FOURTH SECTION

DECISION

AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF

Application no. 69147/01 
by Jozef GRÓF 
against Slovakia

The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 16 November 2004 as a Chamber composed of:

Sir Nicolas Bratza, President
 Mr J. Casadevall
 Mr M. Pellonpää
 Mr R. Maruste
 Mr S. Pavlovschi
 Mr J. Borrego Borrego, 
 Mr J. Šikuta, judges
and Mr M. O'Boyle, Section Registrar,

Having regard to the above application lodged on 23 April 2001,

Having deliberated, decides as follows:

THE FACTS

The applicant, Mr Jozef Gróf, is a Slovakian national, who was born in 1957 and lives in Trnava.

A.  The circumstances of the case

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

1.  Proceedings concerning the right to lease a flat

On 16 September 1997 the applicant claimed that he and his children had the exclusive right to lease a flat in Trnava.

On 25 February 1998 the Trnava District Court dismissed the action.

On 31 March 2000 the Trnava Regional Court quashed the first instance judgment.

Since then the proceedings have been pending at first instance. In these proceedings the applicant has been represented by an advocate practising in Trnava.

2.  Proceedings before the Constitutional Court

On 17 October 2002 the applicant complained about the length of the above proceedings to the Constitutional Court.

On 11 December 2002 the Constitutional Court rejected the complaint as falling short of the formal requirements. The decision states that the applicant failed, despite a warning of 11 November 2002, to eliminate formal shortcomings in his submission and to appoint a lawyer representing him before the Constitutional Court.

On 14 January 2003 the applicant again filed a constitutional complaint about the length of the proceedings before the Trnava District Court. In a separate letter dated 14 January 2003 he requested that the Constitutional Court should appoint a lawyer to represent him in the proceedings before it. The applicant explained that his only income was an invalidity pension which sufficed just to cover his most urgent needs.

In a letter of 19 March 2004 a constitutional judge informed the applicant that his new submission was not in conformity with the statutory requirements. The judge noted that the applicant's information about his income was not certified by the competent authority. Furthermore, in the proceedings before the District Court the applicant was represented by an advocate. The constitutional judge's letter stated that that advocate could also represent the applicant before the Constitutional Court and that the applicant would have the lawyer's fees reimbursed in the event that he succeeded in his constitutional complaint. The letter concluded that the applicant's submission would not be dealt with.

B.  Relevant domestic law and practice

Article 12(1) and (2) of the Constitution guarantees to everyone the equality of rights.

Article 48(2) of the Constitution provides, inter alia, that every person has the right to have his or her case tried without unjustified delay.

Article 127 of the Constitution, in effect from 1 January 2002, entitles individuals and legal persons to complain about a violation of their fundamental rights and freedoms. Under this provision the Constitutional Court has the power, in the event that it finds a violation of a person's fundamental rights, to quash the relevant decision or, where appropriate, 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. 

Under Section 20(2) of the Constitutional Court Act, plaintiffs in proceedings before the Constitutional Court have to be represented by an advocate.

Section 31a of the Constitutional Court Act provides that the Constitutional Court can, unless otherwise provided by law, apply in an appropriate manner the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure and of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Under this provision and the relevant provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure, it has been the practice of the Constitutional Court to accede to a plaintiff's request for an advocate to be appointed to represent him or her where the Constitutional Court is satisfied that it is justified by the situation of the plaintiff and where the complaint is not clearly devoid of any prospect of success.

COMPLAINTS

The applicant complained under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the length of the proceedings concerning the lease of the flat. Without invoking any provision of the Convention the applicant further complained that he and his children were discriminated against in this context.

THE LAW

The applicant complained about the length of the proceedings and that he was discriminated against in this context. The case thus raises issues under Articles 6 § 1 and 14 of the Convention which, in so far as relevant, read as follows:

Article 6 § 1

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

Article 14

“The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in [the] Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.”

The Court has found that in cases relating to the length of proceedings which have not ended prior to 1 January 2002 the applicants are required to use, for the purpose of Article 35 § 1 of the Convention, the remedy available under the amended Article 127 of the Constitution (see Andrášik and Others v. Slovakia (dec.), nos. 57984/00, 60237/00, 60242/00, 60679/00, 60680/00, 68563/01, 60226/00, 22 October 2002).

In the present case the applicant twice addressed a complaint to the Constitutional Court.

On 11 December 2002 the Constitutional Court rejected the first complaint as the applicant had failed to appoint a lawyer to represent him before the Constitutional Court as required by the Constitutional Court Act.

In a letter of 19 March 2004 a constitutional judge informed the applicant that his new submission was not in conformity with the statutory requirements. The judge took note of the applicant's request that an advocate should be appointed to represent him as he was indigent. The judge pointed out, however, that the applicant's information about his income was not certified by the competent authority and that in the proceedings before the District Court the applicant was represented by an advocate who could represent him also in the constitutional proceedings. The applicant was informed that no further action would be taken on his submission.

The Court notes that in the proceedings before the Constitutional Court the applicant failed to reliably show that his situation did not allow him to be represented before the Constitutional Court by the lawyer whom he authorised to represent him in the proceedings before the ordinary courts or by a different lawyer of his choice. In the light of the information before it the Court finds no reason to question this conclusion reached at the national level.

In these circumstances, and since the applicant failed to comply with the formal requirements in the proceedings before the Constitutional Court, he has not used all remedies available to him under domestic law.

It follows that this complaint must be rejected under Article 35 §§ 1 and 4 of the Convention for non-exhaustion of domestic remedies.

For these reasons, the Court unanimously

Declares the application inadmissible.

Michael O'Boyle Nicolas Bratza 
 Registrar President

GRÓF v. SLOVAKIA DECISION


GRÓF v. SLOVAKIA DECISION