by Rolands URTĀNS
European Court of Human Rights (Third Section), sitting on
7 April 2009 as a Chamber composed of:
Boštjan M. Zupančič,
Luis López Guerra,
Ann Power, judges,
and Santiago Quesada, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 21 June 2004,
Having regard to the unilateral declaration submitted by the respondent Government on 2 September 2008 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:
1. The applicant, Mr Rolands Urtāns, is a Latvian national who was born in 1973. The Latvian Government (“the Government”) are represented by their Agent, Mrs I. Reine.
2. The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.
3. On 14 June 1993 the applicant was arrested on suspicion of aggravated burglaries. On 27 June 1997 the Convention entered into force in respect to Latvia.
4. On 21 March 2000 the Daugavpils Court found the applicant guilty of aggravated burglaries and sentenced him to 6 years, 7 months and 16 days' imprisonment. The applicant did not receive a copy of the judgment on time and requested the renewal of the deadline for submission of his appeal. His request was rejected by the Daugavpils Court on 4 July 2003.
5. On 3 October 2003, on the applicant's ancillary complaint, the Criminal Chamber of the Latgale Regional Court renewed the deadline and accepted his appeal for examination. A hearing was scheduled for 5 February 2004, which the applicant failed to attend. The next hearing was scheduled for 13 September 2004 which the applicant did not attend. He notified the Court on that date that he had been released from prison three days ago. The applicant was informed over phone and by post that the next hearing was scheduled for 22 September 2004.
6. On 22 September 2004, when the applicant failed to attend the hearing again, the Latgale Regional Court dismissed his appeal without examination. An attorney was present during this hearing. On 4 March 2005, on the applicant's ancillary complaint, the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court upheld the decision of 22 September 2004.
7. The applicant complained under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the unreasonable length of criminal proceedings against him.
8. The applicant complained under Article 3 and Article 5 § 3 of the Convention that he had not been entitled to a trial within a reasonable time after his arrest, which amounted to torture.
9. The applicant complained under Article 6 § 3 (c) and Article 13 that he did not have free legal assistance, did not have adequate time for preparation of his defence and that the appeal and cassation courts did not accept his complaints for examination.
A. Length of proceedings
10. The applicant complained about the length of proceedings. 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 ...any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal...”
11. By a letter dated 2 September 2008 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.
12. The declaration provided as follows:
“The Government of the Republic of Latvia represented by [their] Agent Inga Reine (hereinafter – the Government) admit that the length of the criminal proceedings against [the applicant] did not meet the standards enshrined in Article 6, paragraph 1 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (hereinafter – the Convention). Being aware of that, the Government undertake to adopt all necessary measures in order to avoid similar infringements in future.
Taking into account that the parties have failed to reach a friendly settlement in [the present] case, the Government declare that they offer to pay ex gratia to the applicant compensation in the amount of 3,000 euro, this amount being the global sum and covering any pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage together with any costs and expenses incurred, free of any taxes that may be applicable, with a view to [terminating] the proceedings pending before the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter – the Court) in the case [of] Urtāns v. Latvia (application no. 25623/04).
The Government undertake to pay the above compensation within three months from the date of delivery of the decision/judgment by the Court pursuant to Article 37 of the Convention. In the event of failure to pay this sum within the said [three-month] period, the Government undertake to pay simple interest on the amount, as established in the decision/judgment by the Court. The above sum shall be transferred to the bank account indicated by the applicant.
This payment will constitute the final resolution of the case.”
13. In a letter of 11 December 2008 the applicant expressed the view that the sum mentioned in the Government's declaration was unacceptably low. He considered that the amount of compensation should be increased due to his deteriorating health. He submitted that his health had deteriorated as a result of the length of proceedings. In the applicant's view the sum should be at least doubled on the grounds that the length of criminal proceedings in breach of Article 6 § 1 were directly linked to the lack of legal assistance under Article 6 § 3 (c).
14. The Court recalls that Article 37 of the Convention provides that it may at any stage of the proceedings decide to strike an application 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”.
15. It also recalls that in certain circumstances, it may strike out an application 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 (see, in particular, Tahsin Acar v. Turkey (preliminary objection) [GC], no. 26307/95, §§ 75-77, ECHR 2003-VI; Kapitonovs v. Latvia (striking out.), no. 16999/02, 24 June 2008, Ozoliņš v. Latvia (striking out), no. 12037/03, 2 September 2008 and Borisovs v. Latvia (striking out) no. 6904/02, 2 September 2008).
16. As to whether it would be appropriate to strike out the present application on the basis of the unilateral declaration made by the Government, the Court points out that there is a considerable case-law with respect to the respondent State as concerns the scope and the nature of their obligations arising under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention as regards the guarantee of the right to a trial within a reasonable time in criminal proceedings (see, in particular, Estrikh v. Latvia, no. 73819/01, §§ 136-143, 18 January 2007; Moisejevs v. Latvia, no. 64846/01, §§ 136-143, 15 June 2006; Lavents v. Latvia, no. 58442/00, §§ 85-87, 99-104, 28 November 2002; Freimanis and Līdums v. Latvia, nos. 73443/01, 74860/01, §§ 106-109, 123-126, 9 February 2006; Kornakovs v. Latvia, no. 61005/00, §§ 113-116, 120-130, 15 June 2006; and Čistiakov v. Latvia, no. 67275/01, §§ 74-91, 8 February 2007). The Court has repeatedly found a violation of this obligation and has awarded just satisfaction in accordance with the requirements of Article 41 of the Convention. Having regard to the nature of the admissions contained in the Government's declaration, as well as the amount of compensation proposed the Court considers that it is no longer justified to continue the examination of the application (Article 37 § 1(c)).
17. The Court further notes that this decision constitutes a final resolution of this application only in so far as the proceedings before the Court are concerned. It is without prejudice to the use by the applicant of other remedies before the domestic courts to claim further compensation in respect of the length of the impugned proceedings.
18. Moreover, in 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).
19. Accordingly, it should be struck out of the list.
B. Remaining complaints
1. The complaints under Article 3 and Article 5 § 3
20. The applicant complained under Article 3 and Article 5 § 3 of the Convention that he had not been entitled to a trial within a reasonable time after his arrest, which had amounted to torture.
21. The Court notes that the pre-trial detention of the applicant ended with the judgment of the Daugavpils District Court delivered on 21 March 2000, i.e. more than six months before the date on which the application was introduced to the Court (21 June 2004). This part of the application must therefore be dismissed as submitted outside the six-month time limit in accordance with Article 35 §§ 1 and 4 of the Convention.
2. The complaints under Article 6 § 3 (c) and Article 13
22. The applicant further complained under Article 6 § 3 (c) and Article 13 that he did not have adequate time for preparation of his defence, that the appeal and cassation courts did not accept his complaints for examination and that he did not have free legal assistance.
23. The Court notes that on 13 September 2004 the Latgale Regional Court rescheduled the hearings to 22 September 2004 with a view of giving the applicant the possibility to prepare his defence. An attorney was present at the hearing of 22 September 2004. Furthermore, the applicant repeatedly failed to participate in the hearings before the Latgale Regional Court on 22 September 2004. In such circumstances the Court considers that the rejection of the applicant's complaints is attributable to the applicant. The Court further notes that the applicant did not submit any evidence that he had applied to the competent national authorities to receive free legal assistance.
24. Having regard to all the material in its possession, and in so far as the matters complained of are within its competence, the Court finds that the applicant has failed to substantiate his complaints under Article 6 § 3 (c) and Article 13 of the Convention.
25. It follows that this part of the application must be rejected under Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention as being manifestly ill-founded.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Takes note of the terms of the respondent Government's declaration 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 complaint under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention concerning the length of proceedings, in accordance with Article 37 § 1 (c) of the Convention;
Declares the remainder of the application inadmissible.
Santiago Quesada Josep Casadevall