FOURTH SECTION

DECISION

AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF

Application no. 37645/97 
by Helena SAWICKA 
against Poland

The European Court of Human Rights, sitting on 11 October 2001 as a Chamber composed of

Mr A. Pastor Ridruejo, President
 Mr L. Caflisch
 Mr J. Makarczyk,

Mr I. Cabral Barreto,

Mr V. Butkevych,

Mrs N. Vajić
 Mr M. Pellonpää, judges
and  Mr V. Berger, Section Registrar,

Having regard to the above application lodged with the European Commission of Human Rights on 10 March 1997 and registered on 3 September 1997,

Having regard to Article 5 § 2 of Protocol No. 11 to the Convention, by which the competence to examine the application was transferred to the Court,

Having regard to the observations submitted by the respondent Government and the observations in reply submitted by the applicant,

Having deliberated, decides as follows:

 

THE FACTS

The applicant is a Polish national, born in 1930 and living in Warsaw.

On 2 November 1987 the applicant lodged a motion with the Warsaw District Court, claiming division of conjugal property, consisting, as she claimed, of 42 pieces of movable property.

Subsequently, hearings were held inter alia on 18 May 1988, 11 January 1989, 17 February 1989 and 15 January 1992. At the last hearing, the court ordered that an expert submit an estimate of the value of the real estate concerned.

In 1990 an expert submitted a report concerning the value of movable property. Apparently, on an unspecified date, the President of the District Court, following the applicant’s complaints about the lack of progress in the proceedings, ordered that the conduct of the proceedings be supervised by him. On an unspecified date in 1991 the case was transferred to another judge rapporteur. On 1 April 1992 the applicant again complained about the excessive length of the proceedings.

On an unspecified date the defendant claimed that a house in which the applicant lived should be included into the property concerned.

On an unspecified date four years after the beginning of the proceedings he submitted certain documents to prove that his family had borne certain costs of the construction of the house.

On 9 February 1993 the defendant proposed that a court settlement be concluded. The applicant did not accept the proposed terms.

On the whole, 22 hearings were held until 1 May 1993.

In 1993 further hearings were held on 17 August, 16 September, 2 November and 2 December.

Later on,  the court again appointed an expert with the task of producing an estimate of the value of movable property. The defendant twice failed to make his property accessible to the expert.

In reply to the applicant’s complaint about the excessive length of proceedings, on 2 July 1994 the President of the Warsaw Regional Court informed her that the case was complex as the property concerned consisted of a substantial number of objects. Moreover, the parties submitted conflicting claims as to whether a certain plot of land constituted a part of this property, and as regards various expenditures borne by them. What was more, the parties had repeatedly submitted new requests for evidence to be taken, which the court had allowed. As a result, further hearings were held on 2 November and 2 December 1993, 11 July and 27 September 1994. Two further expert opinions had been prepared in order to complete the opinions previously prepared, as the lapse of time had rendered the old ones obsolete.

On 2 November 1994 the applicant submitted her further pleadings. On 4 November 1994 a hearing was held. As witness R.S. failed to attend, the court imposed a fine on her and adjourned the hearing for 18 November 1994. On that day, the court lifted the fine as R.S. had informed the court that she was of advanced age and could therefore not come to the court.

On 8 February 1995 the court ordered that enforcement proceedings be instituted against the applicant as she had failed to pay her part of the expert’s fees, despite two summonses to do so.

On 14 March 1995 the court ordered that a new expert, M.S., draw up a further opinion as to the value of movables in order to complement the opinions that had been prepared previously.

On 22 March 1995 the defendant submitted his pleadings.

On 23 March 1995 the applicant again complained about the length of the proceedings. On 19 April 1995 the Deputy President of the Regional Court informed her in reply that the proceedings had indeed lasted for a long time, but there was nothing to suggest that they were not conducted diligently. The new judge rapporteur, who had been appointed in the meantime, had been taking appropriate measures in order to proceed further.

On 17 May 1995 the applicant complained again about the excessive length of proceedings. Further hearings were held on 22 June and 19 September 1995. On 21 September 1995 the defendant requested that the expert opinion of an expert in construction issues be complemented by indicating the value of certain building materials used for the construction of the house constituting a part of the conjugal property.

On 11 April 1996 the applicant complained once more about the length of the proceedings. In his reply of 23 April 1996, the President of the Regional Court informed her that he had no influence whatsoever insofar as changes of judge rapporteurs caused by their leaving the judiciary were concerned. Judge G., who had been the previous rapporteur, had left the judiciary and indeed, for a certain period his cases had not been assigned to another judge. However, a new rapporteur had been appointed and the next hearing was to be held on 11 June 1996.

In a letter to the President of the Regional Court of 9 May 1996, the Polish Helsinki Committee drew his attention to the fact that the case had remained pending since 1987, which seemed to be in breach of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, and that the judge rapporteur had been changed four times. As a result, each time the hearings in the case had to be recommenced.

On 28 June 1996 the applicant further requested the court to speed up the proceedings, submitting that she was in a very difficult financial position and that the outcome of the case, if the court found in her favour, could positively affect her situation.

Apparently on 4 October 1996 the applicant again complained about the length of the proceedings. In his reply of 8 November 1996, the President of the Regional Court stated that her complaints were well founded, that the attention of the judge rapporteur had been drawn thereto, and that the case-file would be sent to experts with no delay in order for further questions to be answered.

On 20 November 1996 the applicant drew the court’s attention to the fact that five months had elapsed since the last hearing.

On 27 January 1997 the Regional Court rejected the applicant’s appeal against a decision of 13 December 1996, concerning the expert’s fee.

On 5 February 1997 the court in part amended its decision of 6 November 1996 concerning a further expert opinion and changed questions to be put to the expert in construction issues.

On an unspecified date the Ombudsman requested the Regional Court to explain grounds of a certain further period of inactivity in the case. In a reply of 11 July 1997, the Ombudsman’s office was informed that the judge rapporteur had been on sick leave since April 1997.  The applicant’s case, in view of its considerable length to date, would exceptionally be assigned to another judge. The case file would immediately be sent to one of the three experts called to submit their complementary opinions.

On 4 October 1997 the defendant submitted his pleadings, calling into question the contents and conclusion of the expert opinion of M.S. which had meanwhile been submitted to the court. On 29 October 1997 he submitted further pleadings

On 12 November 1997 a hearing was held. The Regional Court served on the defendant the applicant’s pleadings of 7, 9, 13, 28  and 29 October 1997. The court adjourned the hearing sine die, and ordered the parties to submit a list of movables constituting the property. Expert M.S. refused to prepare a further report, indicating that the parties had not co-operated with him properly.

In a letter of 30 June 1998, in reply to the applicant’s complaint of 24 April 1998, the Ministry of Justice informed her that the length of the proceedings had in part been caused by the attitude of the parties, who repeatedly referred in their pleadings to facts and decisions given in other sets of proceedings, submitted numerous and voluminous pleadings, often having no relation whatsoever to the subject of the proceedings. The case-file counted seven volumes, consisting in a big part of these pleadings. At a hearing held on 15 June 1998 the court endeavoured to make the parties conclude a court settlement. They were further ordered to state their positions in a precise manner and the time-limit for doing so had been set for 18 August 1998.

In reply of 19 October 1998 to the applicant’s new complaint, the President of the Court of Appeal stated that the fact that the case had not been in part dealt with with sufficient speed, was a ground on which it had been taken into supervision by the President of the District Court. The changes of presiding judges had been caused by reasons which could not be attributed to the court.

A further hearing was held on 16 October 1998 and a number of witnesses were heard. On 17 and 28 October 1998 the defendant submitted his pleadings.

On 8 January 1999 another hearing was held. The court heard five witnesses. Further pleadings of the defendant were submitted on 15 January 1999. The next hearing was held on 13 April 1999.

The hearing scheduled for 23 December 1999 was adjourned as the judge was ill. Subsequent hearings were held on 21 April, 5 July and 25 September 2000.

By a letter of 24 August 2000 the President of the Civil Division of the Warsaw-Centre District Court informed the applicant that her complaints about the lack of progress in the proceedings were ill-founded. The length of proceedings had mostly been caused by measures taken by the parties themselves, the applicant included, in particular by their repeated requests that new evidence be taken and by them submitting voluminous pleadings.

On 26 October 2000 the applicant submitted her pleadings to the court, numbering 21 pleadings. These were subsequently served on the defendant and he was ordered to take a stand thereon within 21 days.

On 1 December 2000 the court ordered an expert opinion as to the value of the property in question. On 18 April 2001 this opinion was submitted to the court.

COMPLAINT

The applicant complains under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the excessive length of proceedings.

THE LAW

The applicant’s complaint relates to the length of the proceedings in question. Those proceedings began in November 1987 and are still pending before the first-instance court.

Article 6 § 1 of the Convention in its relevant part reads:

In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ... everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time...”

a) The Court first recalls that Poland recognised the competence of the European Commission of Human Rights to examine individual applications “from any person, non-governmental organisation or group of individuals claiming to be a victim of a violation of the rights recognised in the Convention through any act, decision or event occurring after 30 April 1993”.  Pursuant to Article 6 of Protocol No. 11 to the Convention this limitation shall remain valid for the jurisdiction of the Court under that Protocol.  Hence, the Court notes that the period to be taken into consideration began not in November 1987, when the applicant lodged her action with the Warsaw District Court, but on 1 May 1993, when the declaration whereby Poland recognised the right of individual petition took effect.

The Court, however, recalls that in order to determine the reasonableness of the length of proceedings in question, regard must be had to the state of the case on 1 May 1993. On the above understanding the proceedings have lasted so far thirteen years and eleven months, of which eight years and five months fall within the scope of the Court’s competence ratione temporis (see, among other authorities, the Proszak v. Poland judgment of 16 December 1997, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1997-VIII, § 31, and the Styranowski v. Poland judgment of 30 October 1998, Reports 1998-VIII, §§ 45-46).

b) The Government accept that the applicant exhausted relevant domestic remedies.

c)  According to the applicant, the length of the proceedings is in breach of the “reasonable time” requirement laid down in Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. The Government reject the allegation.

The Court considers, in the light of the criteria established in its case-law on the question of “reasonable time” (the complexity of the case, the applicant’s conduct and that of the competent authorities), and having regard to all the information in its possession, that an examination of the merits of this complaint is required.

For these reasons, the Court unanimously

Declares the application admissible, without prejudging the merits of the case.

Vincent Berger  Antonio Pastor Ridruejo 
 Registrar President

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SAWICKA v. POLAND DECISION


SAWICKA v. POLAND DECISION