by Władysław DZIEDZIC
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 12 May 2009 as a Chamber composed of:
David Thór Björgvinsson,
Mihai Poalelungi, judges,
and Fatoş Aracı, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 29 April 2005,
Having regard to the declaration submitted by the respondent Government on 9 February 2009 requesting the Court to strike part of the application out of the list of cases and the applicant’s reply to that declaration,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicant, Mr Władysław Dziedzic, is a Polish national who was born in 1932 and lives in Nowy Sącz. 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 27 October 1994 the applicant filed with the Szczecin Regional Court (Sąd Okręgowy) a claim for payment.
On 7 April 1995 the Regional Court referred the case to the Szczecin District Court (Sąd Rejonowy).
On 9 December 1997 the court held the first hearing.
Between 24 May 1999 and 10 October 2002 the court held 14 hearings (only two hearings were held in 2000 and in 2001).
On 6 November 2002 the Szczecin District Court gave a decision. The applicant appealed.
On 9 July 2003 the applicant challenged the impartiality of the Regional Court’s judges.
On 5 September 2003 the applicant was ordered to substantiate his application. He submitted his reply on 9 September 2003.
On 12 July 2004 the court returned his application challenging the impartiality of the Regional Court’s judges since he had failed to comply with the necessary formal requirements.
On 30 September 2004 the Szczecin Regional Court partly amended the first-instance decision of 6 November 2002. The decision with its reasoning was served on the applicant on 29 October 2004.
The applicant did not lodge a cassation appeal against it.
2. The applicant’s complaint under the 2004 Act
On 23 September 2004 the applicant lodged with the Poznań Court of Appeal (Sąd Apelacyjny) a complaint under section 5 of the Law on 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”) which entered into force on 17 September 2004.
He sought a ruling declaring that the length of the proceedings before the Szczecin District Court and the Szczecin Regional Court had been excessive and an award of just satisfaction in the amount of 10,000 Polish zlotys (PLN) (approx. 2,500 euros (EUR)).
On 23 November 2004 the Szczecin Court of Appeal gave a decision. The court found that there had been some periods of inactivity for which both the District Court and the Regional Court had been responsible. It found that no action had been taken between 15 May 1995 and 16 October 1997 as well as between 30 April 1998 and 15 March 1999. Moreover, it noted that the Regional Court had not dealt promptly with the applicant’s interlocutory appeal of 10 April 2001 and had failed to take any action between 15 September 2003 and 12 July 2004. The court awarded the applicant PLN 4,000 (approx. EUR 1,000) in just satisfaction.
B. Relevant domestic law and practice
The relevant domestic law and practice concerning remedies for the excessive length of judicial proceedings are stated in the Court’s decisions in the cases of Charzyński v. Poland no. 15212/03 (dec.), §§ 12 23, ECHR 2005-V and Ratajczyk v. Poland no. 11215/02 (dec.), ECHR 2005-VIII.
The applicant complained under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the unreasonable length of the proceedings.
He further complained under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention that the proceedings had been unfair. In particular, he alleged that the witnesses had been intimidated, the court had been biased and that it had applied domestic law erroneously.
A. Length of proceedings
The applicant complained about the length of the 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 his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal...”
By letter dated 28 January 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 this part of the application in accordance with Article 37 of the Convention.
The declaration provided as follows:
“(...) the Government hereby wish to express - by way of the unilateral declaration — its acknowledgement of the unreasonable duration of the domestic proceedings in which the applicant was involved.
Consequently, the Government are prepared to accept the applicant’s claim for just [satisfaction] amounting to PLN 16,000. 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 on 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 might 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.
In a letter of 21 February 2009 the applicant expressed the view that he could accept the Government’s proposal as far as it concerned the length complaint. However, he wished to pursue his application as regards the complaint about the unfairness of the proceedings.
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”.
It also recalls that 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 the violation 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 the amounts awarded in similar cases – the Court considers that it is no longer justified to continue the examination of this part of the application (Article 37 § 1(c).
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).
Accordingly, it should be struck out of the list.
B. Complaint under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the alleged unfairness of the proceedings
The applicant further complained, invoking Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, that the proceedings in his case had been unfair.
Accordingly, this complaint must be rejected under Article 35 §§ 1 and 4 of the Convention for non-exhaustion of domestic remedies.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Takes note of the terms of the respondent Government’s declaration in respect of the length of proceedings complaint under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention 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.
Fatoş Aracı Nicolas Bratza
Deputy Registrar President