AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF
Application no. 60228/00
by Ján ZÁFER
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 19 September 2006 as a Chamber composed of:
Sir Nicolas Bratza, President,
Mr J. Casadevall,
Mr M. Pellonpää,
Mr S. Pavlovschi,
Mr L. Garlicki,
Ms L. Mijović,
Mr J. Šikuta, judges,
and Mr T.L. Early, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 3 March 2000,
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 application was introduced by Mr Ján Záfer, a Slovakian national who was born in 1930 and who lived in Hlohovec. He was represented by Mr S. Jakubčík, a lawyer practising in Bratislava. The applicant died on 8 May 2005. On 8 September 2005 Mrs Viola Záferová, the applicant’s spouse, informed the Court of her wish to continue the application in her late husband’s stead. She authorised Mr S. Jakubčík to represent her in the proceedings. The Government of the Slovak Republic (“the Government”) are represented by their Agent, Mrs A. Poláčková.
A. The circumstances of the case
The facts of the case, as submitted by the parties, may be summarised as follows.
In 1994 the applicant and his wife started living in a family house which is owned by their son and the latter’s wife. The house is situated in Železničná street in Hlohovec. The house is placed between two other family houses with street numbers 11 and 13 respectively and it had a plate with street number 12 initially.
The applicant and the other inhabitants of the house were disturbed by persons who thought that an important pharmaceutical company established in Hlohovec in 1950 had its headquarters there. In November 1994 the applicant learned that the company, whose premises were located partly at the end of the same street some 300 to 400 metres away, used in its address the same street number as their house had. In addition, the same address was used by several other companies which leased premises from the pharmaceutical company in issue.
On 10 February 1995 the applicant’s son sought redress from both the Mayor of Hlohovec and the company’s management. He also requested the company to remove its information and advertisement board located in front of his house. On 15 March 1995 the company’s representatives replied that they were interested in solving the problem and that they had asked the Municipal Office in Hlohovec for assistance.
On 24 April 1995 the Hlohovec Municipality decided, with reference to sections 9-12 of Act 517/1990, to assign street number 19 to the house in which the applicant and his family lived. The document indicated that the decision was to be delivered to the house owner and to the Land Registry in Hlohovec. It contained no information as to the availability of any remedy. In a separate letter with the same date and addressed to the house owner the Hlohovec Municipal Office stated that the house should normally have street number 12. However, according to the relevant documents, the same street number had been assigned to the pharmaceutical company whose premises were located in the same street. It resulted from the fact that the company’s premises had had street number 12 from the moment of its establishment while further buildings had been built in the street subsequently without any change in the numbering. Given the position and activities of the company, the Municipal Office decided to assign a different street number to the house of the applicant’s son. The company was to bear any costs related to the change of the number plate attached to the house.
On 17 May 1995 the Municipal Office informed the applicant’s son that its employees would come to his house, on 23 May 1995, with a view to resolving the problem of the company’s advertisement board.
The applicant and his wife continued to be regularly disturbed throughout the day by a large number of persons who thought that the above company or other companies which leased the latter’s premises (and thus had the same street address) had their offices there.
In November 1998 the applicant complained of the situation to the Mayor of Hlohovec. On 19 November 1998 the Municipal Office sent copies of the above documents dated 24 April 1995 together with a certificate that the inhabitants of the house had their permanent address at Železničná street 19. As the applicant continued insisting that the house should have street number 12, the Mayor of Hlohovec decided to allocate street number 12/A to the house in January 1999. The documents submitted to the Court indicate that the applicant’s son and the members of his family had also registered their permanent address in the house at that time.
Despite that change the applicant and his wife were regularly disturbed by persons looking for one of the companies whose address was at Železničná street 12. Such encounters sometimes resulted in misunderstandings and conflicts, for example with employment seekers. As a result, the health of the applicant and his wife deteriorated. In particular, the applicant submitted medical certificates according to which his wife had been undergoing long-term psychiatric treatment since 1991. Both the applicant and his wife underwent treatment in a sanatorium.
On 28 December 1999 the applicant asked the Constitutional Court to express its opinion as to whether the Municipal Office had proceeded in an appropriate manner from the point of view of respecting the rights of the persons living in the house and whether the company concerned had violated the rights of those persons.
In a letter of 8 February 2000, a constitutional judge informed the applicant that individuals could initiate proceedings before the Constitutional Court under Articles 127 and 130 § 3 of the Constitution only. The Constitutional Court was not entitled to express an opinion on the questions put by the applicant. The letter concluded that the applicant’s submission did not meet the formal requirements for proceedings to be brought before the Constitutional Court.
In 2000 a TV company reported on the case. In the broadcast the applicant explained that he and his family were regularly disturbed by persons looking for Železničná street 12. On some days up to 6 persons rang their bell. The applicant held in his hands a standardised street number plate bearing the number 12. He stated that that number had originally been attached to their house and that he would not abandon the claim that it still belonged to them. The Mayor explained that the company had had street number 12 in its address from the moment of its establishment. The municipality accepted that a change in the company’s address would result in disproportionately high costs. The decision adopted in 1995 to allocate street number 19 to the house of the applicant’s son seemed to be the most appropriate solution. The Mayor expressed the view that if the applicant’s family had accepted the proposed solution including the placement of an additional board announcing where the company’s premises were situated, the problem would have been resolved. A lawyer whom the TV team consulted advised the applicant to indicate visibly on the house street number 19 allocated by the municipality. The pictures of the house indicate that, unlike the neighbouring ones, the house in which the applicant lived had no identification number attached to it at the time when the broadcast was made.
As from 15 June 2000 the company in issue started using a new address - Nitrianska street 100. That address indicates the main entrance to the company’s newly built administrative building. However, the address of several other companies leasing the premises remained unchanged.
In a reply to the applicant’s complaint, the Office of the President of the Slovak Republic expressed the view, on 3 October 2000, that the Municipal Office in Hlohovec had acted in accordance with Regulation 347/1997 in that it had allocated street number 12/A to the house.
In his submissions to different authorities the applicant repeatedly indicated “Železničná 12” as his address.
According to the Government, the applicant and his son disregarded the decision of 1999 to allocate street number 12/A to the house. They submitted photographs taken by the employees of the Hlohovec Municipal Office, on 24 January 2004, showing that the house bears street number 12.
The applicant contended that the number attached to the house had been carved in wood and bought by his son, and that they had not been provided with plates.
B. Relevant domestic law and practice
1. Constitutional provisions and practice
Pursuant to Article 127 of the Constitution, as in force until 30 June 2001, the Constitutional Court decided on complaints concerning final decisions made by, among others, local government authorities and local self-governing bodies in cases concerning violations of the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens, unless the protection of such rights fell under the jurisdiction of another court.
Under Article 130 § 3 of the Constitution, as in force until 30 June 2001, the Constitutional Court could commence proceedings upon a petition (podnet) presented by any individual or corporation claiming that their rights had been violated.
According to its case-law under former Article 130 § 3 of the Constitution, as in force until 30 June 2001, the Constitutional Court lacked jurisdiction to draw legal consequences from a violation of a petitioner’s rights. It could neither grant damages to the person concerned nor impose a sanction on the public authority responsible for the violation found. In the Constitutional Court’s view, it was therefore for the authority concerned to provide redress to the person whose rights were violated.
2. The Code of Civil Procedure
The lawfulness of decisions given by authorities charged with public administration can be reviewed by courts in accordance with Part 5 of the Code of Civil Procedure which governs the administrative judiciary.
Article 244(2) provides that administrative courts review the lawfulness of decisions given by State administrative authorities or local self-government authorities, as well as of other legal persons authorised by law to decide on individual rights and obligations in the context of public administration. As from 1 January 2002, this provision has been amended in that courts are also entitled to review the way in which administrative authorities proceed, including their failure to act.
Under paragraph 3 of Article 244, decisions of administrative authorities are decisions which such authorities delivered in the context of administrative proceedings as well as other decisions which establish, modify or annul the rights and obligations of natural or legal persons.
Under Article 247(2), courts are entitled to decide on actions against decisions delivered by administrative authorities where such decisions have become final after the exhaustion of all available ordinary remedies.
3. Act 517/1990 Coll.
Act 517/1990 Coll. governed the territorial and administrative division of the Slovak Republic. It was in force until 24 July 1996.
Section 10(1) provided that, in order to facilitate orientation in streets, every building and every separate entry thereto were to be marked by an “orientation number”. Every street given a name was to have a separate series of orientation numbers.
Section 11(1) provided that municipalities were to decide on and register the numbering of buildings.
Pursuant to section 12(2), a single type of plates with street orientation numbers is to be used in a municipality. The house owners were to obtain a plate with the corresponding number and attach it to their house at their own expense. Paragraph 3 of section 12 provided that a street orientation number is to be placed to the right from the entrance to a building in a manner permitting it to be seen from public space.
4. Act 221/1996 Coll.
Act 221/1996 on Territorial and Administrative Organisation of the Slovak Republic entered into force on 24 July 1997 and it repealed Act 517/1990.
The following relevant provisions were in force until 31 December 2001.
Under section 13, every building in a street or in a public place having a name and every separate entrance to such a building were to have an orientation number. Every street or public place having its own name was to have its own series of orientation numbers.
Section 14(1) entrusted to municipalities the numbering of buildings and its registration. Municipalities decided also on the type of plates with street numbers to be used on their territory. Pursuant to paragraph 3 of section 14, house owners were to obtain a plate with the corresponding number and attach it to their house at their own expense.
Section 17 provided that decisions under Act 221/1996 were not covered by the Administrative Proceedings Act of 1967.
5. Act 369/1990 Coll.
As from 1 January 2002 the numbering of buildings has been governed by Act 369/1990 on Municipal Organisation, as amended by Act No. 452/2001.
Pursuant to section 2c(1), municipalities allcoate orientation and registration numbers to buildings, keep a register of such numbering and ensure that it corresponds to the factual situation.
Section 27a(2) provides, inter alia, that decisions by which street numbers are assigned to houses are not covered by the Administrative Procedure Act of 1967.
6. Regulations 347/1997 and 31/2003
Regulation 347/1997 was issued by the Ministry of the Interior with reference to Act 221/1996 and it governed, inter alia, the details of the numbering of buildings. It was in force from 1 January 1998 until 1 March 2003.
Regulation 31/2003 repealed Regulation 347/1997 with effect from 1 March 2003.
Section 6(4) provides that a street orientation number can be changed or annulled in exceptional cases only and after the owner of the building has been duly notified.
1. The applicant complained under Article 8 of the Convention that the Slovakian authorities had failed to ensure respect for his private and family life. He alleged, in particular, that a company had unlawfully used the address of the house in which he lived and that the Slovakian authorities had failed to provide appropriate redress to him.
2. Under Article 4 of the Convention the applicant complained that he had been obliged to perform forced labour in that he had to regularly explain the way to visitors who mistakenly considered that companies which they looked for had their offices in the house where he lived.
3. The applicant alleged a violation of Article 13 of the Convention in that he had had no effective remedy at his disposal.
1. After the applicant’s death, Mrs Viola Záferová, his spouse, expressed the wish to pursue the proceedings initiated by her husband. The Court notes that Mrs Záferová lived in the same house together with the applicant and accepts that she has a legitimate interest in pursuing the application in her late husband’s stead.
2. The applicant complained that the Slovakian authorities had failed to ensure respect for his private and family life. He relied on Article 8 of the Convention which provides as follows:
“1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
The Government first objected that the applicant had not exhausted domestic remedies as required by Article 35 § 1 of the Convention. The applicant should have sought redress by means of an action under Articles 244 et seq. of the Code of Civil Procedure. In case of refusal by a court to entertain such an action, the applicant could have sought redress before the Constitutional Court pursuant to Article 127, as in force at the relevant time.
Secondly, should the Court not accept the above objection, the Government argued that the application had been filed outside the six months’ time-limit laid down in Article 35 § 1 of the Convention. They relied on the fact that the decisions to allocate a different number to the house in which the applicant lived had been given in April 1995 and in January 1999 whereas the application was introduced on 3 March 2000.
Thirdly, the Government submitted that, after the municipality had allocated a different street orientation number to the house in which he lived on 24 April 1995, the applicant had lost the status of a victim within the meaning of Article 34 of the Convention.
Fourthly, the Government were of the view that the application was in event manifestly ill-founded. The applicant had no arguable right to have a specific street number assigned to the house in which he lived, and the municipal authority took appropriate steps with a view to ensuring that two buildings situated in the same street did not have the same orientation number.
The applicant considered that he could not have obtained redress before the domestic courts. He relied on the statement of a lawyer who had told him that the courts would not accept his claim as the Municipal Office had not violated any of its statutory obligations. The applicant also contested the arguments of the Government according to which the application had been lodged out of time and that he had lost the status of a victim. His right to respect for his private life had been violated as he and his wife had been disturbed as a result of the fact that other persons used in their address the street number which his son’s house should have had.
The Court does not consider it necessary to examine whether or not the requirements laid down in Articles 34 and 35 § 1 of the Convention have been met as, in any event, the application is inadmissible for the reasons set out below.
The notion of private life includes a person’s physical and psychological integrity (see Sentges v. the Netherlands (dec.), no. 27677/02, 8 July 2003, with further references). An issue as regards an individual’s right to respect for his or her private life or home may arise on manifold grounds including various forms of nuisance caused by third parties (see the recapitulation of the relevant case-law in Moreno Gómez v. Spain, no. 4143/02, §§ 53 and 54, ECHR 2004-..., with further references).
The applicant alleged a violation of Article 8 of the Convention on the ground that several companies with their headquarters in the same street where he lived used in their address the street number which the house inhabited by the applicant and his family should have had. He expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that the Hlohovec municipality had refused to acknowledge that his son’s house should have street number 12, and that the company in issue should be allocated and obliged to use a different street number corresponding to its location in the row of houses in the street.
It has not been disputed between the parties that the applicant’s private life was adversely affected as a result of disturbance by different persons who had difficulties in locating one of the companies with its headquarters at Železničná 12. The case therefore gives rise to an issue under Article 8.
The applicant did not argue and it does not appear from the documents before the Court that by deciding to allocate street numbers 19 and later 12/A to his son’s house the municipal authority had acted in breach of any of its obligations under the Slovak law. In the present case the question arises, rather, whether the Slovak authorities complied with their duty to take reasonable and appropriate measures to secure the applicants’ rights under paragraph 1 of Article 8 after it had been established that both the house of his son and the pharmaceutical company had the same street numbers.
In this respect regard must be had to the fair balance that has to be struck between the competing interests of the individual and of the community as a whole. Furthermore, in striking the required balance the aims mentioned in the second paragraph of Article 8 may be of a certain relevance (see the Moreno Gómez v. Spain judgment cited above, § 55). The Contracting States are recognised as enjoying a certain margin of appreciation in matters giving rise to issues under Article 8 of the Convention (see, among many other authorities, Von Hannover v. Germany, no. 59320/00, § 57, ECHR 2004-...; Maurice v. France [GC], no. 11810/03, § 114, ECHR 2005-...).
In the present case the municipal authority explained, in a letter of 24 April 1995, that number 12 in Železničná street had been used by the pharmaceutical company from the moment of its establishment several decades ago, and that other buildings had subsequently been built in that street without any change in the numbering. Given the position and activities of the company, the Municipal Office decided to allocate a different street number to the house of the applicant’s son. In 1999, after the applicant had continued expressing his disagreement with that solution, insisting that the house in which his family lived should bear number 12, the Mayor allocated street number 12/A to that house.
The Court accepts that changing the street number in the address of the pharmaceutical company which it had used from the moment of its establishment, as well as of other companies which leased the latter’s premises, would have considerable economic and practical implications, given the scope of their economic relations and their commercial networks (notification of change of address, alteration of advertising brochures, change of entries in trade journals and directories, change of official forms etc.).
The documents submitted by the parties show that in reaching the contested decision the municipality took into account the situation of the applicant and his family. In particular, the documents of 24 April 1995 indicate that the pharmaceutical company was to bear any costs related to the change of the number plate attached to the family house. Furthermore, the municipal office informed the applicant’s son that its employees would come to his house on 23 May 1995 with a view to resolving a problem concerning the company’s information and advertisement board. The applicant submitted no information about how the matter had been resolved. In his statement broadcast in 2000 the Mayor expressed the view that the inhabitants of the house should accept the placement of an information board indicating where the company’s premises were located in addition to attaching to the house the new street number allocated by the municipality.
It is not clear whether the house owner duly attached to the house a plate with the new street number in compliance with the Mayor’s above decisions. In fact, in the TV broadcast of 2000 no street number was visible on the house. A lawyer advised that the street number allocated to the owner in 1995, namely No. 19, should be visibly attached to it. In his letters addressed to various authorities the applicant repeatedly indicated Železničná 12 as his street address. A photograph taken on 24 January 2004 indicates that the house bore street orientation number 12 at that time. The above facts indicate that the applicant continued insisting on his argument that the house in which he lived should have street number 12 rather than attempting to resolve the problem in line with the reasonable proposals made by the municipal authority.
Taking into account the margin of appreciation enjoyed by States in determining the steps to be taken to ensure compliance with the Convention and having regard to the above considerations, the Court finds that the respondent State did not fail to comply with its obligation to ensure respect for the applicant’s private life as required by Article 8 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. The applicant complained that he had been obliged to perform forced labour in that he had frequently to explain the way to visitors who mistakenly considered that companies which they were looking for had their offices in the house where he lived. He invoked Article 4 of the Convention, the relevant part of which provides as follows:
“2. No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.”...
The Court has examined this complaint but finds, to the extent that it has been substantiated and falls within its competence, that it does not disclose any appearance of a violation of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by 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.
4. Finally, the applicant complained that he had no effective remedy at his disposal. He relied on Article 13 of the Convention which provides:
“Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in [the] Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.”
According to the Court’s case-law, Article 13 applies only where an individual has an “arguable claim” to be the victim of a violation of a Convention right (see Boyle and Rice v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 27 April 1988, Series A no. 131, § 52).
The Court has found above that the applicant’s complaints under Articles 8 and 4 of the Convention were inadmissible as being manifestly ill-founded. For similar reasons, the applicant did not have an “arguable claim” and Article 13 is therefore inapplicable to her case. This part of the application is also manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention and must be rejected pursuant to Article 35 § 4.
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Decides that the applicant’s spouse has standing to continue the application in the applicant’s stead;
Declares the application inadmissible.
T.L. Early Nicolas Bratza
ZÁFER v. SLOVAKIA DECISION
ZÁFER v. SLOVAKIA DECISION