AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF
Application no. 67299/01
by Helena DUBJAKOVÁ
The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 19 October 2004 as a Chamber composed of:
Sir Nicolas Bratza, President,
Mrs V. Strážnická,
Mr J. Casadevall,
Mr R. Maruste,
Mr S. Pavlovschi,
Ms L. Mijović,
Mr D. Spielmann, judges,
and Mr M. O'Boyle, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 1 March 2001,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicant, Mrs Helena Dubjaková, is a Slovakian national, who was born in 1954 and lives in Trebišov. She is represented before the Court by Mr Juraj Füzer, a lawyer practising in Trebišov.
A. The circumstances of the case
The facts of the case, as submitted by the applicant, may be summarised as follows.
1. The proceedings on division of the applicant's matrimonial property
In 1989 the Humenné District Court (Okresný súd) pronounced the dissolution of the applicant's marriage.
On 31 May 1990 the applicant petitioned to the District Court for a division of the matrimonial property.
On 10 October 1994, in reply to the applicant's complaint, the President of the District Court acknowledged that there had been unjustified delays in the proceedings.
On 12 October 1994 the District Court sought evaluation by two sworn experts of the movable and immovable property in dispute. The reports were submitted on 26 January and 13 April 1995 respectively.
A hearing scheduled for 1 April 1996 had to be adjourned as, due to health problems, the defendant (the applicant's former husband) could not appear.
The District Court held hearings on 25 November 1996, 17 October 1997 and 7 April 1998.
On 15 April 1998, following a hearing held on the same day, the District Court divided the property. On 26 June 1998 it corrected clerical errors in its judgment.
On 26 August 1998 the defendant filed an appeal. On 10 September 1998 the District Court sent a copy of the appeal to the applicant. On 13 October 1998 the applicant filed her observations in reply. On 16 October 1998 the District Court submitted the case-file to the Prešov Regional Court (Krajský súd) for a decision on the appeal.
On 8 February 1999 the Regional Court quashed the District Court's judgment. It found that the District Court had failed to establish the facts of the case adequately and that there had been several formal errors in its judgment. It remitted the case to the District Court for re-examination and instructed it to establish carefully the subject-matter of the proceedings.
On 24 February 2000 the District Court held a hearing. On 20 February 2002 the applicant demanded that the District Court determine the matter speedily. On 21 March 2002 the case was assigned to another judge. On 15 October 2002 the applicant again demanded that the District Court deal with her case promptly. On 18 November 2002 the District Court held a hearing at which it heard the parties.
On 22 November 2002 it again divided the property. The judgment became final and binding on 16 December 2002.
2. The first proceedings before the Constitutional Court
On 28 February 2000 the applicant lodged a petition (podnet) with the Constitutional Court (Ústavný súd) objecting to undue delays in the above proceedings. On 5 April 2000 the petition was declared admissible.
On 1 June 2000 the Constitutional Court found that the District Court had violated the applicant's right under Article 48 (2) of the Constitution to a hearing without unjustified delay. The Constitutional Court observed that it had jurisdiction ratione temporis to consider only the period after 15 February 1993 when it had been established. However it took into account the state of the proceedings at that time. The case was neither legally nor factually complex. The applicant's conduct did not contribute substantially to the length of the proceedings. The District Court failed to deal with the case with the requisite efficiency having regard to, in particular, the fact that the applicant was divorced, had the sole custody over two minor children and was principally claiming ownership of the house where she had once lived with her family. Upon service of the Constitutional Court's finding (nález) on the applicant and the District Court, it became final and binding on 8 June 2000.
3. The second proceedings before the Constitutional Court
On 10 October 2002 the applicant lodged a complaint (sťažnosť) with the Constitutional Court pursuant to Article 127 of the Constitution as in force since 1 January 2002. She objected that, despite the Constitutional Court's finding of 1 June 2000, there had been no progress in her case. She invited the Constitutional Court to find a recurring violation of her right under Article 48 (2) of the Constitutional Court to a hearing without unjustified delay, to order the District Court to proceed with her case without delay, to award her 422,431 Slovakian korunas (SKK)1 in just satisfaction and to order the District Court to reimburse her legal costs. On 23 October 2002 her complaint was declared admissible.
On 11 December 2002 the Constitutional Court found a violation of the applicant's constitutional right. This finding formally concerned only the period after 8 June 2000 when its first finding of 1 June 2000 had become final and binding. The Constitutional Court observed that in the period between 8 June 2000 and 15 October 2002 (2 years, 4 months and 7 days) the District Court had been completely inactive. It also took notice of the fact that the total length of the proceedings was more than 12 years and that there had already been one finding of a violation of the applicant's right to a hearing without unjustified delay in the case. The Constitutional Court found no reasons to justify the length of the proceedings by the complexity of the case or by the applicant's conduct. It awarded the applicant SKK 50,0002 by way of just satisfaction in respect of non-pecuniary damage and dismissed her remaining claims.
B. Relevant domestic law and practice
Article 48 (2) provides, inter alia, that every person has the right to have his or her case tried without unjustified delay.
Pursuant to Article 130 (3), as in force until 30 June 2001, the Constitutional Court could commence proceedings upon a petition lodged by a natural or legal person claiming that their rights had been violated.
According to its case-law under the former Article 130 (3) of the Constitution, the Constitutional Court lacked jurisdiction to draw legal consequences from a violation of a petitioner's rights under Article 48 (2) of the Constitution. It could neither grant damages to the person concerned nor impose a sanction on the public authority liable for the violation found.
As from 1 January 2002, the Constitution has been amended in that, inter alia, natural and legal persons can complain about a violation of their fundamental rights and freedoms pursuant to Article 127. Under this provision, the Constitutional Court has the power, in the event that it finds a violation of Article 48 (2) of the Constitution, to order the authority concerned to proceed with the case without delay. It may also grant adequate financial satisfaction to the person whose constitutional rights have been violated as a result of excessive length of proceedings (for further details see, e.g., Andrášik and Others v. Slovakia (dec.), nos. 57984/00, 60237/00, 60242/00, 60679/00, 60680/00, 68563/01, 60226/00, 22 October 2002).
The applicant complains under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention that the length of the proceedings concerning division of her matrimonial property was excessive.
The applicant complains of the length of her proceedings. She alleges a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention which, insofar as relevant, provides that:
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations ..., everyone is entitled to a ... hearing within a reasonable time by [a] ... tribunal...”
The Court notes that a similar complaint was twice entertained by the Constitutional Court which adjudicated on it in its findings of 1 June 2000 and 11 December 2002 respectively.
In view of these findings the question arises whether the applicant can still claim to be a victim, within the meaning of Article 34 of the Convention, of a violation of her right to a hearing within a reasonable time.
The Court recalls that an applicant's status as a “victim” within the meaning of Article 34 of the Convention depends on the fact whether the domestic authorities acknowledged, either expressly or in substance, the alleged infringement of the Convention and, if necessary, provided appropriate redress in relation thereto. Only when these conditions are satisfied does the subsidiary nature of the protective mechanism of the Convention preclude examination of an application (see Cataldo v. Italy (dec.), no. 45656/99, 3 June 2004, with further references).
In the finding of 1 June 2000 the Constitutional Court formally examined only the period after 15 February 1993 when it had been established. It nevertheless took into account the state of the proceedings at that time and found a violation of the applicant's right to a hearing without unjustified delay in the period under consideration.
In the finding of 11 December 2002 the Constitutional Court formally considered only the period after the finding of 1 June 2000. It however took into account the whole duration of the proceedings and the fact that there had already been one finding of a violation of the applicant's right under Article 48 (2) of the Constitution. They Constitutional Court again found a violation of the applicant's above constitutional right and provided for redress of compensatory nature (see Andrášik and Others, cited above) by awarding the applicant just satisfaction in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
The applicant's status as a victim then depends on whether the redress afforded at domestic level on the basis of the facts about which he complains before the Court (see Andersen v. Denmark, no. 12860/87, and Frederiksen and Others v. Denmark, no. 12719/87, Commission decisions of 3 May 1988, unreported; Normann v. Denmark (dec.), no. 44704/98, 14 June 2001; and Jensen and Rasmussen v. Denmark (dec.), no. 52620/99, 20 March 2003) was adequate and sufficient having regard to just satisfaction as provided for under Article 41 of the Convention.
Making an assessment on equitable basis, the Constitutional Court awarded the applicant on 11 December 2002 SKK 50,000 by way of just satisfaction in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
The Court notes the modest nature of the compensation granted in the present case compared with the sums awarded for comparable delays in the Court's case-law. It would emphasise, in this respect, the importance of a reasonable amount of just satisfaction being awarded in the domestic system for the remedy in question to be considered as effective under the Convention. Whether the amount awarded may be regarded as reasonable, however, falls to be assessed in the light of all the circumstances of the case. These include not merely the duration of the proceedings in the specific case but the value of the award judged in the light of the standard of living in the State concerned, and the fact that under the national system compensation will in general be awarded and paid more promptly than would be the case if the matter fell to be decided by the Court under Article 41 of the Convention.
In the light of all the material in its possession, including the promptness of the findings and award made by the Constitutional Court in the present case, the Court considers that the sum accorded to the applicant cannot be considered as unreasonable (see Cataldo, cited above, Širancová v. Slovakia (dec.), no. 62216/00, 7 September 2004, Eštok v. Slovakia (dec.), no. 63994/00, 28 September 2004 and, a contrario, Scordino v. Italy (dec.), no. 36813/97, 27 March 2003).
The Court therefore concludes that the applicant can no longer claim to be a “victim” within the meaning of Article 34 of the Convention of the alleged violation of her right to a hearing within a reasonable time.
It follows that the application 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
Declares the application inadmissible.
Michael O'Boyle Nicolas Bratza
DUBJAKOVÁ v. SLOVAKIA DECISION
DUBJAKOVÁ v. SLOVAKIA DECISION