(Application no. 458/03)
22 November 2005
This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Kántor v. Hungary,
The European Court of Human Rights (Second Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Mr J.-P. Costa, President,
Mr A.B. Baka,
Mr R. Türmen,
Mr K. Jungwiert,
Mr M. Ugrekhelidze,
Ms D. Jočienė,
Mr D. Popović, judges,
and Mrs S. Dollé, Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 3 November 2005,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (no. 458/03) against the Republic of Hungary lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Hungarian national, Mr Ferenc Kántor (“the applicant”), on 19 November 2002.
2. The Hungarian Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr L. Höltzl, Deputy State-Secretary, Ministry of Justice.
3. On 8 October 2004 the Court decided to communicate the application. Applying Article 29 § 3 of the Convention, it decided to rule on the admissibility and merits of the application at the same time.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
4. The applicant was born in 1940 and lives in Balatonkenese.
5. The applicant brought an action against a building
society for repossession of real property. He also claimed compensation.
15 May 1992 the Budapest Regional Court awarded him 624,986 Hungarian forints (HUF) in compensation.
6. On 28 October 1994 the applicant, being dissatisfied with the award, brought another action for compensation against the building society on partly modified legal grounds.
After having held a hearing on 23 February 1995, the Buda Central District Court dismissed his action on 12 March 1995. The applicant appealed.
7. On 11 October 1995 the Budapest Regional Court upheld the District Court’s judgment. The applicant filed a petition for review on 19 January 1996.
8. On 30 May 1997 the Supreme Court quashed both decisions and remitted the case to the first-instance court.
9. In the resumed proceedings, on 1 December 1997
the case was given priority. Hearings took place on 17 December 1997
and 19 March 1998.
On 12 May 1998 a real-estate expert was appointed. Following a warning, the latter presented his opinion 30 September 1998.
10. On 13 October 1998 the Buda Central District Court held a hearing and, on 21 October 1998, dismissed the applicant’s action. The applicant appealed.
11. On 26 May 1999 the Budapest Regional Court dismissed his motion for bias.
12. On 2 June 1999 the Regional Court held a hearing
9 July 1999, partly changed the first-instance judgment and awarded the applicant HUF 152,204 in compensation. The applicant filed a petition for review on 7 January 2000.
13. On 27 February 2002 the Supreme Court upheld the Regional Court’s decision. This judgment was served on 23 May 2002.
I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 § 1 OF THE CONVENTION
14. The applicant complained that the length of the proceedings had been incompatible with the “reasonable time” requirement of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which reads as follows:
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal...”
15. The Government contested that argument.
16. The period to be taken into consideration began on 28 October 1994 and ended on 23 May 2002 with the service of the Supreme Court’s decision. It thus lasted nearly seven years and seven months for three levels of jurisdiction.
17. The Court notes that this complaint is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention. It further notes that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.
18. The Court reiterates that the reasonableness of the length of proceedings must be assessed in the light of the circumstances of the case and with reference to the following criteria: the complexity of the case, the conduct of the applicant and the relevant authorities and what was at stake for the applicant in the dispute (see, among many other authorities, Frydlender v. France [GC], no. 30979/96, § 43, ECHR 2000-VII).
19. The Court has frequently found violations of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention in cases raising issues similar to the one in the present case (see Frydlender, cited above).
20. Having examined all the material submitted to it, the Court considers that the Government have not put forward any fact or convincing argument capable of persuading it to reach a different conclusion in the present case. Having regard to its case-law on the subject, the Court considers, in particular in view of the protracted nature of the review proceedings, that in the instant case the length of the proceedings was excessive and failed to meet the “reasonable time” requirement.
There has accordingly been a breach of Article 6 § 1.
II. OTHER ALLEGED VIOLATIONS OF THE CONVENTION
21. Relying on Articles 6 and 7 of the Convention, the applicant complained that the proceedings were unfair and their outcome was wrong.
22. In so far as the applicant’s complaint may be understood to concern the assessment of the evidence and the result of the proceedings before the domestic courts, the Court reiterates that, according to Article 19 of the Convention, its duty is to ensure the observance of the engagements undertaken by the Contracting Parties to the Convention. In particular, it is not its function to deal with errors of fact or law allegedly committed by a national court unless and in so far as they may have infringed rights and freedoms protected by the Convention. Moreover, while Article 6 of the Convention guarantees the right to a fair hearing, it does not lay down any rules on the admissibility of evidence or the way it should be assessed, which are therefore primarily matters for regulation by national law and the national courts (García Ruiz v. Spain [GC], no. 30544/96, § 28). In the present case, there is no appearance that the courts lacked impartiality or that the proceedings were otherwise unfair. Moreover, the applicant’s submissions do not raise any issue under Article 7 of the Convention.
23. It follows that this part of the application is manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 and must be rejected pursuant to Article 35 § 4 of the Convention.
III. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
24. Article 41 of the Convention provides:
“If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.”
25. The applicant claimed 80 million Hungarian forints in respect of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage.
26. The Government contested these claims.
27. The Court does not discern any causal link between the violation found and the pecuniary damage alleged; it therefore rejects this claim. However, it considers that the applicant must have sustained some non-pecuniary damage. Ruling on an equitable basis, it awards award him 3,500 euros (EUR) under that head.
B. Costs and expenses
28. The applicant made no claim under this head.
C. Default interest
29. The Court considers it appropriate that the default interest should be based on the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank, to which should be added three percentage points.
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT UNANIMOUSLY
1. Declares the complaint concerning the excessive length of the proceedings admissible and the remainder of the application inadmissible;
2. Holds that there has been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention;
(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, EUR 3,500 (three thousand five hundred euros) in respect of non-pecuniary damage, to be converted into the national currency of the respondent State at the rate applicable at the date of settlement, plus any tax that may be chargeable;
(b) that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amount at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;
4. Dismisses the remainder of the applicant’s claim for just satisfaction.
Done in English, and notified in writing on 22 November 2005, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.
S. Dollé J.-P.
KÁNTOR v. HUNGARY JUDGMENT
KÁNTOR v. HUNGARY JUDGMENT