by Andrzej HULEK
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 29 September 2009 as a Chamber composed of:
Nebojša Vučinić, judges,
and Lawrence Early, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 8 January 2007,
Having regard to the formal declarations accepting a friendly settlement of the case,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicant, Mr Andrzej Hulek, is a Polish national who was born in 1971 and lives in Gdańsk. 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. Criminal proceedings against the applicant and his detention on remand
On 10 August 2000 a wanted notice was issued in respect of the applicant. He was suspected of homicide, robbery and drug smuggling committed in an organised criminal group.
On 4 September 2001 the applicant was apprehended in Hamburg, Germany.
On 1 April 2004 the German authorities extradited the applicant to Poland.
On 8 April 2004 the Gdańsk Regional Court (Sąd Okręgowy) extended his detention on remand.
On 16 June 2004 a bill of indictment was lodged. The applicant was charged, inter alia, with homicide, robbery and drug smuggling committed in an organised criminal group.
On 24 June 2004 the court extended the applicant’s detention until 1 December 2004. The court relied on a strong suspicion that he had committed the offences in question, which was supported by evidence from witnesses. In addition, it referred to the likelihood of a severe prison sentence being imposed on him and to the risk that, given that the applicant had absconded in the past, he might go into hiding again. Upon an appeal by the applicant, the Gdańsk Court of Appeal (Sąd Apelacyjny) upheld that decision on 21 July 2004.
On 21 October 2004 the trial court held the first hearing.
On 18 November 2004 the court decided to extend the applicant’s detention until 30 March 2005.
On 22 March 2005 the Gdańsk Regional Court extended the applicant’s detention until 30 May 2005. The court relied on a strong suspicion that he had committed the offences in question and the likelihood of a severe sentence of imprisonment being imposed on him. In addition, the court considered that since the applicant had pleaded not guilty, there was a reasonable risk that he might tamper with evidence. It also stressed that his detention was justified by the need to take evidence from witnesses.
The applicant’s detention was subsequently extended on 19 May, 5 September, 25 October 2005, 19 January and 15 March 2006. The court repeated the grounds given in its previous decisions.
In the meantime, on 2 March 2006 the court severed the charges against the applicant, holding that they should be determined in two separate trials. It was decided that the case concerning the homicide should be joined with another set of proceedings.
On 28 June 2006 the Gdańsk Court of Appeal extended the applicant’s detention until 30 September 2006. On 19 September the court ordered that the term should be extended further, until 31 December 2006. On 28 December 2006 it ordered that the applicant be kept in custody until 30 March 2007. The next decision was given on 27 March 2007; it extended the applicant’s detention until 30 June 2007.
The court in its decisions relied on the reasonable suspicion that the applicant had committed the offences with which he had been charged, which was supported by evidence from witnesses. It attached importance to the grave nature of the offences and the likelihood of a severe sentence of imprisonment being imposed on him. The court also stressed that the applicant had already evaded justice and an arrest warrant had had to be issued. In the court’s opinion, this circumstance clearly indicated that there was a considerable risk that the applicant, if released, might again upset the proper conduct of the proceedings.
The applicant’s detention was subsequently extended on 27 June and 18 September 2007. The court repeated the grounds given in its previous decisions.
Between 23 December 2004 and 18 October 2007 the court held twenty-one hearings, 7 of which were adjourned.
In the course of the investigation and the court proceedings the applicant made numerous, but unsuccessful, applications for release and appealed, likewise unsuccessfully, against refusals to release him and against decisions extending his detention.
On 22 November 2007 the applicant was released on bail.
On 5 May 2008 the Gdańsk Regional Court gave judgment. The applicant was acquitted of homicide.
On 3 February 2009 the Gdańsk Court of Appeal quashed the first instance judgment and remitted the case.
2. Proceedings under the 2004 Act
On 21 June 2006 the applicant lodged a complaint with the Gdańsk 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”).
The applicant sought a ruling declaring that the length of the proceedings before the Gdańsk Regional Court had been excessive and an award of just satisfaction in the amount of 10,000 Polish zlotys (PLN) (approx. EUR 2,500).
On 30 August 2006 the Court of Appeal dismissed his complaint. The court established that the proceedings had been conducted diligently. It further held that the trial court could not be held responsible for delays caused by the absence of witnesses or illness of the lay judge.
B. Relevant domestic law and practice
1. Preventive measures, including detention on remand
The relevant domestic law and practice concerning the imposition of detention on remand (aresztowanie tymczasowe), the grounds for its extension, release from detention and rules governing other, so-called “preventive measures” (środki zapobiegawcze) are stated in the Court’s judgments in the cases of Gołek v. Poland, no. 31330/02, §§ 27-33, 25 April 2006 and Celejewski v. Poland, no. 17584/04, §§ 22-23, 4 August 2006.
2. Remedies against unreasonable length of the proceedings
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.
The applicant complained that his pre-trial detention was excessively long. He further complained about the excessive length of the proceedings. He did not rely on any specific provision of the Convention.
On 10 July 2009 the Court received the following declaration signed by the applicant:
“I, Andrzej Hulek, note that the Government of Poland are prepared to pay me the sum of PLN 11,000 (eleven thousand Polish zlotys) 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 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 Poland in respect of the facts giving rise to this application. I declare that this constitutes a final resolution of the case.”
On 7 August 2009 the Court received the following declaration from the Government:
“I, Jakub Wołąsiewicz, Agent of the Polish Government, declare that the Government of Poland offer to pay PLN 11,000 (eleven thousand Polish zlotys) to Mr Andrzej Hulek 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 as well as costs and expenses will be free of any taxes that may be applicable and 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.”
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.
Lawrence Early Nicolas Bratza