CASE OF BERÁNEK v. THE CZECH REPUBLIC
(Application no. 45758/14)
5 October 2017
This judgment is final but it may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Beránek v. the Czech Republic,
The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting as a Committee composed of:
Jovan Ilievski, judges,
and Renata Degener, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 12 September 2017,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 45758/14) against the Czech Republic lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Czech national, Mr Josef Beránek (“the applicant”), on 16 June 2014.
2. The applicant was represented by Ms V. Burianová, a lawyer practising in Plzeň. The Czech Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr V.A. Schorm of the Ministry of Justice.
3. The applicant alleged, in particular, that he had been deprived of his right of access to a court, since the Constitutional Court had erroneously rejected his constitutional appeal as being out of time.
4. On 17 June 2015 the application was communicated to the Government.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
5. The applicant was born in 1965 and lives in Smědčice.
6. On 9 November 2006 the applicant requested a building permit for temporary stables for horses. On 6 January 2011 the Rokycany Planning Office (stavební úřad) dismissed his request and on 26 May 2011 the Plzeň Regional Office (krajský úřad) upheld that decision.
7. On 29 March 2013 the Plzeň Regional Court (krajský soud) dismissed a complaint lodged by the applicant against the decision of the Plzeň Regional Office.
8. On 31 July 2013 the Supreme Administrative Court (Nejvyšší správní soud) dismissed an appeal on points of law lodged by the applicant. The decision was served on the applicant on 28 August 2013.
9. On 29 October 2013 the applicant lodged a constitutional complaint (ústavní stížnost).
10. On 31 March 2014 the Constitutional Court (Ústavní soud) rejected the applicant’s appeal as being lodged out of time. It held that as the Supreme Administrative Court’s decision had been served on him on 28 August 2013, the last day of the two-month time-limit for lodging a constitutional appeal was 28 October 2013.
11. On 8 April 2014 the applicant wrote to the Constitutional Court urging it to set aside its decision. He argued that as 28 October 2013 had been a national holiday, domestic procedural rules provided that the last day for lodging his appeal had been the following day, namely 29 October 2013.
12. By a letter of 11 April 2014 the Registrar (generální sekretář) of the Constitutional Court acknowledged that the judge-rapporteur had undoubtedly overlooked the fact that the time-limit had been complied with. However, as the Constitutional Court did not have the power to set aside its own decision, he advised the applicant to lodge an application with the European Court of Human Rights.
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW
A. Constitutional Court Act (Act no. 182/1993, as amended)
13. Under section 63, unless stated otherwise, the Code of Civil Procedure must be applied by default in proceedings before the Constitutional Court.
14. Section 72(3) provides that a constitutional appeal may be lodged within two months of the decision on the last available remedy being served.
B. Code of Civil Procedure (Act no. 99/1963, as amended)
15. Under Article 57 § 2, if the last day of a time-limit falls on a national holiday, the next working day following the national holiday is the last day of that time-limit.
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 § 1 OF THE CONVENTION
16. The applicant complained that the Constitutional Court had erroneously rejected his constitutional appeal as being submitted out of time and that he had therefore been denied the right of access to a court guaranteed by Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which reads as follows:
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ... everyone is entitled to a fair ... hearing ... by [a] ... tribunal ...”
17. The Government left the matter to the Court’s discretion.
18. The Court notes that this complaint is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention. It further notes that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.
19. The Court reiterates that it is primarily for the national authorities, notably the courts, to interpret procedural rules such as time-limits for filing documents or lodging appeals (see Běleš and Others v. the Czech Republic, no. 47273/99, § 60, ECHR 2002-IX, and Jensen v. Denmark, no. 8693/11, § 35, 13 December 2016). The rules on the procedure and time-limits for appeals are designed to ensure the proper administration of justice and, in particular, legal certainty (see, among other authorities, Zvolský and Zvolská v. the Czech Republic, no. 46129/99, § 46, ECHR 2002-IX). Litigants should expect those rules to be applied (see Jensen, cited above, § 35).
20. In this regard the Court notes that the present situation is identical to that of the applicant in the case of Zemanová v. the Czech Republic (no. 6019/03, §§ 17-22, 13 December 2005) in which the Court emphasised that the erroneous application by the Constitutional Court of the time-limit for lodging a constitutional appeal had prevented the applicant’s appeal from being examined on the merits and infringed her right to the effective protection of the courts, in violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention (see Zemanová, cited above, § 21).
21. The Court sees no reason to depart from the conclusions it reached in Zemanová, which are entirely pertinent in the case of the present applicant. In addition, in the present case an error made by the judge-rapporteur in assessing compliance with the time-limit was expressly admitted by the Registrar of the Constitutional Court (see paragraph 12 above).
22. In these circumstances, the Court finds that the erroneous application by the Constitutional Court of the procedural rule on the time-limit for lodging a constitutional appeal deprived the applicant of his right of access to a court.
23. There has accordingly been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
24. Article 41 of the Convention provides:
“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.”
25. The applicant claimed CZK 1,843,200 Czech korunas (CZK) (68,260 euros (EUR)) in respect of pecuniary damage, or alternatively CZK 422,400 (EUR 15,640), calculating the loss from the date on which the Constitutional Court rejected his constitutional appeal. He did not seek compensation for non-pecuniary damage.
26. The Government stated that the applicant had not proved that there was a causal link between the conduct of the Constitutional Court, which could be considered as a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, and the pecuniary damage suffered. In addition, the Government noted that should the Court find a violation of the applicant’s right under the Convention, the applicant could request the reopening of his case before the Constitutional Court under Articles 119 et seq. of the Constitutional Court Act. Accordingly, his claims should be dismissed.
27. The Court considers that the basis for an award of just satisfaction in the present case must be the denial of access to a court, which is part of the right to a fair trial within the meaning of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. It finds no causal link between the pecuniary damage alleged by the applicant and its finding of a violation of Article 6. Nor can it speculate on what the outcome would have been had the Constitutional Court declared the applicant’s appeal admissible and proceeded to hear it. Accordingly, the Court makes no award under this head.
28. Having regard to the nature of the violation of Article 6 § 1 found in the present case, the Court considers - as it has in other similar cases (see Běleš and Others, cited above, § 76, and Zemanová cited above, § 30) - that the finding of a violation constitutes sufficient just satisfaction in the circumstances.
B. Costs and expenses
29. The applicant made a claim in respect of costs and expenses, without specifying their amount.
30. The Government noted that the applicant had neither submitted itemised particulars of his claim for reimbursement of legal costs, nor provided any documentary evidence to support his claim.
31. According to the Court’s case-law, an applicant is entitled to reimbursement of his or her costs and expenses only in so far as it has been shown that these have been actually and necessarily incurred and were reasonable as to quantum. In the present case, the Court notes that no documentary evidence has been submitted by the applicant to establish that the costs and expenses claimed by him in the original application form were actually incurred (see, among other authorities, Vojáčková v. the Czech Republic, no. 15741/02, § 35, 4 April 2006). The Court, therefore, rejects this claim.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT, UNANIMOUSLY,
1. Declares the application admissible;
2. Holds that there has been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention;
3. Holds that the finding of a violation constitutes in itself sufficient just satisfaction for the non-pecuniary damage sustained by the applicant;
4. Dismisses the remainder of the applicant’s claim for just satisfaction.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 5 October 2017, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
Renata Degener Krzysztof Wojtyczek
Deputy Registrar President