by Oana Maria and Viorel ISTRATE
The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section), sitting on 7 July 2009, as a Chamber composed of:
Boštjan M. Zupančič,
Luis López Guerra,
Ann Power, judges,
and Santiago Quesada, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 28 February 2005,
Having regard to the declaration submitted by the respondent Government on 3 February 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 applicants were born in 1956 and 1987, respectively and live in Vaslui. The first applicant is the daughter of the second applicant.
The Romanian Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr Răzvan Horaţiu Radu, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.
On 3 March 1996, the first applicant was the victim of a traffic accident. Only 9 years old at that time, she was in one of the cars involved in the accident. Criminal proceedings were instituted against the drivers of the cars involved in the accident.
The crash of the cars caused the death of three persons and severe physical injuries to other five persons. The first applicant lost her spleen due to the accident. Therefore, the second applicant joined, on behalf of his minor daughter a civil complaint to the criminal proceedings for material and moral damages. He also joined a civil complaint on his own behalf, since the car in which was his daughter belonged to him and was almost destroyed in the crash.
On 6 April 1999, the Prosecutor’s Office attached to Vaslui District Court decided to end the criminal investigation on the ground that it could not establish the criminal liability of any of the drivers. One of the accident’s victims challenged the decision before the chief prosecutor on 28 May 1999. A similar complaint, submitted by another victim, was rejected on 20 May 2002.
By a decision of 10 February 2003, the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Iaşi Court of Appeal allowed another complaint against the decision to end the criminal investigation. It decided the annulment of the previous decisions to end the investigation and established that all the witnesses, as well as the defendants had to be re-heard and a supplement of expertise was necessary. Therefore, the criminal investigation was re-opened and the file was sent back to the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Vaslui District Court fur further investigation.
On 12 June 2003, the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Vaslui District Court decided to stop the criminal investigation on the ground that based on the adduced evidence it could not establish the criminal liability of any driver. The applicants filed a complaint against such decision with the Vaslui District Court. By a judgement of 1 April 2004, the complaint was dismissed. The appeal filed by the applicants was allowed by the Vaslui County Court on 28 May 2004. It decided that the file had to be sent back to the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Vaslui District Court for the administration of all pieces of evidence mentioned in the decision of the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Iaşi Court of Appeal of 10 February 2003.
On 27 October 2004, the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Vaslui District Court decided to end the criminal investigation on the ground that the constitutive elements of a crime could not be established with respect to any of the drivers involved in the accident, decision upheld by the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Iaşi Court of Appeal, as well as by the Vaslui District Court in its judgement of 3 June 2005.
A. Length of proceedings
The applicants complained about the length of the proceedings. They relied on Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which, in so far as relevant, provides as follows:
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a hearing within a reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal...”
By a letter dated 3 February 2009, the Government informed the Court that they proposed to make a unilateral declaration with a view to resolving the issue raised by 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 pénale dans laquelle les parties requérantes s’étaient constituées partie civile.
Le Gouvernement déclare être prêt à verser conjointement aux parties requérantes au titre de satisfaction équitable la somme de 3 200 EUR, montant qu’il considère comme raisonnable au vu de la jurisprudence de la Cour. Cette somme qui couvrira le préjudice 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 les parties requérantes, 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.”
In a letter of 7 April 2009, the applicants expressed the view that the sum mentioned in the Government’s declaration was unacceptably low. They considered that the non-pecuniary and pecuniary damage that they suffered was significantly higher.
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 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 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 Romania, its practice concerning complaints about the 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 ....; Majewski v. Poland, no. 52690/99, 11 October 2005; Nicolau v. Romania, no. 1295/02, 12 January 2006, Cârstea and Grecu v. Romania, no. 56326/00, 15 June 2006 and Cârjan v. Romania, no. 42588/02, 25 January 2007).
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 to continue the examination 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, this part of the application should be struck out of the list.
B. Remaining complaints
The applicants further complained, relying on Articles 6 § 1 of the Convention that the criminal proceedings were unfair.
In the light of all the material in its possession, and in so far as the matters complained of were within its competence, the Court found that they did not disclose any appearance of a violation of the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention or its Protocols.
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 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.
Santiago Quesada Josep Casadevall