FOURTH SECTION

DECISION

AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF

Application no. 71669/01 
by Irena MUSKUS and Others 
against Poland

The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 29 November 2005 as a Chamber composed of:

Sir Nicolas Bratza, President
 Mr G. Bonello
 Mr M. Pellonpää
 Mr K. Traja
 Mr L. Garlicki
 Mr J. Borrego Borrego, 
 Ms L. Mijović, judges,

and Mr M. O’Boyle, Section Registrar,

Having regard to the above application lodged on 5 April 2000,

Having deliberated, decides as follows:

THE FACTS

The applicants, Mrs Irena Muskus, Mr Józef Pawelec and Mrs Władysława Pawelec, are Polish nationals, who were born in 1939, 1948 and 1912 respectively. On 8 April 2001 the third applicant died. The first and the second applicant live in Krzeszowice, Poland.

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

On 12 October 1992 the third applicant lodged an application with the Kielce Regional Court (Sąd Wojewódzki) for compensation for damages sustained by her husband in connection with his conviction in 1953 by the Kielce District Military Court.

In February 1993 the first and second applicants and two other children of the third applicant, lodged similar applications. They based their actions on the Law of 23 February 1991 on annulment of convictions whereby persons were persecuted for their activities aimed at achieving independence for Poland (Ustawa o uznaniu za nieważne orzeczeń wydanych wobec osób represjonowanych za działalność na rzecz niepodległego bytu Państwa Polskiego).

The applicants submit that the first hearing was held on 9 October 1994.

At the hearing held on 18 September 1995 the court decided to join all five applications and examine them together.

On 18 December 1995 the court held a hearing. Subsequently, the applicants applied to the court to make some amendments to the minutes of the hearing. On 9 January 1996 the trial court, sitting in camera, ordered the preparation of an expert opinion.

On 11 March and 20 May 1996 the trial court held hearings. The applicants requested the court to amend the minutes of both hearings. The applicants’ requests were dismissed on 1 October 1996.

On 23 May 1996 the Regional Court gave a decision. It awarded each of the applicants PLN 7,500 for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage.

The applicants appealed against this decision.

At the hearing held on 19 December 1996 the Krakow Court of Appeal (Sąd Apelacyjny) quashed the impugned decision and remitted the case.

The Kielce Regional Court held at least one hearing on 4 April 1997.

On 8 December 1997 the Kielce Regional Court gave a decision in which it partly allowed the action and awarded compensation.

The applicants lodged an appeal against this decision but on 30 April 1998 the Krakow Court of Appeal dismissed it.

On 28 May 1998 the applicants lodged a cassation appeal with the Supreme Court (Sąd Najwyższy).

On 21 December 1999 the Supreme Court dismissed their cassation appeal as manifestly ill-founded.

COMPLAINTS

1.  The applicants complained under Article 6 of the Convention about the unreasonable length of the proceedings.

2.  The applicants further complained, invoking Articles 6 and 10 of the Convention, about unfairness of the proceedings.

THE LAW

1.  The applicants complained about the unreasonable length of the civil proceedings. They invoked Article 6 of the Convention, which in so far as relevant, provides:

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

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 Court notes that the proceedings in the applicants’ case did not start on 12 October 1992 when the third applicant initiated the proceedings but on 1 May 1993 when the recognition by Poland of the right of individual petition took effect. The proceedings ended on 19 December 1999. It follows that the proceedings in question lasted approximately six years and seven months. In assessing the reasonableness of the period in question the Court will have regard to the state of the case on 1 May 1993.

In the course of the proceedings the case was examined on the merits by five courts, including the Supreme Court. The Court finds that the case was one of some complexity as it concerned compensation for facts which took place in the 1950s and required hearing several witnesses and preparation of at least one expert opinion. It appears that the applicants partly contributed to the length of the proceedings before the trial court because they repeatedly requested rectification of the minutes of the hearings before the trial court and on several occasions extended their claims. The Court notes that except for one period of inactivity on the part of the Kielce Regional Court at the beginning of the proceedings, the proceedings appear to have been conducted within a reasonable time.

In consequence, the Court considers that in the particular circumstances of the instant case and taking the proceedings as a whole, their length did not exceed a reasonable time.

It follows that this part of the application is manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 § 4.

2.  The applicants further complained that they did not have a “fair trial,” in particular, in that the amount of compensation awarded to them was too low. They invoked Articles 6 and 10 of the Convention. The Court considers that the complaint falls to be examined under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which, in so far as relevant, provides:

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

However, the Court recalls that it is not called upon to deal with errors of fact and law allegedly committed by a national court unless and in so far as they may have infringed rights and freedoms protected by the Convention. Moreover, while Article 6 of the Convention guarantees the right to a fair hearing, it does not lay down any rules on the admissibility of evidence or the way it should be assessed, which are therefore primarily matters for regulation by national law and the national courts (see García Ruiz v. Spain [GC], no 30544/96, ECHR 1999-I, § 28).

In the present case, the Court finds no indication that the courts went beyond the margin of appreciation left to them in respect of the assessment of evidence, or that the proceedings were otherwise unfair.

It follows that this 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

Declares the application inadmissible.

Michael O’Boyle Nicolas Bratza 
 Registrar President

MUSKUS AND OTHERS v. POLAND DECISION


MUSKUS AND OTHERS v. POLAND DECISION