by Michał KUPIEC
against Poland (No. 3)
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 10 November 2009 as a Chamber composed of:
David Thór Björgvinsson,
Mihai Poalelungi, judges,
and Lawrence Early, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 20 September 2006,
Having regard to the declaration submitted by the respondent Government on 4 May 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 applicant, Mr Michał Kupiec, is a Polish national who was born in 1976 and lives in Kraków. 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. Main proceedings
On 1 June 2000 the applicant lodged a claim for compensation with the Kraków Regional Court (Sąd Okręgowy) against the National Insurance Company (Państwowy Zakład Ubezpieczeń) and requested to be exempted from court fees.
On 26 June 2000 the court partly exempted the applicant from court fees in excess of 300 Polish zlotys (PLN).
On 7 July 2000 the applicant appealed against that decision.
On 17 August 2000 the Kraków Court of Appeal (Sąd Apelacyjny) dismissed the applicant’s appeal.
The applicant again requested exemption from court fees, but on 16 October 2000 the Kraków Regional Court dismissed his request.
Subsequently, the applicant lodged several further requests for exemption from court fees, but they were rejected by the Kraków Regional Court.
On 24 January 2001 the Kraków Regional Court returned the statement of claim to the applicant.
On 2 February 2001 the applicant appealed against that decision.
On 15 March 2001 the Kraków Court of Appeal granted the applicant’s appeal and quashed the first-instance court’s decision.
On 9 April 2001 the Kraków Regional Court granted the applicant full exemption from court fees.
On 11 May 2001 the defendant requested the court to stay the proceedings because of another set of criminal proceedings pending against the applicant.
On 11 June 2001 the Kraków Regional Court stayed the proceedings pending termination of the criminal proceedings against the applicant.
On 21 June 2001 the applicant appealed.
On 17 September 2001 the Kraków Court of Appeal discontinued the appellate proceedings, finding that the criminal proceedings against the applicant had been provisionally discontinued.
On 9 January 2002 the Kraków Regional Court refused the applicant’s request for a resumption of the proceedings, finding that the criminal proceedings against him had not been terminated with final effect and that the appellate proceedings were still pending.
On 28 October 2002 the applicant again requested the court to resume the stayed proceedings.
On 26 November 2002 the Kraków Regional Court refused, finding that the criminal proceedings had been terminated but that there had also been a request lodged to have them reopened.
On 17 December 2002 the applicant appealed.
On 21 March 2003 the Kraków Court of Appeal quashed the challenged decision, finding that the criminal proceedings had been terminated with final effect and that the request to have them reopened did not constitute an obstacle to the resumption of the civil proceedings.
On 12 June 2003 the Kraków Regional Court resumed the proceedings and scheduled a hearing for 11 September 2003.
The applicant failed to appear at the hearing, so the court again stayed the proceedings.
The applicant appealed.
On 22 September 2003 the Kraków Regional Court dismissed the applicant’s appeal because he had failed to rectify some procedural shortcomings in it.
On 4 March 2004 the applicant requested the court to resume the proceedings.
On 8 March 2004 the court granted his request.
On 3 June 2004 the first hearing on the merits took place. The court examined the applicant and several experts.
On 16 February 2005 a hearing was scheduled for 13 April 2005.
On 20 November 2007 the Kraków Regional Court gave judgment, granted the applicant’s claim in part and dismissed the remainder.
On an unspecified date the applicant appealed.
On an unspecified date the Kraków Court of Appeal amended the first instance judgment in part in favour of the applicant.
2. Proceedings under the 2004 Act
On 18 March 2005 the applicant lodged a complaint with the Kraków Court of Appeal under section 18 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”). He sought a ruling that the length of the proceedings before the Kraków Regional Court had been excessive and an award of PLN 10,000 by way of just satisfaction.
On 14 April 2005 the Kraków Court of Appeal gave a decision in which it acknowledged the excessive length of the proceedings but refused to grant him any just satisfaction, holding that the period of inactivity on the part of the court had been “insignificant”. The court found that the time-limit for lodging a complaint under section 18 of the 2004 Act had expired and examined the complaint as having been lodged under section 5 of the 2004 Act. Referring to a resolution of the Supreme Court, the court also found that it could only deal with the excessive length of the proceedings that had been pending on the date that the 2004 Act had entered into force.
On 3 April 2006 the applicant lodged another length-of-proceedings complaint. He again sought a declaration that the proceedings had been too lengthy and claimed just satisfaction of PLN 10,000.
On 26 September 2006 the Kraków Court of Appeal dismissed his complaint. As can be seen from the reasoning of the court’s decision, it examined only the latest period of the proceedings, namely the period after the examination of the applicant’s previous length-of-proceedings complaint.
B. Relevant domestic law and practice
The relevant domestic law and practice concerning remedies for the excessive length of judicial proceedings are set out in the Court’s decisions in the cases of Charzyński v. Poland ((dec.), no. 15212/03, §§ 12-23, ECHR 2005-V, and Ratajczyk v. Poland (dec.), no. 11215/02, ECHR 2005 VIII, and the judgment in the case of Krasuski v. Poland, no. 61444/00, §§ 34-46, ECHR 2005-V).
The applicant complained under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention that the civil proceedings in which he had been involved had been excessively lengthy and unfair.
A. Length of proceedings
The applicant complained that the proceedings were excessively lengthy. He relied on Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which, in so far as relevant, provides as follows:
Article 6 § 1
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal...”
By letter dated 17 April 2009 the Government informed the Court that they proposed to make a unilateral declaration with a view to resolving the issue raised by this part of the application. They further requested the Court to strike out the application in accordance with Article 37 of the Convention.
The declaration provides as follows:
“ (...) the Government hereby wish to express – by way of a unilateral declaration – their acknowledgement of the violation of the applicant’s right to have his case heard within reasonable time within the meaning of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
Consequently, the Government are prepared to pay to the applicant the sum of PLN 20,000 which they consider to be reasonable in the light of the Court’s case law.
The sum referred to above, which is to cover any pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage, as well as costs and expenses, will be free from 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 for the Protection of Human Rights. In the event of failure to pay this sum within the three-month period, the Government undertake to pay simple interest on it, from the 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 Government would respectfully suggest that the above declaration be accepted by the Court as ‘any other reason’ justifying the striking out of the case of the Court’s list of cases, as referred to in Article 37 § 1 (c) of the Convention.
(...) as transpires from the Government’s unilateral declaration, the Government accepted paying to the applicant the sum of PLN 20,000 in the event of the Court’s striking the case out of its list. ...”
In a letter of 4 June 2009 the applicant submitted his claims for just satisfaction, which were several times higher than the Government’s proposal, and expressed the view that the sum offered in the Government’s declaration was unacceptably low.
The Court notes that Article 37 of the Convention provides that it may at any stage of the proceedings decide to strike an application or part thereof 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”.
In certain circumstances, it may strike out an application or part thereof 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 judgment (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 Poland, its practice concerning complaints about alleged violations of one’s 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; and Wende and Kukówka v. Poland, no. 56026/00, 10 May 2007).
Having regard to the nature of the admissions contained in the Government’s declaration, as well as the amount of compensation proposed – which is consistent with amounts awarded in similar cases – the Court considers that it is no longer justified to continue the examination of the application (Article 37 § 1(c)).
Moreover, in the 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, it should be struck out of the list.
B. Complaint under Article 6 § 1 on account of the alleged unfairness of the proceedings
The applicant further complained under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention that the civil proceedings for compensation in which had been involved had been unfair.
However, the Court notes that the applicant’s complaint essentially concerns the outcome of the relevant proceedings and, as such, is clearly of a fourth-instance nature. It follows that it must be rejected pursuant to Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention as manifestly ill-founded.
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 on account of the excessive length of proceedings 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.
Lawrence Early Nicolas Bratza