CASE OF VRIONI AND OTHERS v. ALBANIA
(Application no. 2141/03)
24 March 2009
This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Vrioni and Others v. Albania,
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
David Thór Björgvinsson,
Mihai Poalelungi, judges,
and Fatoş Aracı, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 3 March 2009,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
A. First set of proceedings concerning restitution of the property
1. Ordinary proceedings relating to the order granting title to the property
2. Supervisory review
B. Second set of proceedings concerning restitution of the property
1. First set of judicial proceedings relating to the Commission decision
2. The Constitutional Court proceedings
“The proceedings were unfair on two counts:
Firstly, the Commission violated the rules on jurisdiction set forth in Article 36 of the Code of Civil Procedure. According to this provision the Commission, as a non judicial institution, was not empowered to examine this civil dispute and adopt a decision, in so far as the issue was pending before the courts.
Secondly, ... the Commission was not authorised to examine this issue, as it had been decided upon some years ago by the financial unit of Tirana municipality. In 1992 the financial unit, by means of a decision, awarded this part of the house to the heirs of ... [that is, the applicants].
Under these circumstances, the court considers the 1996 Commission decision to be null and void. As such, it cannot produce any effects, even though the financial unit of the municipality of Tirana had previously addressed the issue and reached the same conclusion.
By ruling in favour of K.G., the District Court and the Court of Appeal denied the applicants their property rights and conducted an unfair trial.
The violation of this constitutional right, which occurred at the three instances, consisted in the violation of the salient procedural principle according to which final judicial rulings are binding on the court and the parties to the proceedings and cannot be reviewed unless they are quashed by a higher court, or other requests for judicial review or challenges by third parties are being examined.
... the courts that examined this action by the interested party were not mindful of the fact that the claims in question were also the subject of another action against the applicant. The District Court rejected the other action as ill-founded and its judgment was upheld by the Court of Appeal in December 1996, thus becoming final.
Despite the fact that the court does not consider the judgment in question to have the force of res judicata, in the light of the differences in the constituent elements of the actions, their object in the material sense was nevertheless the same, namely the challenging of the applicants' property rights by the defendant ...
... the court was not empowered to examine the merits of the case and reach a different conclusion from that of the first court, since in the instant case it was not examining any special request for judicial review.”
3. Second set of judicial proceedings relating to the Commission decision
4. Second supervisory review
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW AND PRACTICE
A. Relevant domestic law
Article 42 § 2
“In the protection of his constitutional and legal rights, freedoms and interests, or in the case of a criminal charge brought against him, everyone has the right to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law.”
“The Constitutional Court shall decide:
(f) in a ruling that shall be final, complaints by individuals alleging a violation of their constitutional right to a fair hearing, after all legal remedies for the protection of those rights have been exhausted.”
“Court judgments shall become legally binding on expiry of the time-limit for lodging an appeal if no such appeal has been lodged. If the judgment is not quashed following an appeal to a higher court, it shall become legally binding when the higher court delivers its judgment...”
Article 473 – Review in the interests of the law (Law no. 8431 of 14 December 1998)
“Final judgments, decisions and rulings of the divisions of the Supreme Court shall be amenable to supervisory review in the interests of the law for the reasons set forth in section 472(a), (b) and (c) on an application lodged by the parties to the proceedings within three years from the date on which the decision becomes binding.
The application for supervisory review will first be examined by a preliminary review panel of five judges and then by the full Supreme Court (Joint Bench). ... Judges of the Supreme Court who sat as members of the division that delivered the judgment, decision or ruling or as members of the preliminary review panel shall not sit on the panel that conducts the supervisory review of the final judgment...”
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 § 1 OF THE CONVENTION
The relevant parts of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention provide:
““In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a fair ... hearing within a reasonable time... by [a] ... tribunal...”
1. Legal certainty: quashing of a final judgment
(a) The parties' submissions
(b) The third party's submissions
(c) The Court's assessment
2. Length of proceedings
(a) The parties' submission
(b) The Court's assessment
II. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 1 OF PROTOCOL NO. 1 TO THE CONVENTION
Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 provides:
“Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.
The preceding provisions shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.”
The parties' submissions
The third party's submissions
3. The Court's assessment
III. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
“If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.”
B. Costs and expenses
C. Default interest
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT UNANIMOUSLY
(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicants, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, the following amount, to be converted into the national currency of the respondent State at the rate applicable at the date of settlement;
EUR 450,000 (four hundred and fifty thousand euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage;
(b) that 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;
Done in English, and notified in writing on 24 March 2009, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Aracı Nicolas Bratza
Deputy Registrar President