(Application no. 77519/01)
1 June 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 Bendič 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 11 May 2006,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 77519/01) 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 national of Serbia and Montenegro, Mr Vukašin Bendič (“the applicant”), on 20 June 2001.
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 16 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. In accordance with Article 36 § 1 of the Convention and Rule 44 of the Rules of Court, the Registrar informed the Government of Serbia and Montenegro of their right to submit written comments. On 14 February 2006 the Government of Serbia and Montenegro informed the Court that they did not wish to exercise their right to intervene in the instant case.
6. The applicant was born in 1954 and lives in Velenje.
7. On 22 March 1994 and 11 February 1995 the applicant was injured while working for the Slovenian employer GVV in Russia. He consequently instituted two sets of civil proceedings in the Celje District Court (Okrožno sodišče v Celju) seeking damages for the injuries sustained. In both proceedings an insurance company ZT was acting as an intervening party.
First set of proceedings
8. On 21 January 1997 the applicant instituted civil proceedings against GVV seeking damages in the amount of 2,050,000 tolars (approximately 8,550 euros) for the injuries sustained on 22 March 1994.
Between 23 July 1998 and 26 February 2001 the applicant lodged eight written submissions and/or adduced evidence.
Between 24 November 1997 and 3 November 1999 he made three requests that a date be set for a hearing.
Of the ten hearings held between 23 April 1998 and 27 February 2001, one was adjourned due to the absence of both parties and one was adjourned due to the absence 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 19 April 2001.
9. On 26 April 2001 the applicant appealed to the Celje Higher Court (Višje sodišče v Celju). GVV cross-appealed.
On 10 October 2002 the court dismissed both appeals.
The judgment was served on the applicant on 28 October 2002.
10. On 15 November 2002 the applicant lodged an appeal on points of law with the Supreme Court (Vrhovno sodišče).
On 19 February 2004 the court dismissed the applicant’s appeal.
The judgment was served on the applicant on 22 March 2004.
Second set of proceedings
11. On 9 June 1997 the applicant instituted civil proceedings against GVV seeking damages in the amount of 2,056,616 tolars (approximately 8,570 euros) for the injuries sustained on 11 February 1995.
Between 12 March 1998 and 25 September 2001 the applicant lodged nine preliminary written submissions and/or adduced evidence.
Between 12 November 1997 and 12 November 1999 he made five requests that a date be set for a hearing.
Of the five hearings held between 11 January 2000 and 23 October 2001 none was adjourned at the request of the applicant.
During the proceedings the court appointed a medical expert. The court also sought an additional opinion from the appointed 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 14 January 2002.
12. On 15 January 2002 the applicant appealed to the Celje Higher Court.
On 12 March 2003 the court allowed the applicant’s appeal in part and increased the damages awarded.
The judgment was served on the applicant on 5 June 2003.
13. On 12 June 2003 the applicant lodged an appeal on points of law with the Supreme Court (Vrhovno sodišče).
On 9 December 2004 the court dismissed the applicant’s appeal.
The judgment was served on the applicant on 13 January 2005.
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLES 6 § 1 AND 13 OF THE CONVENTION
14. 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...”
15. 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.”
16. The Government pleaded non-exhaustion of domestic remedies.
17. The applicant contested that argument, claiming that the remedies available were not effective.
18. 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.
19. 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.
20. 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
21. As regards the first set of the proceedings, the period to be taken into consideration began on 21 January 1997, the day the applicant lodged his first claim with the Celje District Court, and ended on 22 March 2004, when the Supreme Court’s judgment was served on the applicant. It thus lasted for about seven years and two months for three levels of jurisdiction.
As to the second set of the proceedings, the relevant period began on 9 June 1997, when the applicant lodged his second claim with the Celje District Court, and ended on 13 January 2005, when the Supreme Court’s judgment was served on the applicant. The relevant period has therefore in this case lasted about seven years and seven months for three levels of jurisdiction.
22. 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).
23. 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 both sets 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
24. 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.
25. 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.
The Government contested that argument.
II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
26. 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.”
27. The applicant claimed 7,500 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
28. The Government contested the claim.
29. The Court considers that the applicant must have sustained non-pecuniary damage. Ruling on an equitable basis, it awards him EUR 3,200 under that head.
B. Costs and expenses
30. The applicant also claimed approximately EUR 1,570 for the costs and expenses incurred before the Court.
31. The Government argued that the claim was too high.
32. 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
33. 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 1 June 2006, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Vincent BERGER John HEDIGAN