(Application no. 2462/03)
11 April 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 Kocsis 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,
Mr R. Türmen,
Mr V. Butkevych,
Ms D. Jočienė,
Mr D. Popović, judges,
and Mrs S. Dollé, Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 21 April 2006,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 2462/03) 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, Mrs Györgyné Kocsis (“the applicant”), on 18 November 2002.
2. The Hungarian Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr L. Höltzl, Deputy State-Secretary, Ministry of Justice.
3. On 29 June 2005 the Court decided to communicate the application. 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 1921 and lives in Budapest.
5. The applicant was named beneficiary in her friend’s will. Following the friend’s death, the applicant claimed her inheritance.
6. On 12 September 1995 the State instituted proceedings against the applicant requesting the Pest Central District Court to declare the will invalid. The State claimed that the applicant’s friend had lacked the capacity to make reasonable decisions when she had signed the will.
7. The District Court held hearings on 17 December 1996, 15 April and 18 September 1997. On 6 October it appointed a medical expert, who submitted his opinion on 12 November 1997.
8. On 13 May 1998 the District Court dismissed the State’s action.
9. On 1 July 1998 the plaintiff appealed.
10. On 6 April and 21 October 1999 the Budapest Regional Court held hearings. On the latter date it quashed the first-instance decision and declared the will invalid. Relying essentially on the opinion of the medical expert, the court held that the testator had had no capacity to perform legal acts when the testament had been signed.
11. On 14 January 2000 the applicant filed a petition for review, which was completed on 17 November 2000.
12. On 30 April 2002 the Supreme Court dismissed the applicant’s petition for review. This decision was served on 13 June 2002.
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 § 1 OF THE CONVENTION
13. 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...”
14. The Government contested that argument.
15. The period to be taken into consideration began on 12 September 1995 and ended on 13 June 2002. It thus lasted six years and nine months for three levels of jurisdiction.
16. The Court notes that this complaint 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.
17. 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).
18. 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).
19. Having examined all the material submitted to it, the Court considers that the Government have not put forward any fact or convincing 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. OTHER ALLEGED VIOLATIONS OF THE CONVENTION
20. The applicant also complained that the court decisions were wrong and the proceedings unfair.
21. In so far as the applicant’s complaint may be understood to concern the assessment of the evidence and the result of the proceedings before the domestic courts, the Court reiterates that, according to Article 19 of the Convention, its duty is to ensure the observance of the engagements undertaken by the Contracting Parties to the Convention. In particular, it is not its function to deal with errors of fact or law allegedly committed by a national court unless and in so far as they may have infringed rights and freedoms protected by the Convention. Moreover, while Article 6 of the Convention guarantees the right to a fair hearing, it does not lay down any rules on the admissibility of evidence or the way it should be assessed, which are therefore primarily matters for regulation by national law and the national courts (García Ruiz v. Spain [GC], no. 30544/96, § 28, ECHR 1999-I).
22. In the present case, the Court considers that there is nothing in the case file indicating that the courts lacked impartiality or that the proceedings were otherwise unfair. It follows that this part of the application is manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 and must be rejected pursuant to Article 35 § 4 of the Convention.
III. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
23. 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.”
24. The applicant claimed 6 million Hungarian forints1 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
25. The Government contested the claim.
26. The Court considers that the applicant must have sustained some non-pecuniary damage. Ruling on an equitable basis, it awards her 2,000 euros (EUR).
B. Costs and expenses
27. The applicant made no claim under that head.
C. Default interest
28. 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 complaint concerning the excessive length of the proceedings admissible and the remainder of the application inadmissible;
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 2,000 (two thousand euros) in respect of non-pecuniary damage, 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 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 11 April 2006, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
S. Dollé J.-P. Costa
KOCSIS v. HUNGARY JUDGMENT
KOCSIS v. HUNGARY JUDGMENT