FOURTH SECTION

DECISION

AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF

Application no. 62217/00 
by Rastislav MACHUNKA 
against Slovakia

The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 27 June 2006 as a Chamber composed of:

Sir Nicolas Bratza, President
 Mr G. Bonello
 Mr M. Pellonpää
 Mr K. Traja
 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 6 June 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, Mr Rastislav Machunka, is a Slovakian national who was born in 1971 and lives in Trenčín. He was represented before the Court by Mrs E. Ľalíková, a lawyer practising in Bratislava. The Government of the Slovak Republic (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mrs A. Poláčková.

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

1.  Defamation proceedings brought by the applicant

On 21 October 1998 the applicant filed an action for protection of his personal rights with the Trenčín District Court. He sued the editor of a daily newspaper which had allegedly made defamatory statements about him.

On 14 January 1999 the District Court invited the applicant to pay the court fee. On 3 February 1999 the applicant informed the District Court in writing that he had transferred the sum due on 29 January 1999. As the District Court did not receive the sum, the applicant was heard on 19 October 1999. It was established that the sum had been returned to the applicant’s account. On 21 October 1999 the District Court received the fee.

On 16 November 1999 the District Court asked the defendant to submit comments on the action within ten days.

According to a note in the case file, the judge dealing with the case had been attached temporarily to a different court starting on 1 January 2000.

On 17 July 2000 the Trenčín District Court delivered a judgment against which both parties appealed on 25 August and on 19 September 2000 respectively.

After having taken several procedural steps the District Court submitted the case file to the Trenčín Regional Court on 30 January 2001. On 13 March 2001 the Regional Court returned the file to the District Court as there had been shortcomings in serving the first-instance judgment. On 14 March 2001 the District Court sent the judgment to the party concerned. That party filed an appeal on 17 April 2001. On 19 June 2001 the file was re-submitted to the appellate court.

On 19 November 2002 the Regional Court quashed the District Court’s judgment of 17 July 2000. The appellate court found that the District Court had committed a serious procedural mistake in that its decision exceeded the scope of the case. The question whether the defendant had standing in the case was also to be clarified and further evidence was to be taken. The file was returned to the District Court on 20 December 2002. The Regional Court’s decision was served on the parties on 20 January and on 7 February 2003 respectively.

On 7 February 2003 the applicant withdrew a part of his claim which concerned an apology for the statements in question. He explained that almost five years had lapsed since their publication. The applicant maintained his claim for compensation amounting to the equivalent of approximately 5,000 euros (EUR).

On 19 February 2003 the District Court admitted another person as a defendant in the proceedings.

The District Court made several inquiries, in accordance with the Regional Court’s instructions, between February and June 2003.

On 1 July 2003 the case was assigned to a different judge as the judge dealing with it had been transferred to a different court.

On 10 September 2003 the District Court made further written inquiries to which it received replies on 22 and 26 September 2003.

On 28 January 2004 the District Court scheduled a hearing for 18 March 2004. It also made inquiries with a view to obtaining further evidence.

On 3 March 2004 the applicant asked for the hearing scheduled for 18 March 2004 to be adjourned due to the absence of his lawyer.

A hearing was scheduled for 22 April 2004. The defendant asked for its adjournment as his lawyer could not attend. He further requested that no hearing be scheduled for June 2004.

On 10 May 2004 the District Court asked the police for assistance in serving a summons on a witness. On 17 June 2004 the police replied that they had been unable to serve the summons.

At the hearing held on 13 July 2004 the applicant withdrew his claim against the second defendant. After the decision to discontinue the relevant part of the proceedings had become final on 10 August 2004, the court scheduled a hearing for 30 September 2004. On the last mentioned date the case was adjourned as a witness failed to appear.

A hearing scheduled for 11 November 2004 was adjourned as the judge was ill.

On 7 December 2004 both the defendant and a witness failed to appear. The court imposed a procedural fine of 5,000 Slovak korunas on the witness. It asked the Bratislava I District Court to hear the witness. On 21 June 2005 the Bratislava I District Court informed the Trenčín District Court that the witness had not appeared before it and that neither the post office nor the police had been able to serve the summons on her.

Subsequently the case was assigned to a different judge as the judge originally appointed to deal with it was on maternity leave.

The hearing scheduled for 2 November 2005 was adjourned to 30 November 2005 at the request of the applicant’s lawyer.

On 30 November 2005 the District Court delivered a judgment in which it granted the applicant’s claim in part. The judgment became final on 18 January 2006.

2.  Proceedings before the Constitutional Court

On 10 February 2003 the applicant complained about the length of the proceedings before the District Court to the Constitutional Court. He claimed, inter alia, the equivalent of EUR 1,750 as financial compensation. On 12 March 2003 the Constitutional Court declared the complaint admissible.

On 3 December 2003 the Constitutional Court found that the District Court had violated the applicant’s right to a hearing without unjustified delay. It instructed the Trenčín District Court to proceed with the case without any further delay and awarded the equivalent of EUR 730 by way of just satisfaction to the applicant, payable within two months. It also ordered the District Court to reimburse the costs of the applicant’s legal representation within fifteen days.

The decision stated that the case was of a certain procedural complexity and that what was at stake for the applicant called for the particular attention of the court dealing with it. In the Constitutional Court’s view, the applicant was responsible for the delayed payment of the court fee, as a result of which one year had lapsed before the District Court could start proceeding with the case. On the other hand, several delays occurred subsequently for which the District Court was responsible. In particular, more than seven months had lapsed between 21 October 1999 (when the court fee was paid) and 2 June 2000 (when the District Court effectively started dealing with the case). Undue delay occurred between 30 January 2001 and 19 June 2001 because of the erroneous service of the first-instance judgment. The Constitutional Court found further delays in the proceedings after 20 December 2002 when the Regional Court had returned the case file to the District Court.

COMPLAINT

The applicant complained under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the length of the defamation proceedings brought by him.

THE LAW

The applicant complained about the length of the proceedings concerning his action for protection of his personal rights. He relied on Article 6 § 1 of the Convention the relevant part of which provides:

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

The proceedings complained of began on 21 October 1998 and ended on 30 November 2005. They therefore lasted 7 years, 1 month and 11 days for two levels of jurisdiction.

The Government argued that the applicant could no longer claim to be a victim of a violation of his right to a hearing within a reasonable time as the Constitutional Court had acknowledged a violation of that right and had provided him with appropriate redress of both a compensatory and preventive nature.

According to the applicant, the length of the proceedings was in breach of the “reasonable time” requirement laid down in Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. He submitted that the Constitutional Court had not granted his claim for compensation in full and that the defamation proceedings had not ended speedily after the delivery of the Constitutional Court’s decision of 3 December 2003.

The Court recalls that an applicant’s status as a victim within the meaning of Article 34 of the Convention depends, inter alia, on whether the redress afforded at domestic level on the basis of the facts about which he or she complains before the Court was adequate and sufficient having regard to just satisfaction as provided for under Article 41 of the Convention. While there is no requirement under the existing case-law that the domestic authorities should award the same sum by way of compensation as the Court would be likely to award under Article 41 of the Convention, the level of just satisfaction granted at national level must nevertheless not be manifestly inadequate in the particular circumstances of the case (see the principles recently established under the Court’s case-law in Cocchiarella v. Italy [GC], no. 64886/01, §§ 65-107, ECHR 2006-... or Scordino v. Italy (no. 1) [GC], no. 36813/97, §§ 178-213, ECHR 2006 - ...).

In the present case the applicant complained before the Constitutional Court exclusively about delays in the proceedings before the Trenčín District Court. The Constitutional Court was bound by the applicant’s complaint and it did not, therefore, examine the period during which the case had been pending before the court of appeal. On 3 December 2003, that is when the proceedings had been pending for five years and one month approximately, it awarded the applicant the equivalent of approximately EUR 730 by way of just satisfaction for the violation, by the District Court in Trenčín, of his constitutional right to a hearing without unjustified delay.

In these circumstances, the question arises whether the awarded amount can be regarded as acceptable in view of the period during which the applicant’s case had been pending, at the moment when the Constitutional Court’s decision was given, before the District Court in Poprad.

The sum awarded by the Constitutional Court is lower than the amount which the Court would be likely to grant under Article 41 of the Convention in comparable Slovak cases. However, apart from granting just satisfaction to the applicant, payable within two months from the date of service of its decision, the Constitutional Court ordered the District Court to reimburse the applicant the procedural costs relating to the constitutional proceedings. In addition, the Constitutional Court ordered the District Court to proceed with the case without any further delay.

The Court notes that, subsequently, it took the District Court almost two years to determine the merits of the case. During this period no particular delays had occurred for which the District Court should be held responsible. In particular, six hearings were scheduled in the course of 2004, two of which had to be adjourned at the request of the parties. During the first half of 2005 attempts were made to summon a witness. The Court notes that the District Court availed itself of several means with a view to ensuring the attendance of the witness in that it imposed a procedural fine on her, requested the police to serve the summons and asked a different court to hear the witness.

In view of the above, the Court finds that the redress of both a compensatory and preventive nature which the applicant speedily obtained in constitutional proceedings was sufficient in the particular circumstances of the case. He therefore can no longer claim to be a “victim”, within the meaning of Article 34 of the Convention, of the alleged violation of his right to a hearing within a reasonable time.

It follows that the applicant’s complaint is manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.

For these reasons, the Court unanimously

Decides to discontinue the application of Article 29 § 3 of the Convention;

Declares the application inadmissible.

T.L. Early Nicolas Bratza 
 Registrar President

MACHUNKA v. SLOVAKIA DECISION


MACHUNKA v. SLOVAKIA DECISION