AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF

                      Application No. 26384/95
                      by Mária SAMKOVÁ
                      against the Slovak Republic


     The European Commission of Human Rights (Second Chamber) sitting
in private on 26 June 1996, the following members being present:

           Mr.   H. DANELIUS, President
           Mrs.  G.H. THUNE
           MM.   G. JÖRUNDSSON
                 J.-C. SOYER
                 H.G. SCHERMERS
                 F. MARTINEZ
                 L. LOUCAIDES
                 J.-C. GEUS
                 M.A. NOWICKI
                 J. MUCHA
                 D. SVÁBY
                 P. LORENZEN
                 E. BIELIUNAS

           Ms.   M.-T. SCHOEPFER, Secretary to the Chamber

     Having regard to Article 25 of the Convention for the Protection
of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms;

     Having regard to the application introduced on 10 November 1994
by Mária SAMKOVÁ against the Slovak Republic and registered on
2 February 1995 under file No. 26384/95;

     Having regard to :

-    the reports provided for in Rule 47 of the Rules of Procedure of
     the Commission;

-    the observations submitted by the respondent Government on
     17 November and 5 December 1995, and the observations and
     supplement to the observations in reply submitted by the
     applicant on 29 January 1996 and 11 March 1996 respectively;

     Having deliberated;

     Decides as follows:

THE FACTS

     The applicant is a Slovak national born in 1917.  She is retired
and resides in Dolné Vestenice.  Before the Commission the applicant
is represented by Mr. J. Maly, a lawyer practising in Bratislava.

     The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be
summarised as follows.

A.   Particular circumstances of the case

     In 1961 a plot owned by the applicant and her late husband was
expropriated for construction of a zoological garden.  In 1963 they
received compensation according to the rules then in force.

     In 1991 the applicant claimed restitution of the expropriated
land pursuant to Section 6 para. 1 (m) and (r) of the Land Ownership
Act (see "The relevant domestic law and practice" below").  As the
administration of the zoological garden refused to restore the
property, the applicant claimed restitution before the Bratislava Land
Office (Pozemkovy úrad - "the Land Office") pursuant to Section 9
para. 4 of the Land Ownership Act.

     On 7 April 1992 the Land Office held an examination of the area.
Its aim was to determine whether the land served the purpose for which
it had been initially expropriated.  The applicant attended the
examination together with some 15 other claimants.  The record drawn
up after the examination does not contain any reference to the plot
claimed by the applicant and to the comments she made in the course of
the examination.

     On 25 January 1994 the Head of the Property Administration
Section of the Bratislava City Council (Magistrát) informed the Land
Office that the land claimed by the applicant was used for the purpose
for which it had been expropriated.

     On 31 January 1994 the Land Office dismissed the applicant's
claim.  It found, with reference to information submitted by the
administration of the zoological garden and to the letter of the City
Council of 25 January 1994, that since animals owned by the zoological
garden were kept on the plot, it was used for the purpose for which it
had been expropriated.  Therefore, it could not be restored pursuant
to Section 6 para. 1 (m) of the Land Ownership Act.  The decision was
signed by the Head (prednosta) of the Land Office.

     On 8 March 1994 the applicant lodged an appeal to the Bratislava
City Court (Mestsky súd).  She alleged that pursuant to Section 6 para.
1 (m) and (r) of the Land Ownership Act she was entitled to restitution
of the land as the expropriation had not respected human rights since
it had aimed at the liquidation of private property.

     The applicant further alleged that no animals had been kept on
the plot at issue during the relevant period (i.e. between 1961 and
1 January 1990).  She maintained that animals could be kept on the plot
only if the original construction plans had been carried out, which was
not the case.  The applicant concluded that her former plot had never
served the purpose for which it had been expropriated.  She proposed
to hear witnesses including the participants in the examination which
had taken place on 7 April 1992.  The applicant expressly requested the
court to hold an oral hearing.

     Before submitting the applicant's appeal to the City Court, the
Land Office ordered a second examination of the site which was
connected with an oral hearing pursuant to Section 21 of the
Administrative Proceedings Act.  It took place on 24 March 1994.

     According to the record there were still some fruit trees on the
plot originally owned by the applicant.  The representative of the
zoological garden disagreed with the proposal to restore the plot and
stated that animals would be kept again on it later that year.  The
Land Office concluded that the property at issue could not be restored.
The applicant attended the examination but the record contains no note
of whether she made any statements.

     On 11 May 1994 the Bratislava City Court upheld the Land Office's
decision of 31 January 1994.  The court held that the plot was part of
the zoological garden's area and therefore served the general purpose
of the 1961 expropriation, i.e. the construction of a zoological
garden.  In the court's view it was irrelevant whether or not animals
were kept on the plot since it served the needs of the zoo as a whole,
e.g. for aesthetic and functional purposes.

     The City Court found that since compensation had been paid to the
former owners, the expropriation could not be regarded as lacking
respect for human rights.  With reference to Section 250f of the Code
of Civil Procedure it considered that no hearing was necessary in the
applicant's case.

     The applicant lodged a complaint with the Supreme Court (Najvyssí
súd) in which she alleged that the proceedings before the Bratislava
City Court had been unfair.  On 29 September 1994 the Supreme Court
discontinued the proceedings for lack of jurisdiction.

B.   Relevant domestic law and practice

1.   The Constitution, the Constitutional Court Act and the
Constitutional Court's case-law

     Article 48 of the Constitution provides as follows:

(Translation)

     "1. No one may be deprived of his or her judge.  The jurisdiction
     of courts shall be defined by law."

     2. Every person has the right to have his or her case tried
     publicly without unreasonable delay, to be present at the
     proceedings, and to challenge any evidence given therein.  The
     public can only be excluded in cases specified by law."

     The jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court and the proceedings
before it are governed, inter alia, by the following provisions of the
Constitution:


(Translation)

     Article 127

     "The Constitutional Court shall decide on complaints against
     final decisions made by central government authorities, local
     government authorities and local self-governing bodies in cases
     concerning violations of fundamental rights and freedoms of
     citizens, unless the protection of such rights falls under the
     jurisdiction of another court."

     Article 130

     "1. The Constitutional Court shall commence proceedings upon a
     proposal [návrh] submitted by:
           a) no less than one fifth of all members of the National
           Council of the Slovak Republic;
           b) the President of the Slovak Republic;
           c) the Government of the Slovak Republic;
           d) a court;
           e) the Prosecutor General;
           f) any person whose rights shall be adjudicated pursuant to
           Article 127.
           ...

     3. The Constitutional Court may commence proceedings upon a
     petition [podnet] submitted by legal entities or individuals
     claiming a violation of their rights."

     Proceedings before the Constitutional Court are governed in more
detail by Act No. 38/1993 ("the Constitutional Court Act").  It
provides, so far as relevant, as follows:

(Translation)

     Section 18

     "3. The proceedings shall be instituted
           a) on the day of the delivery of the proposal [návrh] to
           the Constitutional Court;
           b) when a petition [podnet] has been admitted after its
           preliminary examination."

     Part 4 of the Constitutional Court Act governs the proceedings
concerning constitutional complaints pursuant to Article 127 of the
Constitution.  Pursuant to Section 57 of the Act, if the Constitutional
Court finds a violation of a fundamental right and freedom in the
course of such proceedings, it shall quash the decision complained of.

     Apart from Section 18 para. 3 (b) and Section 20 para. 2 (which
sets out the formal requirements for lodging a petition) there are no
specific provisions governing the proceedings pursuant to Article 130
(3) of the Constitution in the Constitutional Court Act.  The
preliminary examination of a petition referred to in Section 18
para. 3 (b) of the aforesaid Act is held in camera.

     In its decision of 7 September 1993 in case No. I. ÚS 26/93
(Collection of the Constitutional Court's judgments and decisions,
1993-1994, No. 10/93) the Constitutional Court held that it "lacks
jurisdiction to quash or to substitute the general courts' decisions
in civil or criminal matters".

     In its decision of 2 December 1994 in case No. I. ÚS 59/94
(published in the aforesaid Collection of judgments and decisions under
No. 59/94) the Constitutional Court held, inter alia:

(Translation)

     "The Constitutional Court ... is an independent judicial
     authority charged with the protection of constitutionality within
     its jurisdiction as defined by the Constitution...  However, its
     jurisdiction does not include the right to quash or amend final
     decisions taken by the general courts.  The Constitutional Court
     cannot interfere with the general courts' jurisdiction and cannot
     act as an appellate court in matters which are within the
     jurisdiction of the general courts.  An interference with the
     proceedings before the general courts or with their decision-
     making would amount to a violation of the constitutional
     principle of independence and impartiality of such courts ... as
     well as of the principle of independence of their judges..."

     On 28 February 1994 the Constitutional Court delivered a judgment
(nález) in case No. I. ÚS 8/94 (published in the aforesaid Collection
of judgments and decisions under No. 1/94) in which it found, upon a
petition introduced by a natural person, a violation of the
petitioner's right not to be deprived of his judge guaranteed by
Article 48 para. 1 of the Constitution.  The violation found consisted
in the fact that a complaint concerning elections had been decided on
its merits by a judge of a District Court (Okresny súd) whereas
according to the relevant law such a complaint was within the
jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

     In its judgment in case No. II. ÚS 26/95 of 25 October 1995 the
Constitutional Court found a violation of the petitioner's right to
have his case tried without unreasonable delay guaranteed by Article
48 para. 2 of the Constitution.

2.   The State Liability Act

     Pursuant to Section 1 of Act No. 58/1969 on Liability for Damage
Caused by a State Organ's Decision or by an Erroneous Official Act
("the State Liability Act") of 5 June 1969, as amended, the State is
liable, inter alia, for damage caused by an unlawful decision which was
made by a State organ when hearing civil cases.

     According to Section 4 para. 1 of the aforesaid Act compensation
for damage cannot be claimed until the competent organ has quashed the
final decision by which the damage was caused.

     Section 18 of the Act provides that the State is responsible for
damage caused by erroneous official acts committed by persons who carry
out tasks vested in State organs.

3.   The Land Ownership Act

     Pursuant to Section 6 para. 1 (m) of Act No. 229/91 on Adjustment
of Ownership Rights in Land And Other Agricultural Property ("the Land
Ownership Act"), real property which was expropriated with payment of
compensation shall be restored if it still exists and has never served
the purpose for which it was expropriated.

     Section 6 para. 1 (r) provides for restitution of property if its
owner was deprived of it as a result of political persecution or in a
way which is incompatible with generally recognised human rights and
freedoms.

     Section 9 para. 1 provides that a person entitled to restitution
must lodge his or her claim with the appropriate Land Office and at the
same time he or she shall request restitution from the person or entity
possessing the real property at issue.  The latter is required to
conclude, within 60 days, an agreement on transfer of the property with
the claimant.

     If such an agreement is not reached, the ownership right shall
be established, pursuant to Section 9 para. 4, by the appropriate Land
Office.

4.   Legislation relating to the proceedings before Land Offices

     Pursuant to Section 32 para. 1 of Act No. 330/91 ("the Land
Offices Act") Land Offices shall exercise functions of the State
relating to the settlement of land property issues in accordance with
Act No. 330/91 and other statutory rules. In accordance with para. 1
(c) of the aforesaid Section, Land Offices also perform functions
relating to restitution of property pursuant to special regulations
including the Land Ownership Act.

     Section 33 para. 1 of Act No. 330/91 provides that Land Offices
are "special units" of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture.  Pursuant
to para. 2 of the same Section, Land Offices are directed by Heads who
are appointed and recalled by the Minister of Food and Agriculture.

     The proceedings before Land Offices are governed by Act
No. 71/1967 (Administrative Proceedings Act).

     Sections 3 and 4 of Act No. 71/1967 govern the basic principles
of the proceedings before administrative authorities.  Thus, the
proceedings must be conducted in accordance with the law, and
participants must always be given the opportunity to defend effectively
their rights and interests, to challenge the facts of the case and to
make proposals as to the proceedings.  Further, the parties must enjoy
equal rights and have the same obligations.  The decisions of
administrative authorities have to be based on facts that have been
established in a trustworthy manner.

     Section 9 of the Administrative Proceedings Act provides for
exclusion of the administrative organs' officers if their impartiality
is open to doubt or if they participated in their official capacity in
examination of the case at a different level.

     Pursuant to Section 21 paras. 1 and 2 of the aforesaid Act, the
administrative authority shall order an oral hearing if it is required
by the nature of the matter, in particular where such a hearing will
contribute to clarification of the matter at issue.  If the oral
hearing is related to examination of a site, it should be held on that
site.  The parties to the proceedings must be summoned to attend the
oral hearing, and invited to express their comments and proposals in
the course of the hearing.

     In accordance with Section 21 para. 3 of Act No. 71/1967, oral
hearings are not public unless a special legal rule provides or the
administrative authority decides otherwise.

     Pursuant to Section 32 of Act No. 71/1967, administrative
authorities are under the obligation to establish all facts accurately
and comprehensively.  For that purpose they have to obtain all
necessary supporting documents and data.

     Section 33 of Act No. 71/1967 entitles the participants to
propose the taking of evidence or supplementary evidence and to
question witnesses and experts in the course of the oral hearing or
during the examination of the site.  The parties must be given an
opportunity to comment on the facts and the way in which they have been
established, and to make further proposals.

5.   The Code of Civil Procedure

     The lawfulness of the decisions of administrative organs can be
examined by courts in accordance with Part 5 of the Code of Civil
Procedure which governs the administrative judiciary.

     Section 250f entitles the courts to deliver a judgment without
prior oral hearing in simple cases, in particular when there is no
doubt as to whether the administrative organ established the facts
correctly, and the point at issue is a question of law.

     Pursuant to Section 250i para. 1, the courts must, when reviewing
administrative organs' decisions, take into consideration the facts as
they existed at the moment when the decision at issue was taken.

     In accordance with Section 250m para. 3, the participants in the
proceedings before the court are the parties in the proceedings before
the administrative authority and the administrative authority itself,
whose decision is to be reviewed.

     Pursuant to Sections 250q and 250r, a court examining an
administrative authority's decision can either uphold or quash it.  If
the decision was not taken pursuant to Section 250f or if the
administrative authority did not issue a new decision satisfying the
plaintiff's claim, the court may take such evidence as is necessary for
review of the decision at issue.  If the decision is quashed, the case
is sent back to the administrative authority.  The latter is bound by
the legal opinion expressed by the court.

COMPLAINTS

     The applicant alleges a violation of Article 6 para. 1 of the
Convention in the proceedings before the Bratislava Land Office and the
Bratislava City Court in that (i) the decisions were based exclusively
on the arguments presented by the defendant, (ii) the court reached an
unfair decision because of erroneous interpretation of the law, (iii)
the court refused to hear witnesses and failed to establish the facts
of the case, and (iv) there was no public hearing in her case.

PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE COMMISSION

     The application was introduced on 10 November 1994 and registered
on 2 February 1995.

     On 6 September 1995 the Commission decided to communicate the
application to the respondent Government, pursuant to Rule 48
para. 2 (b) of the Rules of Procedure.

     The Government's written observations were submitted on 17
November 1995 and supplemented on 5 December 1995.  The applicant
replied on 29 January 1996 and supplemented her submissions on 11 March
1996, after an extension of the time-limit.

     On 5 December 1995 the Commission granted the applicant legal
aid.

THE LAW

     The applicant alleges a violation of her rights guaranteed by
Article 6 para. 1 (Art. 6-1) of the Convention which reads, so far as
relevant, as follows:

     "In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ...
     everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing ... by an
     independent ... tribunal established by law."

a)   The Government submit that the applicant has failed to comply
with the requirement as to the exhaustion of domestic remedies laid
down in Article 26 (Art. 26) of the Convention as she did not lodge a
petition to the Constitutional Court pursuant to Article 130 para. 3
of the Constitution.  In their view, the aforesaid remedy represents
a means capable of protecting the right to a fair and public hearing
laid down in Article 48 of the Constitution.

     In support of their argument the Government invoke the
Constitutional Court's judgments in cases No. I. ÚS 8/94 and No. II.
ÚS 26/95 (see "The relevant domestic law and practice" above).  They
add that a Constitutional Court's finding of a violation of a
fundamental right or freedom entitles the person concerned to claim
damages pursuant to Act No. 58/1969.

     The applicant contends that the Constitutional Court's judgments
in the cases invoked by the Government are irrelevant because the
merits of her case are different.  She submits that the bringing of
proceedings pursuant to Section 130  para 3 of the Constitution is
within the discretionary power of the Constitutional Court.

     Further, in such proceedings the Constitutional Court can only
establish whether there was a violation of individual rights guaranteed
by the Constitution.  Such a finding does not have any specific impact
on the act or decision complained of.  In particular, the
Constitutional Court cannot grant the right at issue or impose any
obligation on the authority concerned.  The applicant concludes that
a petition to the Constitutional Court could not reasonably be expected
to be effective in her case.

     The Commission recalls that Article 26 (Art. 26) of the
Convention only requires the exhaustion of such remedies which are
effective, sufficient and available (cf., e.g., No. 18926/91 and No.
19777/92, Dec. 30.8.93, D.R. 75 pp. 179, 189).

     For a remedy to be effective, it must be accessible, i.e. the
person concerned must be able to institute the relevant proceedings
himself (cf. No. 12604/86, Dec. 10.7.91, D.R. 70 p. 125), and it must
be capable of remedying the criticised state of affairs directly, and
not merely indirectly (cf. Eur. Court H.R., Deweer judgment of 27
February 1980, Series A no. 35, pp. 16-17, para. 29).   Moreover, a
remedy must exist with a sufficient degree of certainty to be regarded
as effective (cf. No. 11613/85, Dec. 16.5.90, D.R. 65 p. 75).

     The Commission first notes that unlike in cases of constitutional
complaints pursuant to Article 127 of the Constitution, the proceedings
pursuant to Article 130 para. 3 of the Constitution are considered as
being instituted only if the Constitutional Court, after a preliminary
examination of the petition, decides to admit it.  Thus, although the
person concerned can lodge a petition directly to the Constitutional
Court, the formal institution of proceedings depends on the latter's
decision.

     The Commission further notes that in the judgment in case No. I.
ÚS 8/94 of 28 February 1994 the Constitutional Court found a violation
of the right guaranteed by Article 48 para. 1 of the Constitution due
to the fact that a court had decided on a matter in which it lacked
jurisdiction under Slovak law.  Further, in its judgment in case No.
26/95 of 25 October 1995 the Constitutional Court found a violation of
the petitioner's right to have his case tried without unreasonable
delay guaranteed by Article 48 para. 2 of the Constitution.

     However, in the applicant's case the decision not to hold an oral
hearing was taken pursuant to Section 250f of the Code of Civil
Procedure, i.e. the taking of such a decision was within the competence
of the judge.  The Commission recalls in this respect that the
Constitutional Court has held on several occasions that it cannot
interfere with the decisisions of the general courts, nor can it act
as an appellate court in matters which are within the jurisdiction of
the general courts.

     Finally, the Commission considers that even a possible
Constitutional Court finding of a violation of the applicant's right
to a fair and public hearing would not be capable of remedying the
criticised state of affairs directly as the Constitutional Court lacks
jurisdiction to quash the general courts' decisions.  Thus, the
Constitutional Court could not afford redress for the violation of the
Convention alleged by the applicant even if the latter were successful
in the proceedings pursuant to Article 130 para. 3 of the Constitution.
     It is true that the applicant could then claim damages pursuant
to the State Liability Act.  However, pursuant to Section 4 para. 1 of
the aforesaid Act compensation for damage caused, inter alia, by an
unlawful decision which was made by a State organ when hearing civil
cases cannot be claimed until the competent organ has quashed the final
decision by which the damage was caused, and the Constitutional Court
lacked jurisdiction to quash the Bratislava City Court's judgment of
11 May 1994.

     As to the possibility of claiming damages pursuant to Section 18
of Act No. 58/1969 (i.e. on the ground that the acting of the judge
dealing with the applicant's case was erroneous), and even assuming
that the award of damages could be considered as a direct remedy to the
alleged breach of the applicant's rights, the Government have not cited
a single example of case-law to show that such an action had any
genuine prospect of success (cf, mutatis mutandis, 11282/84, Dec.
12.11.87, D.R. 54 pp. 70, 86).

     In the light of the foregoing the Commission does not consider
that a petition pursuant to Article 130 para. 3 of the Constitution
could have been regarded with a sufficient degree of certainty as an
effective remedy in the applicant's case.  Accordingly, the
Government's objection relating to non-exhaustion of domestic remedies
cannot be upheld.

b)   As to the merits of the application, the Government consider that
Article 6 (Art. 6) of the Convention is applicable to the present case.
They submit that at first instance the applicant's claim was dealt with
by the Bratislava Land Office pursuant to Section 9 para. 4 of the Land
Ownership Act, i.e. by an impartial and independent administrative
authority.

     The Government refer to the relevant provisions of the
Administrative Proceedings Act (cf. "The relevant domestic law and
practice" above, para. 4) and submit that they provided sufficient
guarantees for the applicant's case to be heard in conformity with the
requirements of Article 6 para. 1 (Art. 6-1) of the Convention.

     The Government submit that the Bratislava Land Office dealt with
the applicant's case in accordance with the aforesaid provisions.
Thus, apart from the examination of the site at issue which was
connected with an oral hearing, the Land Office also took other
evidence by requesting the views of the Bratislava City Council.  The
applicant was notified of all procedural steps taken by the Land
Office.

     Furthermore, the Government point out that in the context of
appellate proceedings the Bratislava Land Office held a second
examination of the site at issue which was connected with an oral
hearing pursuant to Section 21 of the Administrative Proceedings Act.
As there were no relevant new facts established, the applicant's appeal
was submitted for a decision to the Bratislava City Court.  The latter
considered that the facts of the case had been established by the Land
Office correctly.  For this reason it decided the case pursuant to
Section 250f of the Code of Civil Procedure without ordering an oral
hearing.

     In the Government's view, the requirement of a fair and public
hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal laid down in Article
6 para. 1 (Art. 6-1) of the Convention has been complied with in the
proceedings before the Bratislava Land Office.  The Government submit
that the requirements of Article 6 para. 1 (Art. 6-1) of the Convention
were less strict in the proceedings before the Bratislav City Court as
the latter dealt with the applicant's case at second instance.  They
conclude that the absence of an oral hearing before the Bratislava City
Court was not, in view of the particular circumstances of the case,
contrary to Article 6 para. 1 (Art. 6-1) of the Convention.

     The applicant contends that there was no fair and public hearing
before an independent and impartial tribunal in her case.  She submits
that the Land Office did not establish the facts correctly and that she
was not given the opportunity to have this shortcoming redressed.  In
particular, she contends that her comments concerning the plot at issue
made during the examination which was held on 7 April 1992  were not
included in the record.  Moreover, the record did not make any mention
of the examination having taken place on the applicant's former plot
on that day.

     Since the record served as the basis for the Land Office's
decision, the applicant was obliged to seek redress before the
Bratislava City Court which decided without taking the evidence
suggested by her.  The applicant submits that the second examination
of the site which was held on 24 March 1994 in the context of appellate
proceedings could not establish the facts as they had existed during
the relevant period.

     After an examination of these issues in the light of the parties'
submissions, the Commission considers that they raise questions of fact
and law which can only be determined by an examination of the merits.
It follows that the applicant's complaints cannot, therefore, be
declared inadmissible as being manifestly ill-founded within the
meaning of Article 27 para. 2 (Art. 27-2) of the Convention.  No other
grounds of inadmissibility have been established.

     For these reasons, the Commission, by a majority,

     DECLARES THE APPLICATION ADMISSIBLE, without prejudging the
     merits of the case.

Secretary to the Second Chamber      President of the Second Chamber

      (M.-T. SCHOEPFER)                       (H. DANELIUS)