by Bas VAN HOUT
against the Netherlands
The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section), sitting on 30 June 2009 as a Chamber composed of:
Boštjan M. Zupančič,
Luis López Guerra, judges,
and Santiago Quesada, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 11 May 2007,
Having regard to the formal declarations accepting a friendly settlement of the case,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicant, Mr Bas van Hout, is a Dutch national who was born in 1959 and lives in Zandvoort. He is represented before the Court by Mr R.V. de Lauwere, a lawyer practising in Hilversum.
The facts of the case, as submitted by the applicant, may be summarised as follows.
On 5 and 6 September 1996 the applicant, who is a journalist by profession, summoned six parties to appear before the civil division of the Regional Court (arrondissementsrechtbank) of The Hague on 14 January 1997. The applicant claimed to have incurred damages on account of publications by the other parties – who are respectively writers, co-writers and publishers –, which publications he alleged to be of a defamatory character against his person. In the course of the proceedings before the Regional Court, the applicant settled the dispute with three of the six summoned parties.
On 17 February 1999, the Regional Court rendered judgment and ordered the three remaining parties to remove the publication which contained the defamatory statements from the market within one month after delivery of the judgment, on penalty of a fine.
Subsequently, a new dispute arose between the applicant and one of the three remaining opposing parties – publisher E. – subjected to the Regional Court’s order. The applicant and E. could not agree whether or not the latter had fulfilled its obligation to remove the publication in accordance with the said judgment. Therefore, E. summoned the applicant – in agreement with the applicant – before the Regional Court of The Hague, seeking a declaratory judgment as regards the fulfilment of that same Court’s order of 17 February 1999.
The Regional Court delivered its judgment on 30 May 2001 finding in favour of the applicant.
On 23 July 2001 E. appealed against the decision and accordingly served on the applicant a summons to appear before the Court of Appeal (gerechtshof) of The Hague on 9 August 2001.
The Court of Appeal rendered interlocutory judgments (tussenarresten) on 23 December 2003 and 27 April 2006.
On 20 February 2007 the Court of Appeal informed the applicant’s lawyer that it would deliver its final judgment on 28 April 2008. On that same day, the applicant’s lawyer sent a letter to the Court of Appeal in which he objected to the date set and requested the Court of Appeal to render judgment within six weeks.
The Court of Appeal issued its judgment on 1 March 2007, finding against the applicant. The applicant’s representative set out in the application form that this earlier-than-scheduled judgment had come about as a result of his letter of 20 February 2007 and of his having started interim proceedings (kort geding) against the State of the Netherlands in order to force a judgment in a different case pending before the same Court of Appeal, sitting in the same composition of judges.
The applicant did not lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court (Hoge Raad), believing that such a step would stand no chance of success since the matter was too intertwined with the factual circumstances and did not raise questions on points of law.
The applicant complained under Article 6 § 1 and Article 13 of the Convention about the length of the proceedings and lack of an effective remedy under Dutch civil law.
On 1 October 2008 the Court received the following declaration from the Government:
“I, Roeland Böcker, Agent for the Government of the Netherlands, declare that the Government of the Netherlands offer to pay 6,000 euros to Mr Bas van Hout with a view to securing a friendly settlement of the above-mentioned case pending before the European Court of Human Rights.
This sum, which is to cover any pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage, will be free of any taxes that may be applicable and 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 on Human Rights. In the event of failure to pay this sum within the said three-month period, the Government undertake to pay simple interest on it, from 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 payment will constitute the final resolution of the case.”
On 6 October 2008 the Court received the following declaration signed by the applicant’s representative:
“I, Robert de Lauwere, lawyer, note that the Government of the Netherlands are prepared to pay the sum of 6,000 euros to Mr Bas van Hout with a view to securing a friendly settlement of the above-mentioned case pending before the European Court of Human Rights.
This sum, which is to cover any pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage, will be free of any taxes that may be applicable and 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 on Human Rights. From the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amount at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points.
I accept the proposal and waive any further claims against the Netherlands in respect of the facts giving rise to this application. I declare that this constitutes a final resolution of the case.”
The Court takes note of the friendly settlement reached between the parties. It is satisfied that the settlement is based on respect for human rights as defined in the Convention and its Protocols and finds no public policy reasons to justify a continued examination of the application (Article 37 § 1 in fine of the Convention). In view of the above, it is appropriate to strike the case out of the list.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Decides to strike the application out of its list of cases.
Santiago Quesada Josep Casadevall