(Application no. 75787/01)
6 April 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 Krznar 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 D.T. BJöRGVINSSON,
Mrs I. ZIEMELE, judges,
and Mr V. BERGER, Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 16 March 2006,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 75787/01) 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 Croatian national, Mr Milan Krznar (“the applicant”), on 27 July 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 1960 and lives in Celje.
6. On 12 February 1997 the applicant was injured in an accident at work. The applicant’s employer had taken out insurance with the insurance company ZT.
7. On 19 September 1997 the applicant instituted civil proceedings against ZT in the Celje Local Court (Okrajno sodišče v Celju) seeking damages in the amount of 1,800,000 tolars (approximately 7,500 euros) for the injuries sustained.
Between 5 February 1998 and 4 December 1999 the applicant made six requests that a date be set for a hearing.
Between 24 March 2000 and 6 June 2001 he lodged four preliminary written submissions and/or adduced evidence.
Of the three hearings held between 17 April 2000 and 4 July 2001 none was adjourned at the request of the applicant.
During the proceedings the court appointed a medical expert.
At the last hearing the court decided to deliver a written judgment. The judgment, upholding the applicant’s claim in part, was served on the applicant on 3 September 2001.
8. On 17 September 2001 the applicant appealed to the Celje Higher Court (Višje sodišče v Celju). ZT cross-appealed.
On 20 November 2002 the court allowed the applicant’s appeal in part and dismissed ZT’s appeal.
The judgment was served on the applicant on 9 December 2002.
9. On 16 December 2002 the applicant lodged an appeal on points of law with the Supreme Court (Vrhovno sodišče) and sought a recusal of one of the judges.
On 28 March 2003 the president of the court rejected the applicant’s request to recuse one judge.
On 19 February 2004 the court allowed the applicant’s appeal in part increased the damages awarded and remanded the case to the Celje Higher Court for re-examination of the judgment in the part rejecting the applicant’s claims.
The judgment was served on the applicant on 10 May 2005.
10. On 30 March 2005 the Celje Higher Court, upon re-examination, upheld the applicant’s appeal and remanded the case back to the first-instance court for a re-examination of the part rejecting the applicant’s claims.
The decision was served on the applicant on 8 May 2005.
11. On 3 June 2005 the applicant requested the first-instance court that a day be set for a hearing.
On 23 June 2005 the applicant lodged preliminary written submissions.
On 6 July 2005 the court held a hearing and decided to deliver a written judgment.
The judgment, upholding the applicant’s claim in part, was served on the applicant on 3 November 2005.
12. On 7 November 2005 the applicant appealed to the Celje Higher Court.
The proceedings are still pending.
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLES 6 § 1 AND 13 OF THE CONVENTION
13. 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...”
14. 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.”
15. The Government pleaded non-exhaustion of domestic remedies.
16. The applicant contested that argument, claiming that the remedies available were not effective.
17. 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. The Court recalls its findings in the Lukenda judgment that the violation of the right to a trial within a reasonable time is a systemic problem resulting from inadequate legislation and inefficiency in the administration of justice.
18. 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.
19. 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
20. The period to be taken into consideration began on 19 September 1997, the day the applicant instituted proceedings with the Celje Local Court, and has not yet ended. The relevant period has therefore lasted nearly eight years and six months for six instances.
21. 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).
22. 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 was excessive and failed to meet the “reasonable-time” requirement.
There has accordingly been a breach of Article 6 § 1.
2. Article 13
23. 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.
24. 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
25. 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.”
26. The applicant claimed 7,500 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
27. The Government contested the claim.
28. 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
29. The applicant also claimed approximately EUR 960 for the costs and expenses incurred before the Court.
30. The Government argued that the claim was too high.
31. 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. 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 full sum claimed.
C. Default interest
32. 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 a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention;
3. 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 960 (nine hundred and sixty 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;
5. Dismisses the remainder of the applicant’s claim for just satisfaction.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 6 April 2006, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Vincent BERGER John HEDIGAN