds of appeal.
21. In view of these facts, the Court considers that, on the whole, the length of the proceedings complained of cannot be regarded as unreasonable.
Accordingly, there has been no violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT UNANIMOUSLY
Holds that there has been no violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 17 May 2001, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Erik FRIBERGH András BAKA