AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF
Application no. 22051/07
by Stephan BOCK
The European Court of Human Rights (Fifth Section), sitting on 19 January 2010 as a Chamber composed of:
Peer Lorenzen, President,
Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska,
Zdravka Kalaydjieva, judges,
and Claudia Westerdiek, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 18 May 2007,
Having regard to the observations submitted by the respondent Government and the observations in reply submitted by the applicants,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicant, Mr Stephan Bock, is a German national who was born in 1951 and lives in Frankfurt (Oder). The respondent Government were represented by their Agent, Mrs A. Wittling-Vogel, Ministerialdirigentin, of the Federal Ministry of Justice.
The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.
On 15 July 2002 the applicant, a civil servant with a monthly salary of more than 4,500 euros (EUR) at the time in question, made a request for aid (Beihilfe) to the Brandenburg Land, his employer. He asked to be reimbursed part of the cost, namely 7.99 EUR, he had paid for magnesium tablets prescribed by his physician.
On 14 August 2002 the Land refused this request.
On 20 August 2002 the applicant instituted preliminary administrative proceedings (Widerspruchsverfahren) by lodging an objection to the decision of 14 August 2002.
On 4 November 2002 the Land dismissed the applicant’s objection.
On 13 November 2002 the applicant brought an action against the Brandenburg Land with the Frankfurt (Oder) Administrative Court claiming that the magnesium tablets in question were eligible for aid, and requested a renewed decision by the Land.
By letter dated 2 April 2004 the Administrative Court informed the applicant at his request that all cases were dealt with in chronological order, that there was a backlog of cases and that for the time being he could not expect a date for an oral hearing to be set.
On 6 January 2005 the Administrative Court replied to another information request by the applicant that a decision was expected to be reached that year.
4 January 2006 the applicant lodged an extraordinary complaint, that
the Frankfurt (Oder) Administrative Court was taking no action, with
the Berlin-Brandenburg Administrative Court of Appeal. By a letter dated
9 January 2006 the Administrative Court of Appeal informed the applicant
that his extraordinary complaint was not admissible since the Code of
Administrative Procedure did not provide for such a remedy and, furthermore,
he was not, as prescribed by the relevant law, represented by counsel.
On 22 January 2006 the applicant withdrew the complaint of inactivity
he had lodged with the Administrative Court of Appeal.
With decision dated 25 January 2006 the Administrative Court of Appeal discontinued the complaint proceedings.
On 1 February 2006 the applicant lodged a constitutional complaint with the Federal Constitutional Court that the Administrative Court was taking no action. On 24 April 2007 the Federal Constitutional Court refused to admit the applicant’s constitutional complaint for examination (file no. 2 BvR 267/06).
On 26 November 2007 the Frankfurt (Oder) Administrative Court referred the case to a single judge for a decision. By a judgment of 19 December 2007 the Frankfurt (Oder) Administrative Court dismissed the applicant’s action.
The judgment was served on the applicant on 29 December 2007 and has since become final.
The applicant complained under Articles 6 § 1 and 13 of the Convention that the length of the proceedings before the Frankfurt (Oder) Administrative Court was excessive and that German law does not provide for an effective legal remedy against the excessive length of court proceedings.
The applicant’s complaints relate to the length of proceedings in the administrative court, which lasted from 20 August 2002 until 29 December 2007, and thus five years and four months for one instance of jurisdiction including compulsory administrative proceedings, as well as the lack of a remedy in this respect.
According to the applicant, the length of the proceedings was in breach of the “reasonable time” requirement laid down in Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which, as far as relevant, 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...”
He further alleged a violation of Article 13, which reads as follows:
“Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in [the] Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.”
The Government submitted that in view of the financial situation of the applicant and the petty nature of the matter as well as the fact that there was no evidence that the application served any practical purpose the applicant could be viewed as abusing his right of application (Article 35 § 3).
With regard to Article 13 the Government conceded that there was a structural deficiency in Germany since there is still no effective legal remedy against excessively long court proceedings.
The applicant submitted that he had had to spend considerable time on trying to expedite the proceedings at issue and for seven years had to mentally deal with an issue involving no difficult legal questions. He further submitted that the persistency with which the respondent Government refused to implement an effective remedy against the excessive length of court proceedings must also be taken into consideration.
The Court recalls that an application may be rejected as abusive under Article 35 § 3 of the Convention which provides as far as relevant:
The Court has carefully examined all the circumstances of the case at hand. In particular it had regard to the disproportion between the triviality of the facts, namely the pettiness of the amount involved and the fact that the proceedings concerned a dietary supplement, not a pharmaceutical product, and the extensive use of court proceedings - including the appeal to an international court - against the background of that Court’s overload and the fact that a large number of applications raising serious issues on human rights are pending. Furthermore, the Court observes that proceedings as the one at issue in the instant case also contribute to the congestion of the courts at the domestic level and thus to one of the causes for excessive length of court proceedings. In the examination of the case the Court further took into consideration the applicant’s comfortable financial situation as a government official and the fact that there was no question of principle involved as evidenced by the lack of an appeal after the first instance dismissal of the applicant’s claim. Finally, it also considered the nature and scope of the alleged Convention violation. In this respect the Court notes, that the issue of excessive length of court proceedings has been dealt with by the Court in numerous cases - in particular also against the respondent Government - in which the principles of the reasonable time requirement of Article 6 § 1 have been laid down (see, among many other authorities, Gast and Popp v. Germany, no. 29357/95, § 70, ECHR 2000-II and Frydlender v. France [GC], no. 30979/96, § 43, ECHR 2000-VII). Moreover, the Court has already specified the obligation which arises under the Convention for the respondent Government with regard to the lack of an effective remedy against excessively long court proceedings (see in particular Sürmeli v. Germany [GC], no. 75529/01, ECHR 2006-VII and Herbst v. Germany, no. 20027/02, 11 January 2007). Under these exceptional circumstances the Court considers that the application must be regarded as an abuse of the right to petition (see, mutatis mutandis, Řehák v. the Czech Republic (dec.), no. 67208/01, 18 May 2004, and Stamoulakatos v. the United Kingdom (dec.), nos. 41117/98, 41119/98, 42204/98 and 42212/98, 18 January 2001, unpublished).
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Declares the application inadmissible.
Claudia Westerdiek Peer
BOCK v. GERMANY DECISION
BOCK v. GERMANY DECISION