(Application no. 69129/01)
10 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 Białas 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 Mr T.L. Early, Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 19 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, read 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 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 inability to establish 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 a [statutory] exception to prosecution or disciplinary action.”
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
“The elimination of Article 418 of the Civil Code from the legal system ... means that the State Treasury’s liability for the actions 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 principles of State liability laid down in specific statutes and not necessarily only those listed in the Civil Code.”
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 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.”
D. Article 394 of the Code of Civil Procedure
27. Article 394 of the Code of Civil Procedure of 1964 provides, in so far as relevant:
“An appeal to a second-instance court is available for decisions issued by a first-instance court and terminating the proceedings in the case (...)”.
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...”
a. The parties’ submissions
b. The Court’s assessment
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT UNANIMOUSLY
Done in English, and notified in writing on 10 October 2006, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
T.L. Early Nicolas Bratza