AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF
The European Court of Human Rights (Second Section) sitting on 11 January 2000 as a Chamber composed of
Mr M. Fischbach, President,
Mr G. Bonello,
Mrs V. Strážnická,
Mr P. Lorenzen,
Mrs M. Tsatsa-Nikolovska,
Mr A.B. Baka,
Mr A. Kovler, judges,
and Mr E. Fribergh, Section Registrar;
Having regard to Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms;
Having regard to the application introduced on 21 October 1996 by Stanislav Babinský against Slovakia and registered on 29 April 1997 under file no. 35833/97;
Having regard to the report provided for in Rule 49 of the Rules of Court;
Decides as follows:
The applicant is a Slovak national, born in 1939 and living in Trstená.
A. Particular circumstances of the case
The facts of the case, as submitted by the applicant, may be summarised as follows.
1. Criminal proceedings against the applicant
On 30 June 1987 the Bratislava Regional Court (Krajský súd) convicted the applicant of larceny and other offences and sentenced him to fourteen and a half years’ imprisonment. On 31 August 1987 the Supreme Court of the Slovak Socialist Republic (Najvyšší súd) upheld this decision. In 1991 the sentence was reduced to ten years.
On 29 July 1992 the General Prosecutor of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic lodged a complaint in the interest of the law on the applicant’s behalf with the Supreme Court of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic. After the dissolution of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic the complaint was transmitted to the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic. In 1993 the latter dismissed the complaint.
Subsequently the applicant lodged a request for reopening of the criminal proceedings leading to his conviction. On 16 May 1995 the Bratislava Regional Court dismissed the request. On 26 June 1996 the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic dismissed the applicant’s complaint against this decision.
The applicant lodged a constitutional petition in which he complained about unfairness of the criminal proceedings leading to his conviction and about the refusal to reopen these proceedings. On 5 December 1996 the Constitutional Court (Ústavný súd) rejected the petition for lack of jurisdiction.
2. Proceedings concerning the applicant’s action against the Slovak Film Company
On 25 July 1991 the applicant lodged an action for protection of his good name and reputation before the Bratislava 3 District Court (Obvodný súd). He claimed that a film about his case produced by the defendant company was defamatory.
On 14 October 1993 the Bratislava City Court (Mestský súd) excluded the District Court’s judge dealing with the case at her own request.
On 28 September 1994 a judge of the Bratislava 3 District Court informed the applicant that the case could not be proceeded with as the court did not possess all documentary evidence.
On 10 June 1997 the Bratislava 3 District Court granted the applicant’s request of 15 June 1993 to extend the action and to consider also the Slovak Television as a defendant in the case.
On 3 December 1998 a judge of the Bratislava 3 District Court informed the applicant that the first defendant had ceased to exist and that the applicant should pay additional court fees. The proceedings are still pending.
3. Proceedings concerning the applicant’s action against a publisher
On 22 July 1991 the applicant brought proceedings for protection of his good name and reputation on the ground that a book published by the defendant contained defamatory statements.
On 13 April 1992 the applicant submitted further information to the Bratislava 1 District Court at the latter’s request.
On 12 May 1992 the Bratislava 1 District Court stayed the proceedings as the file concerning the criminal proceedings against the applicant, which the court considered necessary to consult, was being examined by the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic.
At a hearing held on 18 December 1997 the District Court invited the applicant to eliminate shortcomings in his action. The applicant complied with the request on 26 February 1998.
A hearing scheduled for 2 March 1998 was adjourned as the defendant failed to appear.
On 5 August 1998 the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic refused to transfer the case to the Dolný Kubín District Court.
A hearing held on 26 April 1999 was adjourned as the defendant’ counsel claimed that his client was not a successor to the company against which the applicant had lodged his action. The applicant’s lawyer was invited to inform the court within a month whether the applicant maintained his action.
On 14 May 1999 the applicant’s lawyer asked for access to the trade register with a view to establishing the relevant facts.
B. Relevant domestic law and practice
Pursuant to Section 6 of the Code of Civil Procedure, the courts are to proceed in co-operation with all participants so that, inter alia, the protection of rights is expeditious and effective.
Under Section 5 (1) of the Courts and Judges Act (Zákon o súdoch a sudcoch) No. 335/1991, judges are required to decide, inter alia, without delay. Under Section 6, a complaint about delays in court proceedings may be put to the authorities responsible for the State administration of courts.
According to Section 17 (1) of the State Administration of Courts Act (Zákon o sídlach a obvodoch súdov Slovenskej republiky, štátnej správe súdov, vybavovaní sťažností a o voľbách prísediacich) No. 80/1992, any natural person or corporation can turn to State authorities responsible for the administration of courts (the Ministry of Justice, the President and Vice-President of the Supreme Court and the Presidents and Vice-Presidents of Regional and District Courts) with complaints in cases of, inter alia, delayed proceedings.
According to Sections 24 - 27 of the State Administration of Justice Act, the responsible authority is required to establish all relevant facts and, if necessary, hear the persons concerned. Examination of the complaint is to be terminated within two months and the complainant is to be informed in writing of the conclusion. When the complaint has been dealt with by the President of a District Court, the person concerned can request a review of the conclusion by the President of the appropriate Regional Court.
Section 16 of the State Administration of Justice Act provides that when the authority in charge of State administration of courts finds that a judge caused, inter alia, delays in proceedings by disrespecting his or her legal obligations, it shall proceed in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Disciplinary Liability of Judges Act (Zákon o kárnej zodpovednosti sudcov).
The applicant complains that his right to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time was violated in the criminal proceedings leading to his conviction and that the proceedings concerning his actions for protection of his good name and reputation have lasted unreasonably long. He alleges a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
1. The applicant complains that his right to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time was violated in the criminal proceedings leading to his conviction. He invokes Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
The Court finds that the final decision within the meaning of Article 35 § 1 of the Convention was delivered by the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic in 1993 when it dismissed the complaint in the interest of the law which the General Prosecutor of the former Czech and Slovak Federal Republic had lodged against the lower courts’ decisions in the applicant’s case. Since the application was introduced on 21 October 1996, the applicant failed to respect the six months’ time-limit laid down in Article 35 § 1 of the Convention.
The Court considers that the applicant’s subsequent request for reopening of the criminal proceedings is not a remedy which was to be exhausted and which could be taken into account for the purposes of the six month rule (see, e.g., Eur. Comm. HR, no. 15213/89, Dec. 1.7.91, D.R. 71, pp. 230, 235 and no. 13601/88, Dec. 6.7.89, D.R. 62, pp. 284, 291).
As the Constitutional Court lacked jurisdiction to deal with the applicant’s case, its decision of 5 December 1996 cannot be taken into account for the purposes of Article 35 § 1 of the Convention.
It follows that this part of the application must be rejected under Article 35 § 4 of the Convention.
2. The applicant further complains that the proceedings concerning his actions for protection of his good name and reputation have lasted unreasonably long. He alleges a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention which provides, so far as relevant, as follows:
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ... everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time by a[n] ... tribunal...”
The Court considers that it cannot, on the basis of the case file, determine the admissibility of this complaint and that it is therefore necessary, in accordance with Rule 54 § 3 (b)Note of the Rules of Court, to give notice of this complaint to the respondent Government.
For these reasons, the Court, unanimously,
DECIDES TO ADJOURN the examination of the applicants’ complaints about the length of the proceedings concerning his civil actions.
DECLARES INADMISSIBLE the remainder of the application.
Erik Fribergh Marc Fischbach Registrar President
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