AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF
Application no. 28070/03
by Sigvard Vincent GLENDER
The European Court of Human Rights (Second Section), sitting on 6 September 2005 as a Chamber composed of:
Mr J.-P. Costa, President,
Mr I. Cabral Barreto,
Mr K. Jungwiert,
Mr V. Butkevych,
Mr M. Ugrekhelidze,
Mrs A. Mularoni,
Mrs E. Fura-Sandström, judges,
and Mrs S. Dollé, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 24 August 2003,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicant, Mr Sigvard Vincent Glender, is a Swedish national who was born in 1927 and lives in Härnösand.
A. The circumstances of the case
The facts of the case, as submitted by the applicant, may be summarised as follows.
By a judgment of 14 July 1950, the Municipal Court (rådhusrätten) in Härnösand declared that the applicant was the father of B, born in 1948. The judgment gained legal force.
However, in 1998, a DNA-test was carried out by the National Board of Forensic Medicine (Rättsmedicinalverket) which showed that the applicant could not be B’s biological father.
Based on the DNA-result, the applicant requested the Court of Appeal (Hovrätten) for Southern Norrland to re-open the case and to annul the paternity. The mother of B consented to the annulment. On 16 November 1999 the Court of Appeal re-opened the case and repealed the original judgment, thereby declaring that the applicant was not the father of B. The decision gained legal force.
In April 2002 the applicant requested that the County Administrative Board (länsstyrelsen) of the County of Western Norrland reimburse him all his expenses for child maintenance and other costs, in total SEK 7,671 (roughly EUR 830), that he had been obliged to pay to B and her mother between 1949 and 1964, with the amount up-dated according to the consumer index and with interest.
On 27 May 2002 the County Administrative Board rejected the applicant’s request on the ground that it had been lodged out of time as the statutory limitation period was ten years from the date of payment of the child maintenance.
The applicant appealed against the decision to the Administrative Court of Appeal (Kammarrätten) in Sundsvall, arguing that the statutory limitation period should be calculated as starting from the date of the DNA-result in 1998 and not from the date of the actual payments. He argued that his claim on the Swedish State had only arisen once he was freed from the paternity as this was the sole basis for his claim for reimbursement.
On 7 October 2002 the Administrative Court of Appeal upheld the Board’s decision and reasoning. However, one of the three judges did not agree with the majority and, in his dissenting opinion, he stated that a claim for reimbursement of paid child maintenance could not be considered to arise until a judgment, which had gained legal force, had annulled the paternity. Thus, the ten year statutory limitation period should be counted from that point since, up until then, the man had been legally obliged to pay child maintenance and could not be said to have a claim on the State for reimbursement.
The applicant appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court (Regeringsrätten), maintaining his claims and invoking the dissenting opinion in support of his position. On 1 April 2003 the Supreme Administrative Court refused leave to appeal and informed the applicant of its decision without giving any reasons for it.
B. Relevant domestic law
From section 2 of the Act on Reimbursement in Certain Cases for Paid Child Maintenance (lag om ersättning i vissa fall för utgivna underhållsbidrag, Lag 1969:620 –hereinafter “the 1969 Act”), it appears that if a man, who legally has been considered the father of a child, is freed from the paternity obligation, he has the right to be reimbursed by the State for child maintenance which he has paid to the child.
However, according to section 2 of the Limitation Act (preskriptionslagen, Lag 1981:130), a claim will become statute-barred ten years after it arose, unless the limitation is interrupted before its date of expiration.
In the preparatory work to the 1969 Act (prop. 1969:124), it was considered that it was not necessary to set out in the Act a specific time-limit for lodging a claim against the State, but that this did not mean that there were no limits at all, since “claims for reimbursement for child maintenance which had been paid more than ten years ago became statute-barred” (p. 129).
The applicant complained that his rights under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention had been violated in that the national courts had made an incorrect interpretation of the provision regulating the statutory limitation. He further claimed that Article 6 § 1 had been violated when the Supreme Administrative Court refused leave to appeal without giving any reasons. Lastly, he alleged that his rights under Article 3 of Protocol No. 7 had been violated.
1. The applicant made two separate complaints under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention which, in relevant parts, reads as follows:
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing ... by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Judgment shall be pronounced publicly ....”
a) The applicant claimed that the national authorities and courts had interpreted the Limitation Act incorrectly, thereby rejecting his claim for reimbursement of child maintenance on false grounds.
The Court recalls that it is not competent to deal with an application alleging that errors of law or fact have been committed by national courts as it has no jurisdiction under Article 6 of the Convention to substitute its own findings of fact or law for those of national courts, which are in the best position to assess the evidence before them and apply the relevant domestic law. Thus, since in the present case the Administrative Court of Appeal evaluated the facts and the domestic law, the Court finds that no issue arises which would require it to exercise its supervisory jurisdiction over the national courts’ judgments.
Moreover, since the Limitation Act allowed ten years from the date of payment of the child maintenance before the claim became statute-barred, the very essence of the right of access to a court cannot be considered to have been impaired in the present case. In this respect, it can be noted that the restrictions imposed by the Limitation Act served the legitimate aim of ensuring legal certainty and that ten years, which is a reasonably long period of time, cannot be considered to be disproportionate to the aims pursued (see, Stubbings and Others v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 22 October 1996, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1996-IV, p. 1502, § 50). In these circumstances, and also having regard to the State’s margin of appreciation, the Court finds that there is no appearance of a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention disclosed in the present case.
It follows that this part of the application is manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention and must be rejected pursuant to Article 35 § 4 of the Convention.
b) The applicant also complained that the Supreme Administrative Court failed to give reasons for its refusal to grant him leave to appeal.
Even assuming that Article 6 is applicable, which is questionable, the manner of application of this provision must depend on the special features of the proceedings involved (see the Monnell and Morris v. United Kingdom judgment of 2 March 1987, Series A no. 115, §§ 56-57). The issue for decision in leave to appeal proceedings is whether the applicant has demonstrated the existence of arguable grounds which would justify hearing the appeal.
In the present case, the Court considers that, when the Supreme Administrative Court refused leave to appeal, there was no need for detailed reasoning since it was clear that the request for leave to appeal was rejected because the applicant had not demonstrated the existence of arguable grounds which would have justified hearing the appeal. In this respect, it should also be recalled that the Convention does not guarantee a right of appeal from a decision by a court in civil cases and that the requirement of leave to appeal cannot be considered to be a denial of access to court.
It follows that this complaint must also be rejected as being manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.
2. The applicant further complained that his rights under Article 3 of Protocol No. 7 to the Convention had been violated. This provision reads:
“When a person has by a final decision been convicted of a criminal offence and when subsequently his conviction has been reversed ... the person who has suffered punishment as a result of such conviction shall be compensated according to the law or the practice of the State concerned....”
The Court observes that this provision is applicable only within the sphere of criminal law and that the present case concerns a civil matter. Thus, the present complaint falls outside the scope of the invoked provision.
It follows that this complaint is incompatible ratione materiae with the provisions of the Convention within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention and must be rejected pursuant to Article 35 § 4.
For these reasons, the Court by a majority
Declares the application inadmissible.
S. Dollé J.-P. Costa
GLENDER v. SWEDEN DECISION
GLENDER v. SWEDEN DECISION