by Katarzyna KOZŁOWSKA
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 30 June 2009 as a Chamber composed of:
David Thór Björgvinsson,
Mihai Poalelungi, judges,
and Lawrence Early, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 20 August 2007,
Having regard to the declaration submitted by the respondent Government on 19 May 2009 requesting the Court to strike the application out of the list of cases and the applicant’s reply to that declaration,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicant, Ms Katarzyna Kozłowska, is a Polish national who was born in 1975 and lives in Kraków. She was represented before the Court by her father Mr J. Kot. The Polish Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr J. Wołąsiewicz of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A. The circumstances of the case
The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.
1. Civil proceedings for payment of compensation
On 29 August 2001 the applicant and her father lodged a claim against a certain car company with the Kraków Regional Court (Sąd Okręgowy). They sought payment of compensation for a car which they had bought and which had allegedly been damaged.
The first hearing in the case was scheduled for 11 December 2001. Further hearings were held before the Kraków Regional Court on 10 January 2001, 28 March, 4 July and 19 November 2002, 18 November 2003, 20 January and 6 April 2004, 11 January, 31 March and 9 May 2005. The Regional Court ordered several expert witnesses’ reports.
On 18 July 2006 the Kraków Regional Court gave judgment and dismissed the claim. Relying on expert reports the court found that the defects referred to by the applicant were either non-existent or arose from the use of the vehicle.
On 6 November 2006 the applicant and her father lodged an appeal against the first instance judgment.
On 20 February 2007 the Kraków Court of Appeal (Sąd Apelacyjny) dismissed the appeal.
2. Proceedings concerning the applicant’s complaints under the 2004 Act.
On 20 June 2006 the applicant lodged a complaint with the Kraków Court of Appeal under section 5 of the Law of 17 June 2004 on complaints about a breach of the right to a trial within a reasonable time (Ustawa o skardze na naruszenie prawa strony do rozpoznania sprawy w postępowaniu sądowym bez nieuzasadnionej zwłoki) (“the 2004 Act”). She sought a ruling declaring that the length of the proceedings before the Kraków Regional Court had been excessive and an award of just satisfaction of 10,000 Polish Zlotys (PLN). She also requested that the Court of Appeal order the Regional Court to schedule a hearing within twenty-one days from the date of the Court of Appeal’s decision.
On 4 August 2005 the Kraków Court of Appeal gave a decision and acknowledged the excessive length of the proceedings finding inactivity on the part of the Kraków Regional Court between 1 August 2004 and 9 May 2005. At the same time, however, the Court of Appeal refused to grant the applicant any just satisfaction, holding that “although the excessive length is a fact, its reasons could not only be attributable to the Regional Court but also to the plaintiffs who question all the evidence heard in the proceedings”. As regards the applicant’s request for a hearing to be scheduled, the Court of Appeal found no reason to do so, because at the relevant time the Regional Court had ordered an additional expert report to be obtained.
The Court of Appeal also found, referring to a resolution of the Supreme Court, that it could only deal with the excessive length of proceedings that had been pending on the date of the entry into force of the 2004 Act.
B. Relevant domestic law and practice
The relevant domestic law and practice concerning remedies for the excessive length of judicial proceedings are stated in the Court’s decisions in the cases of Charzyński v. Poland no. 15212/03 (dec.), §§ 12-23, ECHR 2005-V and Ratajczyk v. Poland no. 11215/02 (dec.), ECHR 2005-VIII and the judgment in the case of Krasuski v. Poland, no. 61444/00, §§ 34-46, ECHR 2005-V.
The applicant complained under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the unreasonable length of the proceedings.
She also complained under Article 6 § 1 about the outcome of the relevant proceedings and under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 that she had been practically deprived of her property, because throughout the proceedings she could not sell or use her car.
A. Length of proceedings
The applicant complained about the length of the proceedings. She relied on Article 6 § 1 of the Convention which, in so far as relevant, provides as follows:
Article 6 § 1
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal...”
By letter dated 5 May 2009 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:
“...the Government hereby wish to express – by way of a unilateral declaration their acknowledgement of the unreasonable duration of the domestic proceedings in which the applicant was involved. The Government admit that the applicant can claim to be a victim of a violation of her right to have her case examined within the “reasonable time” in the meaning of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
Consequently, the Government declare that they offer to pay to the applicant the amount of PLN 13,000 which they consider to be reasonable in the light of the Court’s case-law.
The sum referred to above, which is to cover any pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage, as well as costs and expenses, will be free from any taxes that may be applicable. It will be payable within three months from the date of notification of the decision taken by the Court pursuant to Article 37 § 1 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights. In the event of failure to pay this sum within the three-month period, the Government undertake to pay simple interest on it, from the expiry of that period until settlement, at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points.
The Government would respectfully suggest that the above declaration be accepted by the Court as ‘any other reason’ justifying the striking out of the case of the Court’s list of cases, as referred to in Article 37 § 1 (c) of the Convention.
(...) as transpires from the Government’s unilateral declaration, the Government accepted paying to the applicant as just satisfaction the amount of PLN 13,000 in the event of the Court’s striking the case out of its list. ...”
In a letter of 9 June 2009 the applicant expressed the view that the sum mentioned in the Government’s declaration was unacceptably low. She requested the Court not to strike the application out of the list and to continue its examination on the merits.
The Court recalls 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 in particular to strike a case out of its list if:
“for any other reason established by the Court, it is no longer justified to continue the examination of the application”.
It also recalls that in certain circumstances, it may strike out an application or part thereof 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 examine carefully the declaration in the light of the principles emerging from its case-law, in particular the Tahsin Acar judgment (Tahsin Acar v. Turkey, [GC], no. 26307/95, §§ 75-77, ECHR 2003-VI); WAZA Spółka z o.o. v. Poland (dec.) no. 11602/02, 26 June 2007; and Sulwińska v. Poland (dec.) no. 28953/03).
The Court has established in a number of cases, including those brought against Poland, its practice concerning complaints about the violation of one’s 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 ....; Majewski v. Poland, no. 52690/99, 11 October 2005; and Wende and Kukówka v. Poland, no. 56026/00, 10 May 2007).
Having regard to the nature of the admissions contained in the Government’s declaration, as well as the amount of compensation proposed – which is consistent with the amounts awarded in similar cases – the Court considers that it is no longer justified to continue the examination of this part of the application (Article 37 § 1(c).
Moreover, in 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. Complaints under Article 6 § 1 on account of alleged unfairness of the proceedings and under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1
Relying on Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, the applicant further complained about the outcome of the civil proceedings in which she had been involved. She also complained under Article 1 of Protocol No.1 that she had in effect been deprived of her property, because throughout the proceedings she could not sell or use her car.
The Court has examined the remainder of the complaints as submitted by the applicant. 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 there is nothing in the case-file which would disclose a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention. As regards the complaint under Article 6 § 1, it is clearly of a fourth-instance nature. It follows that this part of the application is manifestly ill-founded and 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 (as regards the 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.
Lawrence Early Nicolas Bratza