(Application no. 76212/01)
9 March 2006
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 Dreu v. Slovenia,
The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Mr J. HEDIGAN, President,
Mr B.M. ZUPANčIč,
Mrs M. TSATSA-NIKOLOVSKA,
Mr V. ZAGREBELSKY,
Mr E. MYJER,
Mr DAVID THóR BJöRGVINSSON,
Mrs I. ZIEMELE, judges,
and V. BERGER, Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 14 February 2006,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 76212/01) against the Republic of Slovenia lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Slovenian national, Mr Branko Dreu (“the applicant”), on 7 March 2000.
2. The applicant was represented by the Verstovšek lawyers. The Slovenian Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr L. Bembič, State Attorney-General.
3. The applicant alleged under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention that the length of the proceedings before the domestic courts to which he was a party was excessive. In substance, he also complained about the lack of an effective domestic remedy in respect of the excessive length of the proceedings (Article 13 of the Convention).
4. On 8 September 2003 the Court decided to communicate the complaints concerning the length of the proceedings and the lack of remedies in that respect to the Government. Applying Article 29 § 3 of the Convention, it decided to rule on the admissibility and merits of the application at the same time.
5. The applicant was born in 1955 and lives in Šoštanj.
1. Proceedings against ZT (first set of proceedings)
6. On 15 June 1992 the applicant was injured in an accident at work. The applicant’s employer had taken out insurance with the insurance company ZT.
On 22 December 1993 the applicant instituted civil proceedings with the Celje Basic Court, Celje Unit (Temeljno sodišče v Celju, Enota v Celju) against ZT seeking damages in the amount of 5,399,253 tolars (approximately 22,500 euros) for the injuries sustained.
On 1 April 1994 the court held a hearing and decided to issue a written judgment. The judgment, upholding the applicant’s claim in part, was served on the applicant on 16 May 1994.
7. On 26 May 1994 the applicant appealed to the Celje Higher Court (Višje sodišče v Celju). ZT cross-appealed.
On 19 October 1994 the court dismissed both appeals.
The decision was served on the applicant on 15 November 1994.
8. On 28 November 1994 the applicant lodged an appeal on points of law with the Supreme Court (Vrhovno sodišče). ZT cross-appealed.
On 29 November 1996 the court dismissed the applicant’s appeal, but allowed the ZT’s appeal and reduced the awarded damages.
The decision was served on the applicant on 6 January 1997.
9. On 5 March 1997 the applicant lodged a constitutional appeal.
On 26 January 2000 the Constitutional Court (Ustavno sodišče) declared the case admissible and on 7 December 2000, ruling on the merits, dismissed the appeal.
The decision was served on the applicant on 28 December 2000.
2. Proceedings against ZT and Velenje Lignite Mine (second and third sets of proceedings)
10. On 18 November 1993 the applicant was injured in an accident at work. The applicant’s employer had taken out insurance with the insurance company ZT.
On 27 December 1996 the applicant instituted civil proceedings against ZT in the Celje Local Court (Okrajno sodišče v Celju) seeking damages in the amount of 1,560,000 tolars (approximately 6,500 euros) for the injuries sustained.
11. On 1 June 1997 ZT instituted proceedings in the Celje Local Court (Okrajno sodišče v Celju) against the applicant seeking 500,000 tolars for access payment of damages in the first set of proceedings.
12. On 4 September 1997 the court decided to join the two cases.
On 15 March 1999 the applicant requested that a date be set for a hearing.
On 15 June 1999 the court held a hearing and decided that it would issue a written judgment.
The judgment, upholding the applicant’s claim in part and ZT’s claim in whole, was served on the applicant on 24 June 1999.
13. On 28 June 1999 the applicant appealed to the Celje Higher Court.
On 10 May 2000 the court dismissed the appeal.
The decision was served on the applicant on 5 June 2000.
14. On 4 July 2000 the applicant lodged an appeal on points of law with the Supreme Court.
On 5 April 2001 the court dismissed the appeal.
The decision was served on the applicant on 14 May 2001.
15. On 8 June 2001 the applicant lodged a constitutional appeal.
On 18 November 2002 the Constitutional Court declared the case admissible.
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLES 6 § 1 AND 13 OF THE CONVENTION
16. The applicant complained about the excessive length of the proceedings. He relied on Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, 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...”
17. In substance, the applicant further complained that the remedies available for excessive legal proceedings in Slovenia were ineffective. Article 13 of the Convention reads as follows:
“Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in [the] Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.”
18. The Government pleaded non-exhaustion of domestic remedies.
19. The applicant contested that argument, claiming that the remedies available were not effective.
20. The Court notes that the present application is similar to the cases of Belinger and Lukenda (Belinger v. Slovenia (dec.), no. 42320/98, 2 October 2001, and Lukenda v. Slovenia, no. 23032/02, 6 October 2005). In those cases the Court dismissed the Government’s objection of non-exhaustion of domestic remedies because it found that the legal remedies at the applicant’s disposal were ineffective.
21. As regards the instant case, the Court finds that the Government have not submitted any convincing arguments which would require the Court to distinguish it from its established case-law.
22. The Court further notes that the application is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention. Nor is it inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.
1. Article 6 § 1
23. The period to be taken into consideration with respect to the first set of the proceedings began on 28 June 1994, the day when the Convention entered into force with respect to Slovenia, and ended on 28 December 2000, the day the Constitutional Court decision was served on the applicant. It therefore lasted five years and six months for four levels of jurisdiction.
The period to be taken into consideration with respect to the second set of the proceedings began on 28 June 1994, the day when the Convention entered into force with respect to Slovenia, and ended on 18 November 2002, the day the Constitutional Court decision was served on the applicant. It therefore lasted nearly eight years and five months for four levels of jurisdiction.
24. 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).
25. Having examined all the material submitted to it, and having regard to its case-law on the subject, the Court considers that in the instant case the length of the proceedings, in particular before the first-instance court, was excessive and failed to meet the “reasonable-time” requirement.
There has accordingly been no breach of Article 6 § 1 with respect to the first set of the proceedings and a breach of Article 6 § 1 with respect to the second set of the proceedings.
2. Article 13
26. The Court reiterates that Article 13 guarantees an effective remedy before a national authority for an alleged breach of the requirement under Article 6 § 1 to hear a case within a reasonable time (see Kudła v. Poland [GC], no. 30210/96, § 156, ECHR 2000-XI). It notes that the objections and arguments put forward by the Government have been rejected in earlier cases (see Lukenda, cited above) and sees no reason to reach a different conclusion in the present case.
27. Accordingly, the Court considers that in the present case there has been a violation of Article 13 on account of the lack of a remedy under domestic law whereby the applicant could have obtained a ruling upholding his right to have his case heard within a reasonable time, as set forth in Article 6 § 1.
II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
28. 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.”
29. The applicant claimed 10,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
30. The Government contested the claim.
31. The Court considers that the applicant must have sustained non-pecuniary damage. Ruling on an equitable basis, it awards him EUR 1,200 under that head.
B. Costs and expenses
32. The applicant also claimed approximately EUR 1,610 for the costs and expenses incurred before the Court.
33. The Government argued that the claim was too high.
34. According to the Court’s case-law, an applicant is entitled to reimbursement of his costs and expenses only in so far as it has been shown that these have been actually and necessarily incurred and were reasonable as to quantum. The Court also notes that the applicant’s lawyers, who also represented the applicant in Lukenda (cited above), lodged nearly 400 applications which, apart from the facts, are essentially the same as this one. Accordingly, in the present case, regard being had to the information in its possession and the above criteria, the Court considers it reasonable to award the applicant the sum of EUR 1,000 for the proceedings before the Court.
C. Default interest
35. The Court considers it appropriate that the default interest 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 no violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention with respect to the first set of the proceedings;
3. Holds that there has been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention with respect to the second set of the proceedings;
4. Holds that there has been a violation of Article 13 of the Convention;
(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, EUR 1,200 (one thousand two hundred euros) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 1,000 (one thousand euros) in respect of costs and expenses, plus any tax that may be chargeable;
(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.
6. Dismisses the remainder of the applicant’s claim for just satisfaction.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 9 March 2006, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Vincent BERGER John HEDIGAN