(Application no. 3501/02)
3 October 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 Rybczyńscy v. Poland,
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Sir Nicolas Bratza,
Mr J. Casadevall,
Mr G. Bonello,
Mr K. Traja,
Mr S. Pavlovschi,
Mr L. Garlicki,
Ms L. Mijović, judges,
and Mrs F. Elens-Passos, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 12 September 2006,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW AND PRACTICE
A. State’s liability for a tort committed by its official
1. Provisions applicable before 1 September 2004
In the version applicable until 1 September 2004, Article 417 § 1, which lays down a general rule, reads as follows:
“1. The State Treasury shall be liable for damage caused by a State official in the course of carrying out the duties entrusted to him.”
“1. If, in consequence of the issue of a decision or order, a State official has caused damage, the State Treasury shall be liable only if a breach of the law has been involved in the issue of the decision or order and if that breach is the subject of a prosecution under the criminal law or of a disciplinary investigation, and the guilt of the person who caused the damage in question has been established by a final conviction or has been admitted by the superior of that person.
2. The absence of the establishment of guilt by way of a criminal conviction or in a decision given in disciplinary proceedings shall not exclude the State Treasury’s liability for damage if such proceedings cannot be instituted in view of the [statutory] exception to prosecution or disciplinary actions.”
2. Provisions applicable as from 1 September 2004
Following the 2004 Amendment, Article 4171, in so far as relevant, reads as follows:
“3. If damage has been caused by failure to give a ruling (orzeczenie) or decision (decyzja) where there is a statutory duty to give them, reparation for [the damage] may be sought after it has been established in the relevant proceedings that the failure to give a ruling or decision was contrary to the law, unless otherwise provided for by other specific provisions.”
B. Constitutional Court’s judgment of 4 December 2001
On the same day the Constitutional Court gave judgment (no. SK 18/00) and held that Article 417 of the Civil Code was compatible with Article 77 § 1 of the Constitution in so far as it provided that the State Treasury was liable for damage caused by the unlawful action of a State official carried out in the course of performing his duties. It further held that even though Article 418 of the Civil Code was compatible with Article 64 of the Constitution, it was contrary to Article 77 § 1 since it linked the award of compensation for such damage with the personal culpability of the State official concerned, established in criminal or disciplinary proceedings.
“The elimination of Article 418 of the Civil Code from the legal system ... means that the State Treasury’s liability for an action of a public authority consisting in the issue of unlawful decisions or orders will flow from the general principles of the State liability laid down in Article 417 of the Civil Code. This, however, does not rule out the application in the present legal system of other, not necessarily only those listed in the Civil Code, principles of the State liability laid down in specific statutes.”
C. The Law of 17 June 2004
A party to pending proceedings may ask for the acceleration of those proceedings and/or just satisfaction for their unreasonable length under Article 2 read in conjunction with Article 5(1) of the 2004 Act.
Article 2, in so far as relevant, reads as follows:
“1. Parties to proceedings may lodge a complaint that their right to a trial within a reasonable time has been breached [in the proceedings] if the proceedings in the case last longer than is necessary to examine the factual and legal circumstances of the case ... or longer than is necessary to conclude enforcement proceedings or other proceedings concerning the execution of a court decision (unreasonable length of proceedings).”
Article 5 provides, in so far as relevant:
“1. A complaint about the unreasonable length of proceedings shall be lodged while the proceedings are pending. ...”
“A party which has not lodged a complaint about the unreasonable length of the proceedings under Article 5 (1) may claim – under Article 417 of the Civil Code ... – compensation for the damage which resulted from the unreasonable length of the proceedings after the proceedings concerning the merits of the case have ended.”
“1. A claim for compensation for damage caused by a tort shall lapse 3 years following the date on which the claimant learned of the damage and the persons liable for it. However, the claim shall in any case lapse 10 years following the date on which the event causing the damage had occurred.”
“1. Within six months after the date of entry into force of this law persons who, before that date, had lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights ... complaining of a breach of the right to a trial within a reasonable time guaranteed by Article 6 (1) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ..., may lodge a complaint about the unreasonable length of the proceedings on the basis of the provisions of this law if their complaint to the Court had been lodged in the course of the impugned proceedings and if the Court has not adopted a decision concerning the admissibility of their case.
2. A complaint lodged under subsection 1 shall indicate the date on which the application was lodged with the Court.
3. The relevant court shall immediately inform the Minister of Foreign Affairs of any complaints lodged under subsection 1.”
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 § 1 OF THE CONVENTION
32. The applicant complained about the unfairness of the proceedings and alleged that the length of the proceedings had been incompatible with the “reasonable time” requirement. He invoked Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which reads as follows:
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a fair ... hearing within a reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal...”
1. Complaint under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the unfairness of the proceedings
2. Complaint under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the unreasonable length of the proceedings
47. The Court notes that this complaint is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention. It further notes that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.
1. The parties’ submissions
54. As to the complexity of the case, the Court notes that the applicants sought compensation for damage caused to their flat. The fact that the court had to obtain expert evidence in order to estimate the amount of damage could not of itself render the case complex.
There has accordingly been a breach of Article 6 § 1.
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.”
60. The Court does not discern any causal link between the violation found and the pecuniary damage alleged; it therefore rejects this claim. On the other hand, it awards the applicants 2,400 EUR (two thousand four hundred euros) in respect of non-pecuniary damage to be converted into Polish zlotys at the rate applicable at the date of settlement.
B. Costs and expenses
C. Default interest
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT UNANIMOUSLY
(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicants, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, EUR 2,400 (two thousand four hundred euros) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 363 (three hundred and sixty-three euros) in respect of costs and expenses, to be converted into Polish zlotys at the rate applicable at the date of settlement, together with any tax that may be payable;
(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;
Done in English, and notified in writing on 3 October 2006, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Françoise Elens-Passos Nicolas Bratza
Deputy Registrar President