(Application no. 23364/03)
31 October 2006
In the case of Gergely v. Hungary,
The European Court of Human Rights (Second Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Mr J.-P. Costa, President,
Mr A.B. Baka,
Mr I. Cabral Barreto,
Mrs A. Mularoni,
Mrs E. Fura-Sandström,
Ms D. Jočienė,
Mr D. Popović, judges,
and Mrs S. Dollé, Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 10 October 2006,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 23364/03) against the Republic of Hungary lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Hungarian national, Mr Tibor Gergely (“the applicant”), on 6 June 2003.
2. The applicant was represented by Mr G. Bordács, a lawyer practising in Budapest. The Hungarian Government (“the Government”) were represented by Mr L. Höltzl, Agent, Ministry of Justice and Law Enforcement.
3. On 6 September 2005 the Court declared the application partly inadmissible and decided to communicate the complaint concerning the length of the proceedings to the Government. Applying Article 29 § 3 of the Convention, it decided to rule on the admissibility and merits of the application at the same time.
4. The applicant was born in 1951 and lives in Budapest.
5. On 28 October 1991 the applicant brought an action in the Budapest Regional Court seeking the annulment of a contract and the ownership of a real-estate. Between 13 February 1992 and 31 May 1994 the court held eight hearings and obtained the opinion of an expert.
6. On 10 November 1994 the proceedings were interrupted on account of the death of one of the respondents. The successors were not identified until 24 February 1999. The court informed the parties of this fact on 9 November 1999, and the proceedings resumed on 4 January 2000.
7. Four further hearings took place between 30 May 2000 and 9 March 2001.
8. On 8 June 2001 the Regional Court dismissed the applicant's action.
9. On 21 June 2001 the applicant appealed. Following repeated warnings from the appellate court, his appeal was only lodged in due and proper form on 3 December 2001.
10. On 11 December 2002 the Supreme Court, sitting as a second-instance court, dismissed the applicant's appeal.
11. On 7 October 2003 the Supreme Court rejected as inadmissible the applicant's petition for review, without an examination of the merits.
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 § 1 OF THE CONVENTION
12. The applicant complained that the length of the proceedings had been incompatible with the “reasonable time” requirement of 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...”
13. The Government contested that argument.
14. The period to be taken into consideration only began on 5 November 1992, when the recognition by Hungary of the right of individual petition under the Convention 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 point. The Court observes that the case had already been pending for over a year by that date.
The period in question ended on 7 October 2003. It thus lasted ten years and eleven months for three levels of jurisdiction.
15. The Court notes that this complaint is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention and that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.
16. 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).
17. The Court has frequently found violations of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention in cases raising issues similar to the one in the present application (see Frydlender, cited above).
18. The Court notes that the delay between 10 November 1994 and 24 February 1999 (some four years, three months and two weeks), during which time the successors of the deceased respondent were not identified, cannot be imputed to the Government; and that the delay between 21 June and 3 December 2001 (some five months and two weeks) must be attributed to the applicant. However, having examined all the material submitted to it and having regard to its case-law on the subject, the Court considers that, as regards the remaining delay of six years and two months, in the instant case the length of the proceedings was nevertheless 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
19. 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.”
20. The applicant claimed 100 million Hungarian forints1 (HUF) in respect of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage.
21. The Government contested the claim.
22. The Court does not discern any causal link between the violation found and the pecuniary damage alleged; it therefore rejects this claim. However, it considers that the applicant must have sustained some non-pecuniary damage. Ruling on an equitable basis, it awards him 1,500 euros (EUR) under that head.
B. Costs and expenses
23. The applicant also claimed HUF 7.1 million2 for the costs and expenses incurred before the domestic courts and the Court.
24. The Government did not express an opinion on the matter.
25. According to the Court's case-law, an applicant is entitled to reimbursement of his 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, regard being had to the information in its possession and the above criteria, the Court considers it reasonable to award the global sum of EUR 1,500 to cover the various costs.
C. Default interest
26. 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 remainder of 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 1,500 (one thousand five hundred euros) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 1,500 (one thousand five hundred euros) in respect of costs and expenses, to be converted into the national currency of the respondent State 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 amounts 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 31 October 2006, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
S. Dollé J.-P. Costa
GERGELY v. HUNGARY JUDGMENT
GERGELY v. HUNGARY JUDGMENT