AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF
Application no. 5521/03
by Petr MEIER and Gerte GRÁFOVÁ
against the Czech Republic
The European Court of Human Rights (Fifth Section), sitting on 4 January 2008 as a Chamber composed of:
Javier Borrego Borrego,
Mark Villiger, judges,
and Claudia Westerdiek, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 11 February 2003,
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 partial decision of 3 May 2005,
Having regard to the observations submitted by the respondent Government and the observations in reply submitted by the applicants,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicants, Mr Petr Meier and Gerte Gráfová, are Czech nationals who were born in 1945 and 1913 respectively and live in Prague and Vienna respectively. They were represented before the Court by Mr J. Kalista, a lawyer practising in Prague. The Czech Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr V.A. Schorm, from the Ministry of Justice.
A. The circumstances of the case
The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.
In 1949 a Prague company having belonged to the applicants’ family was nationalised.
On 24 September 1991 the first applicant made a request to the company and the Ministry of Administration of National Property and its Privatisation (Ministerstvo pro správu národního majetku a jeho privatizaci) under the Extra-Judicial Rehabilitation Act for restitution of the company which, according to him, had been nationalised contrary to the law then in force. He claimed restitution on his behalf and on behalf of the second applicant, who had originally owned one fourth of the property, and three successors in title to the other original co-owners.
As the company apparently refused to restore the property, the first applicant brought an action in the Prague 8 District Court (okresní soud) for its recovery.
On 16 September 1992, the District Court granted the restitution action.
On 29 January 1993 the Prague Municipal Court (městský soud) quashed the judgment and remitted the case to the District Court which, on 26 January 1995, dismissed the restitution action, finding that the first applicant had not proved that the property had been unlawfully nationalised.
On 22 May 1995 the Municipal Court upheld this judgment.
On 15 May 1996 the Supreme Court (Nejvyšší soud) rejected the first applicant’s appeal on points of law (dovolání).
On 19 December 1996 the Constitutional Court (Ústavní soud) quashed the Supreme Court’s judgment, finding that the company had been nationalised contrary to Presidential Decree no. 115/1948 and, therefore, should be restored under section 6(1)(k) of the Extra-Judicial Rehabilitation Act.
On 18 September 1998, the District Court, being bound by the legal opinion of the Constitutional Court, granted the restitution action, ordering the company to conclude a restitution agreement with the first applicant. On 8 October 1999 the Municipal Court upheld this judgment in respect of the three fourths of the property, modifying it in respect of the remaining fourth which had belonged to the second applicant.
The Supreme Court quashed the Municipal Court’s judgment in respect of the above fourth of the property and, at the same time, quashed the relevant part of the District Court’s judgment of 18 September 1998.
On 18 May 2001 the District Court dismissed the remainder of the restitution action, holding that the second applicant was the only person who was entitled to seek restitution of the outstanding fourth of the property and, therefore, could not validly assign her restitution entitlement to the first applicant.
On 11 October 2002 the Municipal Court, upheld the operative part of this judgment with certain modifications to the reasoning.
On 3 March 2004 the Constitutional Court dismissed the first applicant’s constitutional appeal.
B. Relevant domestic law and practice
The relevant domestic law and practice concerning remedies for the excessive length of judicial proceedings are stated in the Court’s decision in the case of Vokurka v. Czech Republic, no. 40552/02 (dec.), §§ 11-24, 16 October 2007).
The applicants complained under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention that the proceedings had lasted an unreasonably long time.
The applicants’ complaint relates to the length of the restitution proceedings, which began on 15 January 1992 and ended on 3 March 2004 with the decision of the Constitutional Court. The Court notes that the period to be taken into consideration only began on 18 March 1992, when the recognition by the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, to which the Czech Republic is one of the successor States, of the right of individual petition took effect.
The applicants argued that the length of the proceedings had been incompatible with the “reasonable time” requirement under 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.”
The Government noted that the applicants could have resorted to the compensatory remedy provided for by Act no. 82/1998. The applicants did not wish to use this remedy.
The Court has already examined that remedy for the purposes of Article 35 § 1 of the Convention and found it effective in respect of certain complaints about the length of judicial proceedings in the Czech Republic. In particular, it considered that the remedy was capable of providing adequate redress for any breach of the reasonable time requirement that has already occurred (see Vokurka v. Czech Republic, cited above, §§ 58-65).
However, the applicants despite having been informed by the Court of the possibility of using this remedy did not indicate that they would exhaust such a remedy. It thus appears that they have chosen not to avail themselves of this remedy.
The Court therefore considers that the applicants have not exhausted domestic remedies within the meaning of Article 35 § 1 of the Convention. Their complaint must therefore be declared inadmissible according to Article 35 §§ 4 of the Convention.
In view of the above, it is appropriate to discontinue the application of Article 29 § 3 of the Convention and to reject the remainder of the application.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Declares inadmissible the remainder of the application.
Claudia Westerdiek Peer
MEIER AND GRÁFOVÁ v. THE CZECH REPUBLIC DECISION
MEIER AND GRÁFOVÁ v. THE CZECH REPUBLIC DECISION