by Päivi Kaarina URMAS
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 6 January 2009 as a Chamber composed of:
David Thór Björgvinsson,
Nebojša Vučinić, judges,
and Fatoş Aracı, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 23 April 2003,
Having regard to the formal declarations accepting a friendly settlement of the case,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicant, Ms Päivi Kaarina Urmas, is a Finnish national who was born in 1960 and lives in Ollila. The Finnish Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr Arto Kosonen of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.
The applicant was employed by the Finnish Savings Bank – SSP Oy (later the Property Management Corporation Arsenal, “Arsenal-SSP”). She worked in the bank in 1989-1992 as the head of the business division of the local branch. On 23 June 1992 the police were informed of suspected offences in respect of credit decisions made without adequate guarantee arrangements, which had led to the bank's winding-up at the beginning of the 1990s.
On 4 May 1993 the applicant was questioned as a suspect in connection with, inter alia, aggravated fraud. Criminal proceedings against her started in the Salo District Court (käräjäoikeus, tingsrätten) in 1995 and the court gave judgment on 24 March 2000, convicting her of misuse of confidential position and sentencing her to a conditional prison sentence. On 4 March 2002 the Turku Appeal Court (hovioikeus, hovrätten) acquitted the applicant of all charges. On 23 April 2003 she lodged an application with the Court against Finland (no. 15710/03), complaining, inter alia, about the length of these proceedings. In May and June 2007 the parties concluded a friendly settlement and the Court struck the case out of the list on 3 July 2007.
During the pre-trial investigation, on 30 December 1993, the Arsenal-SSP instituted compensation proceedings against the applicant before the Salo District Court. On 21 June 1995 the District Court decided to adjourn all compensation proceedings in the case pending the conclusion of the criminal proceedings. On 24 March 2000 the District Court decided to separate the compensation proceedings from the criminal proceedings in order not to delay the latter.
The compensation proceedings were continued in April 2000. Several parties lodged various procedural claims with the District Court, requesting, inter alia, that the compensation complaints be dismissed as the proceedings had lasted an unreasonably long time.
On 9 March 2004 the District Court gave a separate decision on the complaints relating to the allegedly excessive length. The court found that the proceedings had lasted an exceptionally long time and that they were expected to last several more years before a final judgment was given. The excessive length was due to the fact that the case was complicated and the case file was exceptionally voluminous. The court noted that the compensation proceedings had been adjourned pending the conclusion of the criminal proceedings. While accepting that the proceedings had been exceptionally lengthy, the District Court, however, rejected the applicant's claims as the domestic legislation did not provide for an option to close civil proceedings due to their excessive length. It was also found to be in the plaintiff's interest to continue the trial.
On 29 November 2004 the Turku Appeal Court upheld the District Court's decision. The applicant did not appeal to the Supreme Court (korkein oikeus, högsta domstolen).
The District Court held an oral hearing in the compensation proceedings on several dates between 22 November 2004 and 15 August 2005. On 12 May 2006 it issued its judgment in the compensation proceedings, ordering the defendants, including the applicant, to pay compensation to the Arsenal-SSP. The court found, referring to its decision of 9 March 2004, that the compensation complaint could not be dismissed solely on the basis of the excessive length of the proceedings and that there were no means to compensate the applicant for this.
The applicant appealed to the Appeal Court which, after an oral hearing, upheld the District Court's judgment on 12 February 2008. It found that the award of compensation could not be adjusted solely on the basis of the excessive length of the proceedings.
It is not known whether the case is currently pending before the Supreme Court.
On 31 July 2006 the applicant lodged a complaint with the Chancellor of Justice (oikeuskansleri, justitiekanslern) who, on 4 September 2007, acknowledged that the length of the compensation proceedings was incompatible with the reasonable time requirement.
The applicant complained under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention that the total length of the compensation proceedings had been incompatible with the reasonable time requirement. She also referred to Article 13 of the Convention.
On 10 October 2008 the Court received the following declaration from the Government:
“I, Mr Arto Kosonen, Agent of the Government of Finland, declare that the Government of Finland offer to pay ex gratia EUR 2,200 (two thousand two hundred euros) to Ms Päivi Kaarina Urmas 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 non-pecuniary damage as well as costs and expenses, will be free of 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 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 November 2008 the Court received the following declaration signed by the applicant:
“I, Ms Päivi Kaarina Urmas, the applicant in the above-mentioned case, note that the Government of Finland are prepared to pay me ex gratia the sum of EUR 2,200 (two thousand two hundred euros) 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 non-pecuniary damage as well as costs and expenses, will be free of 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 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 Finland 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 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.
Fatoş Aracı Nicolas Bratza
Deputy Registrar President