by Janos SZASZ and Others
The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section), sitting on 2 June 2009 as a Chamber composed of:
Boštjan M. Zupančič,
Ann Power, judges,
and Stanley Naismith, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 5 July 2005,
Having regard to the declaration submitted by the respondent Government on 16 June 2008 requesting the Court to strike the application out of the list of cases and the applicants’ reply to that declaration,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicants, Mr János Szász, Ms Iudita Szász and Mr János Szász, are Romanian nationals who were born in 1920, 1951 and 1957 respectively. The first and second applicants live in Valea (Romania) and the third applicant lives in Zalaegerszeg (Hungary). The third applicant has held joint Romanian and Hungarian nationality since 2008. The first applicant is the father of the other two applicants. The second applicant married in 2007 and her married name is Iudita Orban. They were represented before the Court by Mr János Szász (the third applicant). The Romanian Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr Răzvan-Horaţiu Radu. The Hungarian Government did not make use of their right to intervene (Article 36 § 1 of the Convention).
The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.
In 1929 the first applicant’s parents, together with F., bought a five-room house situated on a 7,172 sq.m plot of land in Romania. They voluntarily divided the house into two apartments, which partition was neither formally registered in the land register nor in any other official document. F. and the first applicant’s parents each acquired an apartment. In 1990, by a private agreement, the first applicant and his wife bought the other apartment from certain of F.’s successors. Three heirs, A.M., B.M. and K.L. did not agree to transfer their portion.
The first applicant and his wife entered into possession of the two apartments.
On 4 April 1991 the first applicant brought an action against F.’s successors as well as certain of their own relatives, seeking, inter alia, a judicial division of their inheritance, severance of the joint tenancy, formal registration of the partition of the house into two apartments in accordance with the de facto situation and allocation of the whole property to themselves. The first applicant’s wife joined the proceedings.
On 27 October 1992 the Târgu Mureş Court of First Instance allowed the claims in part, severing the joint tenancy and allocating the whole house with the appurtenant land to the first applicant and his wife, ordering them to compensate A.M. and B.M.
On 31 March 1993 the Mureş County Court, in a final decision, dismissed an appeal by B.M.
Following the modification of the Code of Civil Procedure in 1993, B.M. now joined by K.L. lodged a further appeal.
On 23 February 1994 the Târgu Mureş Court of Appeal, in a final decision, allowed the appeal, quashed the previous judgments and sent the case back for fresh examination. It found that K.L. had not been properly summoned, and that the courts had neither applied the law correctly nor clarified the legal status of the land appurtenant to the house.
After re-examination, on 5 March 1996, the Târgu Mureş Court of First Instance allowed the action in part, certified that the first applicant was the owner of one half of the property and the co-owner, together with his wife, of the majority of the other half. However, as K.L. and B.M. continued to own a portion of it, the court gave an interlocutory decision to sever the joint tenancy and ordered an expert report to value the land and the property, and to establish the assets and the notional share of each of the heirs of F.
Two expert reports were produced, and on 18 December 1998 the same court severed the joint tenancy and allocated shares in the property, giving the first applicant, and his wife, the house and 6,107.41 sq. m of the land appurtenant to it, but allocating the remaining land to A.M., K.L. and B.M.
The first applicant and his wife appealed. Following the death of the wife of the first applicant, the son and daughter joined their father as applicants in the proceedings. They contested the decision of 18 December 1998 allocating a portion of the land as payment in kind to the third parties and considered that the judgment of 31 March 1993 had acquired the status of res judicata.
On 23 December 2002 the Mureş County Court dismissed their appeal, considering that the remedy used by the third parties against the judgment of 31 March 1993 was in accordance with the legislative modifications.
On 5 October 2004 that judgment became final.
The applicants complained under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the length of the proceedings.
Relying on the same Article, they complained that the proceedings had been unfair and that the domestic courts had failed to assess the facts correctly.
Lastly, the applicants complained under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 that they had been deprived of their land.
A. Length of proceedings
The applicants’ first complaint relates to the length of the proceedings.
By letter dated 16 June 2008 the Government informed the Court that they proposed to make a unilateral declaration with a view to resolving the issue raised by this part of the application. They further requested the Court to strike out the application in accordance with Article 37 of the Convention.
The declaration provided as follows:
“Le Gouvernement déclare – au moyen de la présente déclaration unilatérale – qu’il reconnaît la durée excessive de la procédure interne engagée par la partie requérante.
Le Gouvernement déclare être prêt à verser à la partie requérante au titre de satisfaction équitable la somme globale de 3 600 EUR, montant qu’il considère comme raisonnable au vu de la jurisprudence de la Cour. Cette somme qui couvrira tout préjudice matériel et moral ainsi que les frais et dépens, ne sera soumise à aucun impôt. Elle sera versée en lei roumains au taux applicable à la date du paiement sur le compte bancaire indiqué par la partie requérante, dans les trois mois suivant la date de la notification de la décision de la Cour rendue conformément à l’article 37 § 1 de la Convention européenne des droits de l’Homme. A défaut de règlement dans ledit délai, le Gouvernement s’engage à verser, à compter de l’expiration de celui-ci et jusqu’au règlement effectif de la somme en question, un intérêt simple à un taux égal à celui de la facilité de prêt marginal de la Banque centrale européenne, augmenté de trois points de pourcentage.
Le Gouvernement invite respectueusement la Cour à dire que la poursuite de l’examen de la requête n’est plus justifiée et à la rayer du rôle en vertu de l’article 37 § 1 c) de la Convention.”
The Court reiterates that Article 37 of the Convention provides that it may at any stage of the proceedings decide to strike an application out of its list of cases where the circumstances lead to one of the conclusions specified under (a), (b) or (c) of paragraph 1 of that Article. Article 37 § 1 (c) enables the Court to strike a case out of its list in particular if:
“for any other reason established by the Court, it is no longer justified to continue the examination of the application”.
It also reiterates that in certain circumstances it may strike out an application under Article 37 § 1(c) on the basis of a unilateral declaration by a respondent Government even if the applicant wishes the examination of the case to be continued.
To this end, the Court will carefully examine the declaration in the light of the principles emerging from its case-law, in particular Tahsin Acar v. Turkey [GC], no. 26307/95, §§ 75-77, ECHR 2003-VI; Meriakri v. Moldova (striking out), no. 53487/99, 1 March 2005; WAZA Spółka z o.o. v. Poland (dec.) no. 11602/02, 26 June 2007; and Lazar v. Romania (dec.), no. 30159/03, 25 November 2008.
The Court has established in a number of cases, including those brought against Romania, its practice concerning complaints alleging a violation of the right to a hearing within a reasonable time (see, for example, Frydlender v. France [GC], no. 30979/96, § 43, ECHR 2000-VII; Cocchiarella v. Italy [GC], no. 64886/01, §§ 69-98, ECHR 2006 ....; Cârstea and Grecu v. Romania, no. 56326/00, 15 June 2006; and Craiu v. Romania, no. 26662/02, 7 October 2008).
Having regard to the nature of the admissions contained in the Government’s declaration, as well as the amount of compensation proposed, the Court considers that it is no longer justified in continuing the examination of the application (Article 37 § 1(c)).
Moreover, in the light of the above considerations, and in particular given the clear and extensive case-law on the topic, the Court is satisfied that respect for human rights as defined in the Convention and the Protocols thereto does not require it to continue the examination of this part of the application (Article 37 § 1 in fine).
Accordingly, it should be struck out of the list.
B. Remaining complaints
The applicants further complained that there had been an unfair trial, wrongful assessment of evidence and a violation of their property rights.
The Court has examined the remainder of the complaints as submitted by the applicants. However, having regard to all the material in its possession, and in so far as the matters complained of are within its competence, the Court finds that they do not disclose any appearance of a violation of the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention or its Protocols. It follows that this part of the application must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Takes note of the terms of the respondent Government’s declaration in respect of the complaint under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention (length of proceedings) and of the modalities for ensuring compliance with the undertakings referred to therein;
Decides to strike the application out of its list of cases in so far as it relates to the above complaint in accordance with Article 37 § 1 (c) of the Convention;
Declares the remainder of the application inadmissible.
Stanley Naismith Josep Casadevall
Deputy Registrar President