by Dragan PUZOVIĆ and Dragica MEDAREVIĆ
The European Court of Human Rights (Second Section), sitting on 15 September 2009 as a Chamber composed of:
Ireneu Cabral Barreto,
Nona Tsotsoria, judges,
and Sally Dollé, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 22 December 2004
Having regard to the declaration submitted by the respondent Government on 27 January 2009 requesting the Court to strike the application out of its list of cases and the applicants’ reply thereto,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicants, Mr Dragan Puzović and Ms Dragica Medarević, are Serbian nationals who were born in 1950 and 1951, respectively, and currently live in Raška. The Serbian Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr S Caric.
The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.
On 26 August 1994 the applicants filed an action with the Municipal Court (Opštinski sud) in Raška, seeking annulment of a number of contracts signed by their father, as well as the determination of their late mother’s estate.
On 14 March 1995, following their father’s death, the applicants brought a separate civil suit, requesting that his will be declared null and void and his estate determined.
On 12 October 2005 the Municipal Court in Raška formally joined the two sets of proceedings, and held a couple of hearings in the case thereafter.
On 16 May 2006 the Supreme Court delegated jurisdiction in favour of the Municipal Court in Kraljevo.
On 6 November 2006 the Municipal Court in Kraljevo formally stayed the proceedings pending the outcome of the applicants’ case before the European Court of Human Rights.
It would appear that the proceedings in question are still pending at first instance.
The applicants relied on Articles 3, 6, 8, 13, 14 and 17 of the Convention, as well as on Article 1 of Protocol No. 1. In substance, however, they complained about the length and fairness of the proceedings and the absence of an effective domestic remedy for procedural delay.
The application had been communicated to the Government under Article 6 § 1 and Article 13 of the Convention.
By letter dated 15 January 2009, the Government informed the Court that they proposed to make a unilateral declaration with a view to resolving the issues raised by the application. They further requested the Court to strike out the application in accordance with Article 37 of the Convention.
The declaration, signed by the Government’s Agent, provided as follows:
“I declare that the Government of the Republic of Serbia is ready to accept that there had been a violation of the applicants’ rights under Article 6 paragraph 1 and Article 13 of the Convention and offer to pay the applicants the amount of EUR 4,000 ex gratia in respect of the application registered under no. 2545/05 before the European Court of Human Rights.
This sum, which covers any pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage as well as costs, shall be paid in dinar counter-value, free of any taxes that may be applicable and to an account ... [specified] ... by the applicant. The sum shall be payable within three months from the date of delivery of the [decision] by the Court. This payment will constitute the final resolution of the case.
The Government regret the occurrence of the actions which have led to the bringing of the present application.”
In two later submissions dated 16 March 2009 the applicants requested the Court to award them 50,000 euros in damages.
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. In particular, Article 37 § 1 (c) enables the Court to strike a case out of its list if it finds that “it is no longer justified to continue the examination of the application”, and it has done so in the past on the basis of certain unilateral declarations by respondent Governments even if the applicants had maintained their cases.
To this end, the Court will carefully examine the declaration made by the Government in the present case in the light of the principles emerging from its case-law (see Tahsin Acar v. Turkey, [GC], no. 26307/95, §§ 75-77, ECHR 2003-VI).
The Court notes that it has specified in a number of cases the nature and extent of the obligations which arise for a State Party under Articles 6 and 13 of the Convention concerning the right to a hearing within a reasonable time (see, among many others, Cocchiarella v. Italy [GC], no. 64886/01, ECHR 2006; Kudła v. Poland [GC], no. 30210/96, ECHR 2000 XI; Ilić v. Serbia, no. 30132/04, 9 October 2007). Where the Court has found a breach of these Articles it has awarded just satisfaction, the amount of which has depended on the particular features of the case.
Having regard to the nature of the concessions contained in the Government’s unilateral declaration in the present case, as well as the amount of compensation proposed (which can be considered reasonable in comparison with the Court’s awards in similar cases, when account is taken of the fact that only five years and six months of the impugned proceedings fall within the Court’s competence ratione temporis, Serbia having ratified the Convention on 3 March 2004), the Court finds that it is no longer justified to continue the examination of the application (Article 37 § 1 (c) of the Convention; see, for the relevant principles, Tahsin Acar, cited above; Haran v. Turkey, no. 25754/94, judgment of 26 March 2002).
The Court is also satisfied that respect for human rights as defined in the Convention and the Protocols thereto does not require it to continue the examination the application (Article 37 § 1 in fine).
Accordingly, it should be struck out of the list.
Since the impugned proceedings appear to be still pending, it is to be noted that the Court’s strike-out decision is without prejudice to the merits of the applicants’ domestic claim or, indeed, their ability to obtain redress for any additional procedural delay which may occur after the date of the present decision.
Finally, the Court recalls that, in accordance with Article 46 § 2 of the Convention, the Committee of Ministers is competent to supervise the execution of its final judgments only. However, should the respondent State, fail to comply with the terms of its unilateral declaration in the present case, the application could be restored to the Court’s list pursuant to Article 37 § 2 of the Convention (see Aleksentseva and 28 Others v. Russia (dec.), no. 75025/01, ECHR, 23 March 2006).
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Takes note of the terms of the respondent Government’s declaration and of the modalities for ensuring compliance with the undertakings referred to therein;
Decides to strike the application out of its list of cases.
Sally Dollé Françoise