by Todor Stanislavov DEYANOV
The European Court of Human Rights (Fifth Section), sitting on 14 April 2009 as a Chamber composed of:
Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska,
Zdravka Kalaydjieva, judges,
and Claudia Westerdiek, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 6 January 2004,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicant, Mr Todor Stanislavov Deyanov, is a Bulgarian national who was born in 1956 and lives in Sofia.
The circumstances of the case
The facts of the case, as submitted by the applicant, may be summarised as follows.
1. The disappearance of the applicant’s son and the efforts to find him
On 6 May 1997 the applicant’s son, then eight years old, disappeared.
On the same day the police started searching for him. The applicant’s son had been with another boy, B., who explained that the applicant’s son had fallen in a canal. On 6 May 1997 and during the next several days the police searched, including with divers, the canal which was with a depth of 60-70 cm and the area around it, but did not find any trace of the applicant’s son. It appears that during the first four or five days they did not explore other versions.
On 9 and 12 May 1997 the applicant’s son was officially declared missing. On 15 May 1997 and the following days a photograph of him was shown on national television and distributed by other media. Towards the end of 1997 the police informed Interpol that the applicant’s son was being searched for.
A criminal investigation against unknown perpetrators for abduction was opened on 18 June 1998 by the Sofia city public prosecution’s office.
In 1999, at an order by the Minister of the Interior, the National Service for Combating Organised Crime investigated the case. Like the police initially, it considered that the applicant’s son had probably fallen in the canal.
In 1999, psychologists appointed by the prosecution authorities concluded that B., the boy who had been with the applicant’s son on 6 May 1997 and who had reported the latter’s fall in the canal, had probably lied.
In February 2000 photographs of the boy were published on Interpol’s website. An age-progression portrait prepared by the United States Department of Justice in 2003 was also published on the website.
In November 2001 the criminal proceedings for abduction were stayed. They were resumed in October 2004 for the questioning of a new witness and stayed again in December 2005. It appears that the investigation was stayed as it had not yielded any particular result.
The applicant organised a search for his son, mostly with his own means. The boy has not been found. The boy’s mother, the applicant’s former wife, also participated in the initial efforts.
In relation to the disappearance of his son, the applicant initiated several sets of proceedings.
2. First set of proceedings
(a) The initial case
On 25 January 2002 the applicant brought an action before the Sofia City Court seeking damages from the prosecution, the police and the Ministry of the Interior for failing to take adequate and timely measures to find his son and for failing to investigate effectively the boy’s disappearance.
On 21 September 2005 the applicant lodged a complaint about delays with the Sofia Court of Appeal. In a decision of 13 October 2005 the Court of Appeal found that the proceedings had indeed been excessively lengthy and instructed the Sofia City Court to speed them up.
On an unspecified date in 2006 and on an unknown ground, the case was transferred to the Sofia District Court where it was separated into two cases. The two new cases were registered under nos. 7150/06 and 11664/06.
(b) Case 7150/06
In these proceedings the Sofia District Court examined a claim by the applicant against the Sofia Investigative Service and the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. According to the applicant, the Sofia Investigative Service had failed to take timely action to investigate the disappearance of his son, had failed to identify any suspects and to collect the necessary evidence and had failed to effectively cooperate with the police in the investigation. The applicant also alleged that the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office had failed to open criminal proceedings immediately upon being informed of the disappearance of his son and had then failed to duly supervise those proceedings, had failed to duly inform the applicant of the course of the proceedings and had failed to take some necessary investigative action like verifying a signal that the boy might be in Iraq. The applicant contended also that the prosecution had failed to disseminate an accurate description of his son, had distributed photographs of bad quality and had failed to have prepared an age-progression portrait.
In a judgment of 28 June 2007 the Sofia District Court allowed the applicant’s claim and awarded him the full amount of damages claimed by him, which was 700 Bulgarian levs (BGN). It found that the defendants had failed to duly cooperate with the police and to take timely action to investigate the boy’s disappearance and had not duly notified the applicant of the course of the criminal investigation. It found also that the defendants had not complied with their obligation under Article 3 of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to have the best interests of the child as their primary consideration, and that throughout the years the applicant had never been supported by the State in his efforts to trace his son.
The Sofia Investigative Service and the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office appealed against this judgment. The applicant also appealed, seeking a higher sum in damages.
On 7 November 2008 the Sofia City Court upheld the District Court’s judgment and found inadmissible the applicant’s request to have the value of his claim increased.
The applicant lodged cassation appeal.
(c) Case 11664/06
These proceedings concerned the applicant’s claim for damages from the National Police Directorate, the Sofia Police Directorate and the Ministry of the Interior. The applicant alleged that the police had not reacted to his initial signals that the boy had been missing and had not immediately started looking for him, had not used dogs and had not looked for eye-witnesses, had not closed the state borders, had only officially declared the boy missing several days after his disappearance, had not until the end of 1997 contacted Interpol and had not informed the applicant of the course of their operations. The applicant also contended that the police had failed to have an age-progression portrait of the boy prepared and to check information that he had been in Iraq, that they had not sufficiently disseminated his photographs and had used photographs of bad quality. The applicant alleged also that the Minister of the Interior had not adopted the secondary legislation necessary for effective searches of abducted children and had not ensured that there were officials in the Ministry of the Interior trained to work on such cases.
In a judgment of 17 August 2007 the Sofia District Court dismissed the claim. It held that the applicant had failed to establish that he had suffered damages as a direct result of the actions of the police and the Ministry of the Interior; he had suffered as a result of the disappearance of his son, for which the defendants had not been responsible.
The applicant appealed against this judgment.
By June 2008 the proceedings were still pending before the Sofia City Court.
3. Second set of proceedings
In 2004 the applicant brought an action for damages against the Government of Bulgaria, the Ministries of Finance, Justice and Internal Affairs and the State Agency for Child Protection alleging that they had failed to finance the publicization abroad of the age-progression portrait of his son prepared in the United States in 2003.
In 2005 the Sofia District Court allowed the applicant’s claim against the Government and dismissed his claims against the remaining bodies. Referring to the Government’s obligations under the Constitution of Bulgaria and the U.N. Convention for the Rights of the Child, it found that the Government had had to support such a campaign. Furthermore, the Government had had financial resources and had been approached with numerous requests by the applicant. Due, however, to their failure to act, the portrait had not been sufficiently publicised throughout the world.
On 17 August 2006 and 5 November 2007 the judgment of the Sofia District Court was upheld respectively by the Sofia City Court and the Supreme Court of Cassation. The courts awarded the applicant BGN 10,000 in damages.
4. Third set of proceedings
In February 2006 the applicant brought an action for damages against the President of Bulgaria claiming that the latter had not taken any action to help find his son. On 28 November 2006 the claim was declared inadmissible in a final decision of the Supreme Court of Cassation, which found that the President could not be held liable for his official actions, except if he had committed high treason or had violated the Constitution.
5. Fourth set of proceedings
In 2001 the applicant requested the institution of criminal proceedings against the organisers of a fund-raising concert on 22 September 2000 alleging that they had deceived him. In a final decision of 4 March 2003 the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office refused to open proceedings.
On 29 September 2003 the applicant brought an action under the State and Municipalities Responsibility for Damage Act against the prosecuting authorities, contending that they had failed to investigate his allegations effectively. He claimed BGN 1,000 in damages.
On 5 July 2006 the claim was dismissed by the Sofia District Court as it did not have jurisdiction to review the actions of the prosecution. The domestic court ordered the applicant to pay a fee of BGN 40 (EUR 20).
In a final judgment of 26 February 2008 the Sofia City Court upheld the judgment of 5 July 2006.
On 8 April 2008 the applicant lodged a cassation appeal; in view of the requirements of Article 284 § 2 of the Code of Civil Procedure, he authorised a lawyer, who signed the appeal. The Court has not been informed of the outcome of this appeal.
6. Fifth set of proceedings
In September 2007 the applicant brought a new action for damages against the Government of Bulgaria, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance and the State Agency for Child Protection arguing that in 2005 and 2006 the defendants had failed to take action, to provide financing and to create the necessary institutional framework for the effective search of his son.
By June 2008 the proceedings were still pending before the first-instance court.
A. Complaint that the authorities failed to take adequate measures following the disappearance of the applicant’s son
The applicant complained that the authorities had failed to take timely and adequate measures to find his son and to investigate the boy’s disappearance. The Court is of the view that the complaint falls to be examined under Article 2 § 1 of the Convention, which reads, in so far as relevant:
“Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law.”
The Court considers that it cannot, on the basis of the case file, determine the admissibility of this complaint and that it is therefore necessary, in accordance with Rule 54 § 2 (b) of the Rules of Court, to give notice of this part of the application to the respondent Government.
B. Complaints that the first set of proceedings lasted unreasonably long and that the applicant did not have an effective remedy in that regard
The applicant complained under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the length of the first set of civil proceedings brought on 25 January 2002 and under Article 13 about the lack of any effective remedy in that regard.
Article 6 § 1, in so far as relevant, reads:
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal...”
Article 13 reads:
“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 Court considers that it cannot, on the basis of the case file, determine the admissibility of these complaints and that it is therefore necessary, in accordance with Rule 54 § 2 (b) of the Rules of Court, to give notice of this part of the application to the respondent Government.
C. The remainder of the applicant’s complaints
The Court has examined the remainder of the applicant’s complaints as submitted by him. However, in the light of all the material in its possession, and in so far as the matters complained of are within its competence, the Court finds that they did not disclose any appearance of a violation of the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention or its Protocols.
It follows that this part of the application must also be rejected as being manifestly ill-founded, pursuant to Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Decides to adjourn the examination of the applicant’s complaints concerning the adequacy of the authorities’ reaction to the disappearance of the applicant’s son, the length of the proceedings brought on 25 January 2002 and the lack of any effective remedy in that regard;
Declares the remainder of the application inadmissible.
Claudia Westerdiek Rait Maruste