(Application no. 42246/02)
6 July 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 Sehur 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 15 June 2006,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 42246/02) 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 six Slovenian nationals, Ms Terezija Sehur, Ms Mateja Sehur, Ms Metka Sehur, Ms Katja Sehur, Mr Jure Sehur and Ms Julijana Sehur (“the applicants”) on 29 November 2002.
2. The applicants was represented by the Verstovšek lawyers. The Slovenian Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr L. Bembič, State Attorney-General.
3. The applicants alleged under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention that the length of the proceedings before the domestic courts to which they were a party was excessive. In substance, they 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 15 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 applicants were born in 1968, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1994 and 1932 respectively and live in Celje, except the last applicant who lives in Šentvid pri Planini.
6. The applicants are the wife, the children and the mother of J.S. who died in an accident at work on 22 July 1997. The applicant’s employer had taken out insurance with the insurance company ZT.
7. On 7 July 1998 the applicants instituted civil proceedings against ZT in the Celje District Court (Okrožno sodišče v Celju) seeking damages in the amount of 13,093,982 tolars (approximately 54,550 euros).
Between 17 July 1998 and 17 October 2002 the applicants lodged ten preliminary written submissions and/or adduced evidence.
Between 4 March 1999 and 3 October 2001 they made four requests that a date be set for a hearing.
Of the six hearings held between 5 June 2001 and 12 November 2002 none was adjourned at the request of the applicant.
During the proceedings the court appointed an expert in electrical engineering. 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 21 January 2003.
8. On 22 January 2003 the applicant appealed to the Celje Higher Court (Višje sodišče v Celju). The applicants also requested the first-instance court to issue a supplement judgment because it had not yet rendered a ruling on all counts of the applicants’ claim. ZT cross-appealed.
On 3 September 2004 the first-instance court issued a supplementary judgment. The judgment was served on the applicants on 15 September 2004.
9. On 17 September 2004 the applicants appealed to the Celje Higher Court. ZT cross-appealed.
On 16 March 2006 the court allowed all the appeals in part.
The judgment was served on the applicant on 13 April 2006.
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLES 6 § 1 AND 13 OF THE CONVENTION
10. The applicants complained about the excessive length of the proceedings. They 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 applicants 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 applicants 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 July 1998, the day the applicants instituted proceedings with the Celje District Court, and ended on 13 April 2006, the day the decision of the Celje Higher Court was served on teh applicants. The relevant period has therefore lasted over seven years and nine months for two 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 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
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 applicants 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
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. Each of the applicants claimed 10,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
24. The Government contested the claim.
25. The Court considers that the applicants must have sustained non-pecuniary damage. Ruling on an equitable basis, it awards each of the applicants EUR 4,800 under that head.
B. Costs and expenses
26. The applicant also claimed approximately EUR 2,830 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
1. Declares unanimously the application admissible;
2. Holds unanimously that there has been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention;
3. Holds unanimously that there has been a violation of Article 13 of the Convention;
4. Holds by six votes to one
(a) that the respondent State is to pay, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention
i. each of the applicants EUR 4,800 (four thousand eight hundred euros) in respect of non-pecuniary damage,
ii. the applicants jointly EUR 1,000 (one thousand euros) in respect of costs and expenses,
iii. 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 unanimously the remainder of the applicant’s claim for just satisfaction.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 6 July 2006, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Vincent BERGER John HEDIGAN