by Roman WILCZYŃSKI (no. 3)
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 19 May 2009 as a Chamber composed of:
David Thór Björgvinsson,
Mihai Poalelungi, judges,
and Lawrence Early, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 14 January 2006,
Having regard to the declaration submitted by the respondent Government on 2 February 2009 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:
The applicant, Mr Roman Wilczyński, is a Polish national who was born in 1961 and lives in Warszawa. 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 7 June 2000 General Director of Public Roads and Motorways (Generalny Dyrektor Dróg Krajowych i Autostrad) instituted civil proceedings before the Zielona Góra Regional Court (Sąd Okręgowy). He sought a judgment obliging the applicant to make a declaration of will (oświadczenie woli) in respect of the transfer of the right of perpetual use of two plots of land to the plaintiff.
On 12 July 2000 the first hearing took place.
On 27 September 2000 the court stayed the proceedings upon a motion of the applicant.
On 25 August 2001 the applicant asked for the proceedings to be resumed. On 9 October 2001 the Zielona Góra Regional Court dismissed his request. The applicant lodged an interlocutory appeal against this decision. On 20 November 2001 the Poznań Court of Appeal (Sąd Apelacyjny) ordered that the proceedings be resumed. The court stressed that at that time there were no grounds justifying their stay.
On 5 March and 17 April 2002 the Zielona Góra Regional Court held hearings. On the last mentioned date the court stayed the proceedings upon a motion of the plaintiff.
On 15 July 2004 the applicant requested that the proceedings be resumed. The request was examined after eight months and, finally, dismissed on 8 March 2005. The applicant did not appeal.
On 5 February 2006 the proceedings were resumed.
On 24 May 2006 the court gave judgment dismissing the plaintiff’s claim and awarded the applicant the costs of the proceedings in the amount of 3,600 Polish zlotys (PLN).
On 3 July 2006 the applicant appealed against the ruling concerning the costs. On 26 October 2006 the Zielona Góra Regional Court amended the impugned decision and awarded the applicant PLN 9,784. Both parties lodged interlocutory appeals. On 9 January 2007 the Poznań Court of Appeal gave a final decision and awarded the applicant PLN 3,600 for the costs of the proceedings.
The applicant lodged a request for a declaration that the final and binding decision was contrary to the law (skarga o stwierdzenie niezgodności z prawem prawomocnego orzeczenia). On 10 August 2007 the Supreme Court rejected the appeal as inadmissible in law.
2. Proceedings under the 2004 Act
On 8 June 2005 the applicant lodged a complaint with the Poznań Court of Appeal under section 5 of the Law of 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”).
The applicant sought a ruling declaring that the length of the proceedings before the Zielona Góra Regional Court had been excessive and an award of just satisfaction in the amount of PLN 10,000.
On 15 July 2005 the Court of Appeal gave a decision in which it acknowledged the excessive length of the proceedings. It found that there had been a period of unjustified inactivity between 15 July 2004 and 8 March 2005. The court observed that the Zielona Góra Regional Court could not be held responsible for any other delays in the proceedings. The court stressed that the applicant waited over two years before filing an interlocutory appeal against the decision to stay the proceedings of 17 April 2002.
On 23 October 2006 the applicant lodged another complaint under the 2004 Act, alleging that the proceeding concerning costs had been excessively lengthy. He sought an award of just satisfaction in an amount of PLN 5,000. On 28 November 2006 the Court of Appeal dismissed his complaint. The court found that during the proceedings there had been no inactivity or undue delay on the part of the relevant courts.
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.
1. The applicant complained under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the unreasonable length of the proceedings.
2. He also complained that the Supreme Court’s refusal to examine his complaint unduly restricted his right of access to a court guaranteed by Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
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 2 February 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 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. At the same time, the Government admit that the applicant can claim to be a victim of violation of his right to have his case examined in the “reasonable time” in the meaning of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention and that the applicant can claim to be a victim of violation of the Convention, within the meaning of Article 34 of the Convention.
In these circumstances, and having regard to the particular facts of the case and the declaration prepared by the Court on the amount of PLN 10,000, which the Government consider to be reasonable in the light of the Court’s case-law, the Government declare to pay the applicant the abovementioned amount of PLN 10,000. The sum referred to above, which is to cover any pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage as well as costs and expenses, will be free of 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 said three-month period, the Government undertake to pay simple interest on it, from expiry of that period until settlement, at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default periods 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 5 March 2009 the applicant expressed the view that the sum mentioned in the Government’s declaration was unacceptably low in the light of the Court’s case-law. He further claimed that the above-mentioned amount did not compensate his non-material loss resulting from the violation of his right to a trial within a reasonable time.
The Court recalls that Article 37 of the Convention provides that it may at any stage of the proceedings decide to strike an application or part of 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 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 lack of access to a court
The applicant further complained that the Supreme Court’s refusal to examine his request for a declaration that the final and binding decision was contrary to the law unduly restricted his right of access to a court guaranteed by Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
However, the Court notes that the applicant’s complaint to the Supreme Court was inadmissible in law. Leaving aside the issue of applicability of Article 6 of the Convention to the above-mentioned proceedings, the Court reiterates that Article 6 § 1 cannot be interpreted as guaranteeing an unqualified right to appeal, in particular to the highest domestic court.
It follows that this part of the application is manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected pursuant to Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Takes note of the terms of the respondent Government’s declaration in respect of the complaint about the unreasonable length of proceedings 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.
Lawrence Early Nicolas Bratza