FOURTH SECTION

FINAL DECISION

Application no. 351/02 
by Juha HÄMÄLÄINEN and Others 
against Finland

The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 4 July 2006 as a Chamber composed of:

Sir Nicolas Bratza, President, 
 Mr J. Casadevall, 
 Mr G. Bonello, 
 Mr M. Pellonpää, 
 Mr K. Traja, 
 Mr S. Pavlovschi, 
 Mr J. Šikuta, judges, 
and Mr T.L. Early, Section Registrar,

Having regard to the above application lodged on 12 December 2001,

Having regard to the partial decision of 26 October 2004,

Having regard to the decision to apply Article 29 § 3 of the Convention and examine the admissibility and merits of the case together,

Having regard to the formal declarations accepting a friendly settlement of the case,

Having deliberated, decides as follows:

THE FACTS

The applicants, listed in the Annex at nos. 1-7, are all Finnish nationals. The applicant listed at no. 8 is the Finnish estate of a late Mr Erkki Tuomela. The applicants are represented before the Court by the first applicant, Mr Juha Hämäläinen, Director of Environmental Protection in Joensuu. The respondent Government are represented by their Agent, Mr Arto Kosonen of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

The circumstances of the case

The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties and as they appear from the documents, may be summarised as follows.

The applicants were members of the Board of the Savings Bank of Northern Carelia, which had in 1992 merged into the Finnish Savings Bank – SSP Oy, later replaced by the Property Management Corporation Arsenal (Omaisuudenhoitoyhtiö Arsenal-SSP Oy, Egendomsförvaltningsbolaget Arsenal –SSP Ab; “Arsenal-SSP”), controlled by the Government Guarantee Fund (valtion vakuusrahasto, statens säkerhetsfond).

On 31 December 1993 the Finnish Savings Bank – SSP Oy (Arsenal-SSP) instituted civil proceedings against 24 defendants, including the eight applicants. It sought damages amounting to 75,400,000 Finnish Marks (FIM; corresponding to 12,681,370 euros (EUR)) plus 16 per cent interest as from 31 January 1994 for allegedly granting credit negligently in 1988-1991 and for subsequent credit losses allegedly caused by the defendants in their capacity as members of the Board, managing director or delegates in the management of the bank.

On 25 February 1994 the plaintiff supplemented its application for a summons. On 12 July 1995 the District Court (käräjäoikeus, tingsrätten) of Joensuu dismissed parts of the defendants’ procedural defence claims in a separate decision.

On 15 February 1996 the District Court delivered its judgment, which mainly accepted the plaintiff’s claims. It did however adjust the applicants’ per capita liability to 10 per cent of the actual damages. The defendants were ordered to jointly and severally reimburse the plaintiff’s legal expenses.

All parties appealed to the Court of Appeal (hovioikeus, hovrätten) of Eastern Finland.

On 26 February 1998 the Court of Appeal adopted its judgment by two votes to one. It dismissed the plaintiff’s appeal and discharged the applicants from all claims for damages, and ordered the plaintiff to reimburse their legal expenses incurred in the District Court and the Court of Appeal.

On 9 February 1999 the Supreme Court (korkein oikeus, högsta domstolen) granted the plaintiff leave to appeal.

Having held an oral hearing, the Supreme Court quashed the Court of Appeal’s judgment on 19 June 2001. It accepted four claims against the applicants and held that they had caused the plaintiff damage amounting to FIM 22,300,000 – 25,700,000 (EUR 3,750,590 – 4,322,430). It held the applicants jointly and severally liable with the other defendants for the said damages, however reducing their liabilities to the sums of FIM 2,470,000 (EUR 415,424) for applicants nos. 1-2, 4-6 and 8, FIM 2,370,000 (EUR 398,605) for applicant no. 3 and FIM 2,230,000 (EUR 375,059) for applicant no. 7. It further ordered each of the applicants to reimburse the plaintiff’s legal expenses incurred before the District Court in the amount of FIM 38,095.24 (EUR 6,407) and held them liable, jointly and severally with the other defendants, to pay FIM 50,000 (EUR 8,409) plus interest in respect of the costs of the Supreme Court proceedings. The applicants and the plaintiff were ordered to bear their own legal expenses for the Court of Appeal proceedings.

According to the applicants, on 12 September 2001 the Government Guarantee Fund instructed the Arsenal-SSP that it could limit the enforcement proceedings against the defendants so that their liability could be restricted to a sum not exceeding per capita liability for damages and legal expenses.

COMPLAINTS

The applicants complained under Articles 6 and 13 of the Convention that the length of the civil proceedings was excessive as they lasted over eight years.

THE LAW

On 7 June 2006 the Court received the following declaration from the Government:

“I ... declare that the Government of Finland offer to pay ex gratia EUR 3,000 (three thousand euros) to each of the applicants ... with a view to securing a friendly settlement of the above-mentioned cases pending before the European Court of Human Rights.

These sums, which are to cover any pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage as well as costs and expenses, will be payable within three months from the date of notification of the decision taken by the Court pursuant to Article 37 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the event of failure to pay these sums within the said three-month period, the Government undertake to pay simple interest on them, from expiry of that period until settlement, at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points. The payment will constitute the final resolution of the cases.”

On 16 May 2006 the Court received the following declaration from the applicants:

“We ... note that the Government of Finland are prepared to pay us ex gratia the sum of EUR 3,000 (three thousand euros) each, with a view to securing a friendly settlement of the above-mentioned cases pending before the European Court of Human Rights.

These sums, which are to cover any pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage as well as costs and expenses, will be payable within three months from the date of notification of the decision taken by the Court pursuant to Article 37 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. 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.

We accept the proposal and waive any further claims against Finland in respect of the facts giving rise to these applications. We declare that this constitutes a final resolution of the case.”

The Court takes note of the friendly settlement reached between the parties. It is satisfied that the settlement is based on respect for human rights as defined in the Convention and its Protocols and finds no public policy reasons to justify a continued examination of the application (Article 37 § 1 in fine of the Convention). Accordingly, Article 29 § 3 of the Convention should no longer apply to the case and it should be struck out of the list.

For these reasons, the Court unanimously

Decides to discontinue the application of Article 29 § 3 of the Convention;

Decides to strike the application out of its list of cases.

T.L. Early Nicolas Bratza 
 Registrar President

 

ANNEX

The applicants are:

1. Mr Juha Hämäläinen, born in 1945 and resident in Joensuu;

2. Mr Viljo Lehikoinen, born in 1931 and resident in Joensuu;

3. Mr Matti Hämäläinen, born in 1928 and resident in Lieksa;

4. Mr Pentti Kolehmainen, born in 1926 and resident in Kontiolahti;

5. Mr Kalevi Peltola, born in 1939 and resident in Juuka;

6. Mr Sulo Puhakka, born in 1928 and resident in Ilomantsi;

7. Mr Paavo Tolvanen, born in 1941 and resident in Kitee; and

8. the estate of late Mr Erkki Tuomela, born in 1927.

HÄMÄLÄINEN AND OTHERS v. FINLAND DECISION


HÄMÄLÄINEN AND OTHERS v. FINLAND DECISION