(Application no. 1524/02)
22 August 2006
This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Majchrzak v. Poland,
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Sir Nicolas Bratza, President,
Mr G. Bonello,
Mr M. Pellonpää,
Mr K. Traja,
Mr L. Garlicki,
Ms L. Mijović,
Mr J. Šikuta, judges,
and Mr T.L. Early, Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 11 July 2006,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 1524/02) against the Republic of Poland lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Polish national, Mr Zbigniew Majchrzak (“the applicant”), on 23 June 2001.
2. The Polish Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr J. Wołąsiewicz, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
3. On 1 September 2005 the President of the Fourth Section decided to communicate the application. Under the provisions of Article 29 § 3 of the Convention, it was decided to examine the merits of the application at the same time as its admissibility.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
4. The applicant was born in 1943 and lives in Poznań, Poland.
1. The facts prior to 1 May 1993
5. W.M., the applicant’s father died intestate in 1988. In November 1990, P.M., the applicant’s mother, requested the Poznań District Court to declare that she and her three children, including the applicant, were entitled to inherit from W.M.
6. In the course of those proceedings, the applicant’s mother, who had made three different wills, died in 1992. Consequently, on 9 March 1992 the applicant requested to join the case concerning the persons entitled to inherit from his mother to the original proceedings.
7. The District Court held 6 hearings in 1992.
2. The facts after 1 May 1993
8. The District Court held 4 hearings on the following dates: 27 September 1993; 4 August and 28 October 1994; and 2 October 1995.
9. On 11 February 1994 the court ordered that evidence from an expert be obtained. The expert report was served on the parties on 18 March 1994. On 28 October 1994 the court ordered that evidence from a handwriting expert be obtained. The expert report was submitted to the court on 7 June 1995.
10. On 16 October 1995 the Poznań District Court gave its decision (postanowienie). It ruled that the estate of W.M. should pass, according to the relevant statute, to the applicant’s mother, the applicant, his sister (B.K.) and W.M.’s granddaughter. In respect of the persons entitled to inherit from the applicant’s mother, the District Court held that her entire estate should pass to the applicant’s sister on the basis of the will made in 1990. The applicant appealed against the District Court’s decision.
11. On 27 February 1996 the Poznań Regional Court quashed the District Court’s decision on the persons entitled to inherit from the applicant’s mother and accordingly, remitted the case in part. It found that the first-instance proceedings in that respect had been null and void on the ground that M.M. (the applicant’s daughter), who had a legal interest in the case, had not been summoned to participate in the proceedings. The Regional Court upheld the remainder of the first-instance decision.
12. In the subsequent proceedings the District Court held 8 hearings on the following dates: 7 January, 26 September and 28 November 1997; 12 May, 21 August and 22 December 1998; and 8 and 22 February 1999.
13. On 18 March 1999 the Poznań District Court ruled that B.K. (the applicant’s sister) was the only person entitled to inherit from the applicant’s mother in accordance with the 1990 will. The applicant appealed against the District Court’s decision.
14. The Poznań Regional Court held a hearing on 9 November 1999. On 26 November 1999 it quashed the decision and remitted the case.
15. On 2 January 2001 the Poznan District Court held the first and the only hearing. On the same day it held in a decision that the only person entitled to inherit from P.M., the applicant’s mother, was M.M. (the applicant’s daughter) in accordance with the will made in 1988. It appears that none of the parties appealed against that decision.
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW
16. The legal provisions applicable at the material time as well as matters of practice are set out in paragraphs 26-35 of the judgment delivered by the Court on 30 May 2006 in the case of Barszcz v. Poland, no. 71152/01.
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 § 1 OF THE CONVENTION
17. The applicant complained that the length of the proceedings had been incompatible with the “reasonable time” requirement, provided in Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which reads as follows:
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal...”
18. The Government contested that argument.
19. The period to be taken into consideration began only on 1 May 1993, when the recognition by Poland of the right of individual petition took effect. However, in assessing the reasonableness of the time that elapsed after that date, account must be taken of the state of proceedings at the time. The period in question ended on 2 January 2001. It thus lasted just over 7 years and 8 months for two levels of jurisdiction.
20. The Government submitted that the applicant had not exhausted remedies available under Polish law. They maintained that from 17 September 2004 when 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”) had come into force, the applicant had a possibility of lodging with the Polish civil courts under Article 417 of the Civil Code read together with Article 16 of the 2004 Act a claim for compensation for damage suffered due to the excessive length of proceedings. They argued that the three-year prescription period for the purposes of a compensation claim in tort based on the excessive length of proceedings could run from a date later than the date on which a final decision in these proceedings had been given. The Government further submitted that such a possibility had existed in Polish law before the entry into force of the 2004 Act ever since the judgment of the Constitutional Court of 4 December 2001, which entered into force on 18 December 2001.
21. The applicant contested the Government’s arguments.
22. The Court observes that the proceedings at issue ended at the latest on 2 January 2001, which is more than three years before the relevant provisions of the 2004 Act read together with the Civil Code became effective. It follows that the limitation period for the State’s liability for tort set out in Article 442 of the Code Civil had expired before 17 September 2004.
23. The Court notes that the arguments raised by the Government are the same as those already examined by the Court in previous cases against Poland (see Małasiewicz v. Poland, no. 22072/02, §§ 32-34, 14 October 2003; Ratajczyk v. Poland (dec.), no. 11215/02, ECHR 2005-...; Barszcz v. Poland, no. 71152/01, §§ 41-45, 30 May 2006) and the Government have not submitted any new arguments which would lead the Court to depart from its previous findings. For these reasons, the Government’s plea of inadmissibility on the ground of non-exhaustion of domestic remedies must be dismissed.
24. The Court notes that the application is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention. It further notes that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.
25. The Court reiterates that the reasonableness of the length of proceedings must be assessed in the light of the circumstances of the case and with reference to the following criteria: the complexity of the case, the conduct of the applicant and the relevant authorities and what was at stake for the applicant in the dispute (see, among many other authorities, Frydlender v. France [GC], no. 30979/96, § 43, ECHR 2000-VII).
26. The Court has frequently found violations of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention in cases raising issues similar to the one in the present case (see Frydlender, cited above).
27. Having examined all the material submitted to it, the Court considers that the Government have not put forward any fact or argument capable of persuading it to reach a different conclusion in the present case. Having regard to its case-law on the subject, the Court considers that in the instant case the length of the proceedings was excessive and failed to meet the “reasonable time” requirement.
There has accordingly been a breach of Article 6 § 1.
II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
28. 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.”
29. The applicant claimed PLN 8,800 in respect of pecuniary damage. He left the award in respect of non-pecuniary damage to the Court’s discretion.
30. The Government contested these claims.
31. The Court does not discern any causal link between the violation found and the pecuniary damage alleged; it therefore rejects this claim. On the other hand, it considers that the applicant must have suffered some non-pecuniary damage. Ruling on an equitable basis, it awards award him EUR 3,500 under that head.
B. Costs and expenses
32. The applicant did not seek to be reimbursed for any costs and expenses in connection with the proceedings before the Court.
C. Default interest
33. The Court considers it appropriate that the default interest should be based on the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank, to which should be added three percentage points.
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;
(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, EUR 3,500 (three thousand five hundred euros) in respect of non-pecuniary damage, to be converted into Polish zlotys at the rate applicable at the date of settlement, plus any tax that may be chargeable;
(b) that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amount at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;
4. Dismisses the remainder of the applicant’s claim for just satisfaction.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 22 August 2006, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
T.L. Early Nicolas Bratza
MAJCHRZAK v. POLAND JUDGMENT
MAJCHRZAK v. POLAND JUDGMENT