AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF

                      Application No. 30342/96
                      by Academy Trading Ltd and others
                      against Greece


      The European Commission of Human Rights sitting in private on
26 May 1997, the following members being present:


           Mr.   S. TRECHSEL, President
           Mrs.  G.H. THUNE
           Mrs.  J. LIDDY
           MM.   G. JÖRUNDSSON
                 A.S. GÖZÜBÜYÜK
                 J.-C. SOYER
                 H. DANELIUS
                 F. MARTINEZ
                 L. LOUCAIDES
                 J.-C. GEUS
                 M.P. PELLONPÄÄ
                 B. MARXER
                 M.A. NOWICKI
                 I. CABRAL BARRETO
                 B. CONFORTI
                 N. BRATZA
                 I. BÉKÉS
                 J. MUCHA
                 D. SVÁBY
                 G. RESS
                 A. PERENIC
                 C. BÎRSAN
                 P. LORENZEN
                 K. HERNDL
                 E. BIELIUNAS
                 E.A. ALKEMA
                 M. VILA AMIGÓ
           Mrs.  M. HION
           MM.   R. NICOLINI
                 A. ARABADJIEV

           Mr.   H.C. KRÜGER, Secretary to the Commission
      Having regard to Article 25 of the Convention for the Protection
of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms;

      Having regard to the application introduced on 30 November 1995
by Academy Trading Ltd and others against Greece and registered on
29 February 1996 under file No. 30342/96;

      Having regard to the report provided for in Rule 47 of the Rules
of Procedure of the Commission;

      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
      11 December 1996 and the observations in reply submitted by the
      applicants on 17 February 1996;

      Having deliberated;

      Decides as follows:

THE FACTS

      The applicants, Academy Trading Ltd., Intercontinental Maritime
Ltd., Aaron Maritime Ltd., Evie Navigation Co. Ltd., T.C. Trading
Company Ltd. and Andros Trading Ltd, are shipping companies,
incorporated under the laws of the Republic of Liberia.

      Before the Commission, the applicants are represented by
Mr. Nicholas Scorinis, an attorney-at-law practising in Piraeus.

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

      In 1977 the C. bank (herein-after "the bank"), being a prime
lender to the Greek shipping community, granted a $ 14.8 million loan
to a group of companies under the ownership of G.T., a Greek-American
shipowner. The applicants, also under the ownership of G.T., were among
the guarantors of the loan.

      On 21 January 1982 the applicants brought an action for damages
against the bank and three of its Greek senior officers before the
Athens First Instance Civil Court (*Polimeles Protodikeio). The
applicants argued that because of a shipping crisis they had been
unable to meet repayment instalments of the loan and that in 1979 they
had been obliged to sell two ships at below their insured and actual
value to another client of the bank, who had been given generous
financing terms in order to take over the vessels. Eventually other
vessels in the fleet were put under the same management prior to their
being sold to the management company. The applicants alleged therefore
that the bank had acted contrary to business morality under the Greek
Civil Code.

      On 1 November 1982, by decision No. 14803/1982, the First
Instance Civil Court ordered the parties to submit further evidence.

      On 20 November 1987, by decision No. 8027/1987, the First
Instance Civil Court dismissed the applicants' action as being ill-
founded.

      On 29 January 1988 the applicants lodged an appeal with the
Athens Court of Appeal (Efeteio).

      On 31 January 1989 the Court of Appeal declared the appeal
admissible without prejudging the merits and ordered a new hearing in
order to submit further questions to the parties. The new hearing was
held on 15 February 1990.

      By decision No. 5025/1990, the Court of Appeal unanimously
overturned the decision of the First Instance Civil Court and granted
the applicants' claim. In a 60 page judgment, the Court established
that the bank, at a time of shipping crisis, rejected a request by G.T.
for an extension of time to pay off his debt and for a small amount of
capital which would have enabled him to tackle urgent cash problems,
despite the fact that he had already repaid 63.25 % of the loan granted
to him and that he had never been late in making payments. As a result,
G.T.'s business went bankrupt and the bank took over the management of
his ships. The vessels were subsequently sold and the bank provided the
new owner with the credit facilities it had previously refused to G.T..


      Therefore, the Court considered that it was "against morality for
a bank to exploit its dominant position towards its counterpart during
a period of financial crisis by cruelly prosecuting it instead of
extending financial facilities which are customary in banking
transactions during such periods". The Court awarded the applicants
$ 7.75 million plus interest at 25 % per year back-dated from
20 February 1982.

      The above judgment created a stir in the local shipping
community. Several publications appeared in the local and international
shipping press, stressing the impact that the judgment would have on
future ship credits. A number of cases started to be prepared against
banks. The C. bank, who had already appealed in cassation (********)
on 21 May 1990, threatened to withdraw from the Greek market altogether
if the Court of Cassation (Areios Pagos) upheld the judgment of the
Court of Appeal.

      On 29 May 1991, by decision No. 925/1991, the First Chamber of
the Court of Cassation overturned the judgment of the Court of Appeal
on the ground that the bank had not acted contrary to business morality
and that the attacked judgment was not sufficiently motivated. The case
was then referred to the Fourth Chamber for further examination.

      Following deliberations on 14 February 1992, the Fourth Chamber,
by decision No. 1154/1992, ordered the parties to appear in person
before it and to give further explanations about the case. The hearing
was held on 11 December 1992. With the exception of one judge who had
also participated in the deliberations of 14 February 1992 and was the
Rapporteur of the case, the Fourth Chamber sat in a different
composition.

      On 30 June 1993, i.e. six months after the hearing of 11 December
1992, one of the judges participating in that hearing retired. Under
Greek law this implied that if the Chamber had not reached a decision
at that date it could no longer deliberate but should hear the case
again in a different composition. However, no actions were taken at
that stage, which led the applicants to believe that the decision had
already been taken before the retirement of the judge and that they had
to await the delivery of the judgment.

      On 7 November 1993 the applicants inserted an open letter in a
Greek newspaper. In their publication, entitled "Open letter to the
Fourth Chamber of the Court of Cassation", the applicants questioned
the reasons of the delay put by the Chamber in delivering its judgment.
Having received no answer, the applicants addressed on 12 December 1993
a similar letter to the Minister of Justice, the President and the
Public Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation. They again received no
answer.

      On 26 January 1994, the President of the Third Chamber (who had
until summer 1993 been President of the Fourth Chamber) returned the
file of the case to the Secretariat of the Fourth Chamber, accompanied
by a hand-written note which read as follows: "To be further discussed,
in accordance with Article 307 of the Code of Civil Procedure (since
it was ascertained, after the last report, that there is a need of
further deliberation, which is not feasible due to the retirement of
one of the members of the Court)."

      On 20 May 1994 the new hearing was held. The Fourth Chamber was
composed of five judges. The first had participated in the
deliberations of 14 February 1992 and the second in both previous
compositions as Rapporteur. The other three members heard the case for
the first time. One of them, a junior judge, was designated as the new
Rapporteur.

      On 30 June 1995, by decision No. 1198/1995, the Court of
Cassation dismissed the appeal, lodged by the applicants against
decision No. 8027/1987 of the Athens First Instance Civil Court, on the
ground that it was ill-founded. In his dissenting opinion, the judge
who was initially the Rapporteur of the case expressed the view that
the bank had not acted in good faith and that, therefore, the
applicants' appeal should be upheld.


Relevant domestic law

a.    Under Article 300 of the Code of Civil Procedure a decision is
taken by the same judges who participated in the hearing of the case.

b.    Under Article 307 of the Code of Civil Procedure if, after the
hearing of a case, a decision cannot be taken for any reason (namely
death, resignation or removal of a judge who had participated in the
hearing) the case must be reheard.


COMPLAINTS

1.    Invoking Article 6 para. 1 of the Convention, the applicants
complain about the unfairness of the proceedings before the Court of
Cassation. In particular they consider that their case was not heard
by an impartial court. In this respect the applicants allege that even
assuming that the Fourth Chamber of the Court of Cassation had not
reached a decision by the day one of its members retired, there were
no particular reasons why it took six months to find that the Chamber
would have to hold a new hearing. They also complain that this decision
for a new hearing was taken by a judge who was no longer a member of
the Fourth Chamber. Finally, they submit that a new Rapporteur was
designated for the last hearing before the Court of Cassation, despite
the fact that the previous Rapporteur was a senior judge and the only
judge who had participated in all previous hearings. They allege that
this change was made because the initial Rapporteur would have proposed
to uphold the judgment of the Athens Court of Appeal granting their
claim, as was clearly demonstrated from his dissenting opinion inserted
in the text of the final decision.

2.    The applicants also complain under Article 6 para. 1 of the
Convention about the length of the proceedings before the Greek courts.


PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE COMMISSION

      The application was introduced on 30 November 1995 and registered
on 29 February 1996.

      On 4 September 1996 the Commission (First Chamber) decided to
communicate the application to the respondent Government.

      The Government's written observations were submitted on
11 December 1996, after an extension of the time-limit fixed for that
purpose. The applicants replied on 17 February 1997.

      On 20 May 1997 the case was transferred from the First Chamber
to the Plenary Commission.

THE LAW

1.    Invoking Article 6 para. 1 (Art. 6-1) of the Convention, the
applicants complain about the unfairness of the proceedings before the
Court of Cassation. In particular they consider that their case was not
heard by an impartial court. In this respect the applicants allege that
even assuming that the Fourth Chamber of the Court of Cassation had not
reached a decision by the day one of its members retired, there were
no particular reasons why it took six months to find that the Chamber
would have to hold a new hearing. They also complain that this decision
for a new hearing was taken by a judge who was no longer a member of
the Fourth Chamber. Finally, they submit that a new Rapporteur was
designated for the last hearing before the Court of Cassation, despite
the fact that the previous Rapporteur was a senior judge and the only
judge who had participated in all previous hearings. They allege that
this change was made because the initial Rapporteur would have proposed
to uphold the judgment of the Athens Court of Appeal granting their
claim, as was clearly demonstrated from his dissenting opinion inserted
in the text of the final decision.

      Article 6 para. 1 (Art. 6-1) of the Convention, insofar as
relevant, provides as follows:

      "In the determination of his civil rights and obligations (...)
      everyone is entitled to a fair (...) hearing within a reasonable
      time by an (...) impartial tribunal (...)."

      The Government first argue that the application was lodged out
of time under Article 26 (Art. 26) of the Convention, which requires
complaints to be submitted to the Commission within six months from the
date on which the final decision was taken. They submit that the
application form is dated 22 February 1996, which is more than six
months after the final decision which was taken on 30 June 1995.

      The Government also point out that under the terms of the
declaration made by Greece recognising the right of individual
petition, the Commission is not competent ratione temporis to examine
applications relating to events which took place before 20 November
1985. Therefore, all complaints of the applicants referring to actions
which took place before this date should be dismissed as inadmissible.

      Alternatively, the Government submit that this part of the
application is manifestly ill-founded for the following reasons:

      The Government argue that the note written by the President of
the Third Chamber cannot be considered as a decision of the Court of
Cassation to hold a new hearing, but constituted a mere internal note,
addressed to the court's Secretariat, and that it was within its
author's competence to see to the smooth operation of the Court of
Cassation.

      Furthermore, the Government consider that the alleged delay in
drafting this note did not infringe the applicants' right to a fair
trial, nor does it raise any doubts as to the impartiality of the Court
of Cassation. The Government add that it should also be taken into
consideration that during the judicial vacations period, from 1 July
to 15 September, the courts deal only with extremely urgent cases.

      The Government further submit that the fact that this note was
written by a judge who was no longer a member of the Fourth Chamber,
but still the President of that Chamber at the time of the hearing of
the case and also when one of its judges retired, did not infringe the
applicants' right to a fair trial, nor does it raise any doubts as to
the impartiality of the Court of Cassation.

      As regards the reasons for the change of the Rapporteur of the
case, the Government submit that this change was necessary given the
fact that the case had to be heard again. According to the Government
this change, which follows a well-established practice of the Court of
Cassation, also gave to another member of the Fourth Chamber the
possibility to study thoroughly the case, so that the truth would be
safely found after an exchange and juxtaposition of opinions and
thoughts on the questions raised by the case.

      The applicants reject the respondent Government's observations.

      The Commission notes that the proceedings undertaken by the
applicants ended on 30 June 1995, which is less than six months before
the introduction of their application before the Commission, i.e.
30 November 1995, date of the first communication from the applicants
setting out summarily the object of their application.

      It follows that this plea of inadmissibility, based on the
alleged failure to comply with the six months rule, cannot be upheld.

      As to the substance of the complaint, and in the light of the
parties' observations, the Commission considers that this part of the
application raises serious questions of fact and law, which are of such
complexity that their determination should depend on an examination of
the merits. This part of the application cannot, therefore, be regarded
as being manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 27 para.
2 (Art. 27-2) of the Convention, and no other ground for declaring it
inadmissible has been established.

2.    The applicants also complain under Article 6 para. 1 (Art. 6-1)
of the Convention about the length of the proceedings before the Greek
courts.

      The Government first submit that the applicants have not
expressly complained before the Commission about the length of the
proceedings, and object to the Commission having on its own initiative
taken into consideration the issue of "reasonable time", within the
meaning of Article 6 para. 1 (Art. 6-1) of the Convention.

      Alternatively, the Government submit that the case was heard
within a reasonable time and affirm that the length of the proceedings
is attributable to their complexity in fact and law. The Government
also mention the workload of the Court of Cassation.

       The applicants contest the arguments of the respondent
Government.

      The Commission observes that the applicants have expressly
complained, both in their introductory letter of 30 November 1995 (page
1 in fine) and in their application form (page 4**), about the length
of the proceedings. Consequently, the Commission considers that it has
jurisdiction to examine this complaint.

      The Commission further notes that the proceedings lasted from
21 January 1982 to 30 June 1995, i.e. thirteen years, five months and
nine days.

      The Commission recalls that the period to be considered begins
on 20 November 1985, when the recognition by Greece of the right of
individual petition took effect; however, in assessing the
reasonableness of the time that elapsed after 20 November 1985, account
must be taken of the then state of proceedings (see Eur. Court H.R.,
Foti and others v. Italy judgment of 10 December 1982, Series A no. 56,
p. 18, para. 53). Therefore, the period to which the Commission's
examination relates is nine years, seven months and ten days.

      The Commission considers that, in the light of the criteria
established in the case-law of the organs of the Convention concerning
"reasonable time" (complexity of the case, conduct of the parties and
the conduct of the authorities dealing with the case), the complaint
concerning the length of the proceedings raises serious issues of fact
and law which cannot be resolved at the present stage of the
examination of the application, but calls for an examination of the
merits.

      For these reasons, the Commission, by a majority,

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

        H.C. KRÜGER                         S. TRECHSEL
         Secretary                            President
     to the Commission                    of the Commission