SECOND SECTION

DECISION

AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF

Application no. 65194/01 
by JEDNOTA KATOLICKÝCH TOVARYŠŮ 
against the Czech Republic

The European Court of Human Rights (Second Section), sitting on 26 April 2005 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 Mr S. Naismith, Deputy Section Registrar,

Having regard to the above application lodged on 20 December 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, Jednota Katolických Tovaryšů, is a Czech non-profit religious organisation with its head office in Prague. It was represented before the Court by Mr O. Choděra, a lawyer practising in Prague. The respondent Government were represented by their Agent, Mr V. A. Schorm.

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

On 23 December 1996 the applicant lodged an action against the Prague Municipality (Hlavní město Praha) with the Prague 1 District Court (obvodní soud), seeking to establish its ownership of property which had been bought by the purported legal predecessor of the applicant in 1892.

On 6 March 1997 the court received the applicant's power of attorney for its lawyer.

After adjourning hearings on 10 March and 7 April 1997 upon the applicant's request, on 25 April 1997 for a lack of evidence and on 7 July and 1 September 1997 because of the absence of one of the parties to the proceedings, the District Court dismissed the applicant's action on 29 September 1997.

On 21 January 1998 the Prague Municipal Court (městský soud), upon the applicant's appeal of 22 October 1997, quashed the District Court's judgment and remitted the case.

After the adjournment of a hearing on 30 March 1998 because of the applicant's failure to submit certain documents, on 27 April 1998 the District Court granted the applicant's action.

Upon the defendant's appeal and after receiving the applicant's observations on 22 June 1998, the Municipal Court upheld the District Court's judgment on 4 September 1998.

On 18 October 1998 the defendant lodged an appeal on points of law (dovolání) with the Supreme Court (Nejvyšší soud).

On 30 October 1998 and 15 February 1999 the applicant submitted its observations.

In the meantime, on 12 January 1998 and 5 January 1999 the defendant, and on 20 March and 2 July 1998 the applicant, replaced their lawyers.

On 16 December 1999 the Supreme Court quashed the lower courts judgments of 27 April and 4 September 1998 and remitted the case to the District Court for further proceedings.

On 10 January and 16 May 2000 respectively, the Supreme Court's judgment was notified to the District Court and the applicant's lawyer.

On 2 August 2000 the case was assigned to another judge.

On 12 October and 13 December 2000 respectively, the District Court requested the applicant to present additional evidence and the applicant requested the court to hear additional witnesses.

On 3 January 2002 the District Court dismissed the applicant's action.

On 28 March 2002 the Municipal Court, upon the applicant's appeal, upheld this judgment.

On unspecified dates, the applicant lodged an appeal on points of law with the Supreme Court and a constitutional appeal (ústavní stížnost) with the Constitutional Court (Ústavní soud).

On 6 January 2004 the Constitutional Court dismissed the applicant's appeal as manifestly ill-founded.

COMPLAINT

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

THE LAW

The applicant complained that the length of the proceedings was incompatible with the “reasonable time” requirement of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which reads, insofar as relevant, 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 first submit that the applicant did not exhaust the domestic remedies available to it.

The Court recalls that it has previously held that there was no effective remedy under Czech law to complain about the length of civil proceedings (Hartman v. the Czech Republic, no 53341/99, §§ 55-69, ECHR 2003-VIII). It sees no reason for distinguishing the present case from that of Hartman and dismisses, therefore, the Government's objection.

The Government next submit that the applicant introduced the application outside the six-month time-limit laid down in Article 35 § 1 of the Convention.

The Court recalls that this time-limit runs from the date on which the final decision was taken. It notes that the proceedings in question were still pending when the applicant lodged his application with the Court. It therefore dismisses the Government's second objection.

As to the merits of the case, the Government state that the case was particularly complex. The courts had to examine documents dating back to the 19th century in the context of the legislation valid at that time. They also had to consider the developments of the situation between 1948 and 1989, when the legal system had been affected by the former communist regime, and had to study the issue of legal successions after 1948, on which there was no unified theory amongst academics.

They maintain that the parties to the proceedings did not sufficiently cooperate in adducing evidence before the courts. Moreover, the repeated changes of the parties' lawyers did not contribute to the expeditiousness of the proceedings.

As to the conduct of the authorities, the Government contend that the courts conducted the proceedings without unreasonable delays. They affirm that the higher courts had to quash the lower courts' decisions due to insufficient evidence from the parties to the proceedings and the complexity of the case. They explain that any delays after the Supreme Court's judgment of 16 December 1999 were due to the District Court's re-organisation with the view of improving its efficiency.

The applicant does not express further views on the merits of its application.

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 period to be taken into consideration began on 23 December 1996, when the applicant lodged the civil action against the Prague Municipality, and ended on 6 January 2004, when the Constitutional Court dismissed the applicant's appeal. The proceedings thus lasted over seven years for four levels of jurisdiction. The case was considered three times by the District and Municipal Courts, twice by the Supreme Court and once by the Constitutional Court.

The Court observes that the case presented particular complexity on its facts and applicable law. Moreover, it did not involve any issue which was urgent, irremediable or of vital importance.

As to the applicant's conduct, the Court notes that it contributed to the length of the proceedings as a result of its requests for the adjournment of the hearings of 10 March and 7 April 1997 and on account of its failure to submit certain evidence at the hearing of 30 March 1998. In this connection, the Court observes that, generally, the parties to the proceedings did not fully cooperate in adducing the necessary evidence before the national courts, which partly contributed to the number of jurisdictional levels which had to deal with the proceedings.

As to the conduct of the authorities, the Court observes that the delivery of the Supreme Court's judgment to the applicant's lawyer took five months. It also observes that the District Court was inactive between 12 October 2000 and 3 January 2002. Nevertheless, it can be concluded that the proceedings otherwise progressed at a normal pace.

After examining the overall duration of the proceedings, the factual and legal complexity of the case, and taking into account the fact that the case was dealt with at four levels of jurisdictions, considered three times by the District and Municipal Courts, twice by the Supreme Court and once by the Constitutional Court, and that part of the delay was attributable to the applicant, the Court does not consider that the length of the proceedings in the present case was excessive. If finds, therefore, that there has been compliance with the “reasonable time” requirement of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

It follows that the application is manifestly ill-founded, within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention. The procedure under Article 29 § 3 of the Convention must therefore be discontinued and the case rejected, in accordance with Article 35 § 4 of the Convention.

For these reasons, the Court unanimously

Declares the application inadmissible.

S. Naismith J.-P. Costa 
 Deputy Registrar President

JEDNOTA KATOLICKÝCH TOVARYŠŮ v. THE CZECH REPUBLIC DECISION


JEDNOTA KATOLICKÝCH TOVARYŠŮ v. THE CZECH REPUBLIC DECISION