SECOND SECTION

DECISION

AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF

Application no. 58292/00 
by Valentina Nikolayevna STUKALOVA 
against Russia

The European Court of Human Rights (Second Section), sitting on  
19 October 2004 as a Chamber composed of:

Mr J.-P. Costa, President
 Mr A.B. Baka
 Mr L. Loucaides
 Mr C. Bîrsan
 Mr M. Ugrekhelidze
 Mr A. Kovler, 
 Mrs A. Mularoni, judges
and Mr T.L. Early, Deputy Section Registrar,

Having regard to the above application lodged on 24 February 2000,

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 observations submitted by the respondent Government and the observations in reply submitted by the applicant,

Having deliberated, decides as follows:

 

THE FACTS

The applicant, Valentina Nikolayevna Stukalova, is a Russian national who was born in 1949 and lives in Abinsk in the Krasnodar region. She was represented before the Court by Mr N. B. Kolomiets, a lawyer practising in Krasnodar. The respondent Government were represented by Mr P. A. Laptev, the representative of the Russian Federation at the European Court of Human Rights.

A.  The circumstances of the case

The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.

The applicant was an employee of a joint-stock company. In 1996, as a result of an internal audit, she was suspected of fraud.

On 3 May 1997 criminal proceedings were brought against her.

On 23 September 1997 the applicant's employer dismissed her on the ground of loss of confidence in her.

In October 1997 the applicant lodged a civil action with the Abinskiy District Court of the Krasnodar Region against her former employer, claiming reinstatement and damages.

On 6 October 1999 the court stayed the proceedings pending the outcome of the criminal case against the applicant.

On 25 July 2000 the court examined the applicant's claims and rejected them in full.

On 21 August 2000 the applicant was charged with fraud.

On 31 August 2000 the Krasnodar Regional Court upheld the judgment in the civil case.

On 13 September 2000 the investigating authority transferred the applicant's criminal case to the court.

On 19 April 2001 the Abinskiy District Court of the Krasnodar Region examined the case and terminated the applicant's prosecution for lack of evidence. The applicant, who disagreed with the grounds for termination of her prosecution, appealed. On 6 June 2001 the Krasnodar Regional Court granted her appeal and quashed the decision.

On 10 August 2001 the Abinskiy District Court of the Krasnodar Region discontinued the criminal proceedings against the applicant for want of a crime, having regard to the fact that the prosecution refused to press charges against her.

COMPLAINTS

1.  The applicant complained under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the length of the civil and criminal proceedings.

2.  The applicant further complained under Article 3 of the Convention and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 about her dismissal and the resulting lack of means of subsistence which this entailed for her. She also alleged that Article 6 § 2 of the Convention was breached as she was dismissed before the determination of the criminal charge against her.

THE LAW

1.  The applicant complained that the length of the civil proceedings had been incompatible with the “reasonable time” requirement, provided in Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which reads as follows:

“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal...”

The Government contested that argument. They also noted that the applicant failed to appeal against the decision of the Abinskiy District Court of the Krasnodar Region of 6 October 1999 whereby the proceedings were stayed pending the outcome of the criminal investigation against the applicant.

The applicant maintained her complaint.

The period to be taken into consideration began only on 5 May 1998, when the recognition by Russia of the right of individual petition took effect. However, in assessing the reasonableness of the time that elapsed after that date, account must be taken of the state of proceedings at the time.

The period in question ended on 31 August 2000. It thus lasted two years, three months and twenty six days.

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 criteria established by its case-law, particularly the complexity of the case, the conduct of the applicant and of 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).

The Court considers that the present case did not raise any complex legal or factual issues.

As regards the applicant's conduct, the Court notes the Government's argument concerning the applicant's failure to appeal against the decision of 6 October 1999 by which the proceedings were stayed pending the outcome of the criminal case. Taking into account the fact that the court eventually decided the case before the completion of the criminal proceedings, the Court finds that the applicant has to share responsibility for the delay in the proceedings between 6 October 1999 and 25 July 2000, when the case was examined by the court.

In so far as the conduct of the judicial authorities is concerned, the Court observes that it took the first-instance court two years and about three months to examine the case, during which period the case remained dormant for about ten months pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings. The Court further observes that the consideration of the case by the appeal court took less than two months.

The Court recalls that a delay at some stage may be tolerated if the overall duration of the proceedings cannot be deemed excessive (see, for example, Pretto and Others v. Italy, judgment of 8 December 1983, Series A no. 71, p. 16, § 37).

The foregoing considerations lead the Court to conclude, having regard to its case-law on the subject, and even taking into account what was at stake for the applicant, that the total duration of the proceedings of about two years and four months does not give rise to any appearance of a violation of the reasonable time requirement of Article 6 § 1. It follows that this complaint is manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.

2.  The applicant further complained that the length of the criminal proceedings against her also breached Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

The Government objected, stating that the investigation stage of the proceedings lasted ten months, the investigation being discontinued and re-opened several times. They further pointed out that the applicant contributed to the length of the court proceedings, in particular by appealing against the decision of 19 April 2001 terminating the applicant's prosecution.

The applicant contested the Government's view. She argued, in particular, that the investigation of the case took more than ten months. The applicant appears to consider that this period must also include the intervals between the discontinuance of the investigation and its re-opening.

The Court recalls in the first place that the period to be taken into consideration under the criminal head of Article 6 § 1 must be determined in an autonomous manner. It begins at the time when formal charges are brought against a person or when that person has otherwise been substantially affected by actions taken by the prosecuting authorities as a result of a suspicion against him (see Eckle v. Germany, judgment of 15 July 1982, Series A no. 51, p. 33, § 73).

On the assumption that the applicant was substantially affected by the decision of 3 May 1997 to institute criminal proceedings against her, and not on 21 August 2000 when she was charged with the offence, and that the investigation of the case lasted without interruption from 3 May 1997 to 13 September 2000 (the dates of discontinuance and re-opening of the investigation not being at the Court's disposal), the Court considers that the complaint is manifestly ill-founded in view of the following considerations.

The period which can be considered by the Court ratione temporis began on 5 May 1998, when the recognition by Russia of the right of individual petition took effect. However, in assessing the reasonableness of the time that elapsed after that date, account must be taken of the state of proceedings at the time. The period in question ended on 10 August 2001. It thus lasted three years, three months and five days.

The Court reiterates that the reasonableness of the length of proceedings must be assessed in the light of the circumstances of each case and having regard in particular to the following criteria: the complexity of the case, the conduct of the applicant and that of the competent authorities (see Kemmache v. France (no. 1 and no. 2), judgment of 27 November 1991, Series A no. 218, p. 27, § 60). Persons held in detention are further entitled to special diligence (see Tomasi v. France, judgment of 27 August 1992, Series A no. 241-A, p. 35, § 84).

The Court observes that the case was not complex and that it has not been established that the applicant caused any substantial delays in the proceedings.

As regards the conduct of the authorities, it notes that the case spanned the investigation stage and two levels of jurisdiction, and that the case was examined twice by the trial court.

The Court further notes that the applicant was not detained in the course of the proceedings.

Having regard to a total duration of three years and three months, the Court cannot find that this period in the circumstances was unreasonably long for the purposes of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. It follows that this complaint is manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.

3.  Lastly, the Court has examined the remainder of the applicant's complaints as submitted by her. However, having regard to all the material in its possession, it finds that these complaints do not disclose any appearance of a violation of the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention or its Protocols. It follows that this part of the application must be rejected as being manifestly ill-founded, pursuant to Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.

4. Having regard to the above considerations, the application to the case of Article 29 § 3 of the Convention should be discontinued.

For these reasons, the Court unanimously

Declares the application inadmissible.

T.L. Early J.-P. Costa 
 Deputy Registrar President

STUKALOVA v. RUSSIA DECISION


STUKALOVA v. RUSSIA DECISION