(Application no. 27946/02)
27 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 Antolič v. Slovenia,
The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Mr J. HEDIGAN, President,
Mr B.M. ZUPANčIč,
Mr L. CAFLISCH,
Mr V. ZAGREBELSKY,
Mr E. MYJER,
Mr DAVID THóR BJöRGVINSSON,
Mrs I. ZIEMELE, judges,
and Mr V. BERGER, Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 6 April 2006,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 27946/02) 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, Ms Martina Antolič (“the applicant”), on 23 July 2002.
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 she was a party was excessive. In substance, she 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 7 September 2004 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 1961 and lives in Grobelno.
6. On 2 February 1996 the applicant was injured in a car accident. The perpetrator had insured his liability with the insurance company ZT.
7. On 7 April 1997 the applicant instituted civil proceedings with the Celje District Court (Okrožno sodišče v Celju) against ZT seeking damages in the amount of 2,623,290 SIT (approximately 10,950 euros) for the injuries sustained in the car accident.
Between 11 June 1997 and 26 June 2002 the applicant filed seven preliminary written submissions and/or adduced evidence.
On 1 September and 12 October 1997 the applicant requested that a date be set for a hearing.
Of the four hearings held between 22 January 1999 and 8 July 2002 none was adjourned at the request of the applicant.
On 1 February 1999 the Court appointed a medical expert. The court received the expert’s opinion on 30 March 1999. The court also sought an additional opinion from the appointed expert on 22 June 2000.
Between 13 April 1999 and 19 November 1999 the court urged the applicant three times to pay the advance money for the expert’s fees. On 27 December 1999 the applicant submitted evidence that she had paid the advance.
On 14 December 2000 the court appointed an expert, a clinical psychologist.
At the last hearing the court decided to issue a written judgment. The judgment, upholding in part the applicant’s claim, was served on the applicant on 22 October 2002.
8. On 5 November 2002 the applicant appealed to the Celje Higher Court (Višje sodišče v Celju) and requested that the first-instance court issue a supplementary judgment addressing the issues the court failed to address in the first judgment. ZT cross-appealed.
On 6 March 2003 the first-instance court issued a supplementary judgment. The judgment was served on the applicant on 12 March 2003.
On 25 March 2003 the applicant appealed against the supplementary judgment.
On 1 July 2004 the Celje Higher Court allowed the applicant’s and ZT’s appeals.
The judgment was served on the applicant on 15 September 2004.
9. On 8 October 2004 the applicant lodged an appeal on points of law with the Supreme Court (Vrhovno sodišče).
The proceedings are still pending.
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLES 6 § 1 AND 13 OF THE CONVENTION
10. The applicant complained about the excessive length of the proceedings. She 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...”
11. 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.”
12. The Government pleaded non-exhaustion of domestic remedies.
13. The applicant contested that argument, claiming that the remedies available were not effective.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. 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
17. The period to be taken into consideration began on 7 April 1997, the day the applicant instituted proceedings with the Celje District Court, and has not yet ended. The relevant period has therefore lasted nine years for three levels of jurisdiction.
18. 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).
19. Having examined all the material submitted to it, and having regard to its case-law on the subject, the Court considers that the period between 13 April 1999, the day the first-instance court urged the applicant to pay the advance money for the expert’s fees for the first time, and 27 December 1999, the day the applicant submitted evidence that she had paid the advance, cannot be attributable to the domestic courts. This period of approximately seven months is therefore imputable to the applicant.
Nonetheless, the Court considers that in the instant case the overall 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
20. 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.
21. 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 her right to have her case heard within a reasonable time, as set forth in Article 6 § 1.
II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
22. 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.”
23. The applicant claimed 10,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
24. The Government contested the claim.
25. The Court considers that the applicant must have sustained non-pecuniary damage. Ruling on an equitable basis, it awards her EUR 3,200 under that head.
B. Costs and expenses
26. The applicant also claimed approximately EUR 1,290 for the costs and expenses incurred before the Court.
27. The Government argued that the claim was too high.
28. 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
29. 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 3,200 (three 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;
5. Dismisses the remainder of the applicant’s claim for just satisfaction.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 27 April 2006, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Vincent BERGER John HEDIGAN