CASE OF BLAKE v. THE UNITED KINGDOM
(Application no. 68890/01)
26 September 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 Blake v. the United Kingdom,
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Mr J. Casadevall,
Mr M. Pellonpää,
Mr R. Maruste,
Mr S. Pavlovschi
Mr L. Garlicki,
Mr J. Borrego Borrego, judges,
Lord Brown of Eaton under Heywood, ad hoc judge,
and Mr T.L. Early, Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 5 September 2006,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on the last mentioned date:
I. British Secret Intelligence Service (“SIS”) and the autobiography
II. The High Court
A. The applicant's legal representation
B. A.G. v. Blake and Jonathan Cape (third party)  3 All ER 903
III. The Court of Appeal
A. The applicant's legal representation
B. The proceedings
C. A.G. v. Blake (Jonathan Cape Ltd third Party)  1 All ER 833
IV. The House or Lords
A. The applicant's legal representation and costs' matters
In or around late 1999/early 2000 the House of Lords agreed to waive the appeal fees and security for costs. The expenses (not including legal costs) of preparing the hearing bundles for the House of Lords amounted to GBP 2,709. His solicitor and junior counsel represented him on a pro bono basis. Two Queen's Counsel and two junior counsel represented the Crown.
B. The proceedings
C. A.G. v. Blake (Jonathan Cape Ltd, third Party)  4 All ER 385
The final basis for making an order for an account of profits was the applicant's breach of contract and, in particular, the undertaking of confidentiality signed in 1944. However, that did not confer on the Crown any proprietary interest in the debt due to the applicant from the Publisher. The Crown was entitled, on the taking of the account, to a money judgment which could then be enforced by attachment of the debt in the usual way. Given that the Publisher who held the monies wished to deduct its legal expenses in defending the third party proceedings, the appropriate form of order was a declaration that the AG was entitled to be paid a sum equal to whatever amount was due and owing to the applicant under the publishing agreement of 4 May 1989. The injunction would remain in force until the Publisher made payment to the AG.
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 § 1 OF THE CONVENTION
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal...”
The period to be taken into consideration began therefore on 24 May 1991 (when the writ was filed) and ended on 27 July 2000 (with the delivery of the judgment of the House of Lords). It thus lasted 9 years and 2 months for three levels of jurisdiction.
There was subsequently a further gap of two years and seven months between the judgment of the Court of Appeal and that of the House of Lords. It is true that the applicant applied for waiver of the appeal fees/security for costs and for the release of the Publisher's fees and took no steps towards expediting the proceedings. However, even if the applicant had been obliged to take the initiative with regard to the progress of the proceedings, that would not have absolved the State from the requirement to deal with cases in a reasonable time. The State remains responsible for the efficiency of its system (Guincho v. Portugal, judgment of 10 July 1984, Series A no. 81, § 38) and the manner in which it provides for mechanisms to comply with the reasonable time requirement – whether by automatic time-limits and directions or some other method – is for it to decide. If a State allows proceedings to continue beyond the “reasonable time” prescribed by Article 6 of the Convention without doing anything to advance them, it will be responsible for the resultant delay (see Price and Lowe v. the United Kingdom, nos. 43185/98 and 43186/98, § 23, 29 July 2003, together with further references therein).
The Court notes that by June 1998 (when the House of Lords gave leave to file the appeal) the proceedings had already lasted over 7 years. The fees/costs applications were not particularly complex, either factually or legally. However, twenty-one months passed between the applicant being allowed to file his appeal out of time and the House of Lords hearing in March 2000. The Court considers that the delay before the House of Lords derived, to a large extent, from the failure by the State to take adequate steps to advance the proceedings and, more generally, to organise its system in such a way as to meet its Convention obligations (see also Mitchell and Holloway v. the United Kingdom, no. 44808/98, § 54, 17 December 2002).
II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
“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.”
The Government contested this claim arguing that the finding of a violation would be sufficient just satisfaction. The applicant had, they considered, brought the proceedings on himself as a self-confessed traitor who wished to profit from his treachery (McCann and Others v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 27 September 1995, Series A no. 324, § 219), there was no indication of any emotional stress or anxiety caused by the delay and no evidence that the money was of any real consequence to the applicant as he lived in, and was supported by, the Russian State. Alternatively, any award would have to be very small given that there were three instances, that the applicant was responsible for periods of delay and that the proceedings were complex.
B. Costs and expenses
In the present case, the Court notes the relative simplicity of the one admissible complaint, finds that the pre-admissibility amount of GBP 750 has not been entirely substantiated and considers excessive the number of hours of work post-admissibility for which the applicant claimed. Having regard to the above-described criteria, the Court considers it reasonable to award the sum of EUR 2,000, inclusive of VAT, for all costs and expenses of the proceedings before the Court, which sum is to be converted into pounds sterling at the rate applicable on the date of settlement.
C. Default interest
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT UNANIMOUSLY
(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 5,000 (five thousand euros) in respect of non-pecuniary damage, to be converted into pounds sterling at the rate applicable on the date of settlement;
(b) 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 2,000 (two thousand euros) in respect of costs and expenses, to be converted into pounds sterling at the rate applicable on the date of settlement; and
(c) 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;
3. Dismisses the remainder of the applicant's claim for just satisfaction.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 26 September 2006, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
T.L. Early J. Casadevall