AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF
by Ivan MEDIĆ and Martin MEDIĆ
The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting on 5 February 2009 as a Chamber composed of:
Sverre Erik Jebens,
George Nicolaou, judges,
and Søren Nielsen, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 28 November 2007,
Having regard to the observations submitted by the respondent Government and the observations in reply submitted by the applicants,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicants, Mr Ivan Medić and Mr Martin Medić, are Croatian nationals who were born in 1934 and 1974 respectively and live in Kaštel. They are represented before the Court by Mr M. Budimir, a lawyer practising in Split. The Croatian Government (“the Government”) are represented by their Agent, Mrs Š. StaZnik.
A. The circumstances of the case
The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.
On 14 November 1994 the applicants brought a civil action against an insurance company in the Split Municipal Court (Općinski sud u Splitu), seeking damages in connection with a road accident.
In the period before the entry into force of the Convention in respect of Croatia (5 November 1997), a judgment was twice adopted and both times quashed by the appellate court. The case was transferred to the Kaštel Lukšić Municipal Court (Općinski sud u Kaštel Lukšiću).
Further hearings before the court of first instance were held on 13 October and 8 December 1999, and 28 January, 28 April, 19 May and 22 September 2000, when a fresh judgment was adopted. However, on 7 June 2002 the judgment was quashed by the Split County Court (Zupanijski sud u Splitu) and the case was remitted to the court of first instance.
Hearings were held on 27 September 2002 and 19 March, 24 September, 14 and 28 October and 28 November 2003, when a judgment on the merits was adopted. It was quashed by the appellate court on 1 December 2005.
A further hearing was held on 28 March 2006.
Meanwhile, on 4 July 2005 the applicants brought a constitutional complaint about the length of the proceedings. On 2 May 2006 the Constitutional Court found a violation of the applicants’ right to a hearing within a reasonable time. It awarded each applicant 10,500 Croatian kunas (HRK) in compensation, and also ordered the Kaštel Lukšić Municipal Court to decide the case in the shortest time possible but no later than six months after the publication of the decision of the Constitutional Court in the Official Gazette.
On 30 May 2006 the Kaštel Lukšić Municipal Court gave a judgment. On 21 November 2007 it gave an additional judgment on the part of the claim which had not been addressed in the judgment of 30 May 2006.
On 13 March 2008 the Split County Court upheld both judgments in parts concerning the main claim, but quashed the part concerning the interest rate and the costs of proceedings and remitted it to the first instance. The proceedings in that respect are still pending.
The applicants complained under Article 6 § 1 and Article 13 of the Convention about the length of the proceedings and the lack of an effective remedy in that respect.
The applicants complained that the civil proceedings concerning their claim for damages were not concluded within reasonable time and that they had no effective remedy in that respect. They relied on Article 6 § 1 and Article 13 of the Convention, the relevant part of which reads as follows:
1. “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal...”
“Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in [the] Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.”
The Government argued that the applicants could no longer claim to be victims because the Constitutional Court had awarded just satisfaction to them in respect of the length of the proceedings and because the Constitutional Court’s order to the Kaštel Lukšić Municipal Court had been complied with.
The applicants objected to the amount of the just satisfaction awarded.
The Court recalls that an applicant’s status as a “victim” within the meaning of Article 34 of the Convention depends on the fact whether the domestic authorities acknowledged, either expressly or in substance, the alleged infringement of the Convention and, if necessary, provided appropriate redress in relation thereto. Only when these conditions are satisfied does the subsidiary nature of the protective mechanism of the Convention preclude examination of an application (see Cocchiarella v. Italy [GC], no. 64886/01, § 71, to be published in ECHR 2006 and Cataldo v. Italy (dec.), no. 45656/99, 3 June 2004).
The Court notes that the Constitutional Court found that the applicants’ right to a determination of their claim within a reasonable time had been violated and, making an assessment on an equitable basis, provided for redress of a compensatory nature by awarding each applicant just satisfaction in respect of non-pecuniary damage in the amount of HRK 10,500. The Constitutional Court thus acknowledged that there had been a violation of the applicants’ constitutional right to have their civil claim decided within reasonable time. The Court considers that such acknowledgment satisfies in substance the first condition laid down in the Court’s case law.
The applicants’ victim status then depends on whether the redress afforded was adequate and sufficient having regard to just satisfaction as provided for under Article 41 of the Convention (see Dubjaková v. Slovakia (dec.), no. 67299/01, 19 October 2004).
In this connection, the Court recalls that in the length-of-proceedings cases one of the characteristics of sufficient redress which may remove a litigant’s victim status relates to the amount awarded. The amount depends, in particular, on the characteristics and effectiveness of the remedy. Thus, the States which, like Croatia, have opted for a remedy designed both to expedite proceedings and afford compensation is free to award amounts which – while being lower than those awarded by the Court – are not unreasonable (see Cocchiarella v. Italy [GC], cited above, §§ 96, 97).
Turning to the actual sum awarded to the applicants by the Constitutional Court, the Court notes that the compensation granted in the present case is lower compared with the sums awarded for comparable delays in the Court’s case-law. It would emphasise, in this respect, the importance of a reasonable amount of just satisfaction being awarded in the domestic system for the remedy in question to be considered as effective under the Convention. Whether the amount awarded may be regarded as reasonable, however, falls to be assessed in the light of all the circumstances of the case. These include not merely the duration of the proceedings in the specific case but the value of the award judged in the light of the standard of living in the State concerned, and the fact that under the national system compensation will in general be awarded and paid more promptly than would be the case if the matter fell to be decided by the Court under Article 41 of the Convention.
In the light of the material in the file and having regard to the particular circumstances of the case, the Court considers that the sum awarded to the applicants can be considered sufficient and therefore appropriate redress for the violation suffered, in particular in view of the fact that the Constitutional Court’s order to the Kaštel Lukšić Municipal Court was complied with (see Cataldo v. Italy, cited above, Širancová v. Slovakia (dec.), no. 62216/00, 7 September 2004, Eštok v. Slovakia (dec.), no. 63994/00, 28 September 2004, Dubjaková v. Slovakia (dec.), cited above).
The Court therefore concludes that the applicants can no longer claim to be “victims” within the meaning of Article 34 of the Convention of the alleged violation of their right to a hearing within a reasonable time. Since in the circumstances of the present case a constitutional complaint in respect of the length of proceedings proved to be an effective remedy, the same applies as regards the applicants’ complaint under Article 13 of the Convention.
It follows that the application is manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention. In view of the above, it is appropriate to discontinue the application of Rule 39 of the Rules of Court.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Declares the application inadmissible.
Søren Nielsen Christos Rozakis