FOURTH SECTION

DECISION

AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF

Application no. 72701/01 
by Yevgeniy YAKOVLEV 
against Russia

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 A. Kovler
 Mr S. Pavlovschi
 Mr L. Garlicki
 Mrs E. Fura-Sandström, 
 Ms L. Mijović, judges
and Mr M. O'Boyle, Section Registrar,

Having regard to the above application lodged on 21 May 2001,

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 Yevgeniy Vladimirovich Yakovlev, is a Russian national who was born in 1954 and at the material time lived in Katav-Ivanovsk in the Chelyabinsk Region. The applicant now lives in the village of Sanovka in the Ryazan Region. The respondent Government are represented by Mr P. Laptev, Representative of the Russian Federation at the European Court of Human Rights.

A.  The circumstances of the case

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

In 1987 the applicant took part in the clean-up works at the Chernobyl nuclear accident site. On 23 March 1993 he was granted the status of disability of the second category (“unfit for work”). In June 1994 the classification of the applicant's disability was changed to the third category (“fit for light work”).

On 26 December 1997 the applicant brought an action against the Medical and Social Expert Examination Service of the Chelyabinsk Region. He sought to reverse the 1994 decision on reclassification of his disability.

Several hearings were fixed and then adjourned, because the representatives of the Examinations Service failed to appear. The applicant asked the presiding judge to hear the case in the absence of the defendant; his requests were orally dismissed.

On 31 March 2000 the Tsentralniy District Court of Chelyabinsk dismissed the applicant's action and confirmed the lawfulness of the Examination Service's decision. The applicant submits that the hearing only lasted for fifteen minutes and he was not given an opportunity to plead his case.

The applicant appealed to the Chelyabinsk Regional Court. He claimed that the proceedings before the district court were a “travesty of justice” and that his arguments were not taken into account.

On 31 July 2000 the Chelyabinsk Regional Court upheld the judgment of 31 March 2000. It appears from the Regional Court's decision that the matter was determined on the basis of the case-file with the presiding judge acting as the rapporteur. Neither party was present at the hearing.

It was not before 4 August 2000 that the applicant received a summons to appear for the hearing before the Regional Court. The summons was dated 21 July 2000 and despatched on 31 July 2000 (according to the postmark). It contained a printed clause indicating that parties' attendance was not required.

According to the applicant, he did not receive the decision of the Regional Court until 16 November 2000.

The applicant's subsequent complaints to the prosecutor of the Chelyabinsk Region and to the Presidium of the Chelyabinsk Regional Court, as well as his requests to lodge an application for supervisory review, proved to be unsuccessful.

B.  Relevant domestic law

Rules of civil procedure

Article 106 of the RSFSR Code of Civil Procedure of 11 June 1964 (in force at the material time) provided that a summons was to be served on the parties and their representatives in such a way that they would have enough time to appear at the hearing and prepare their case. Where necessary, the parties could be summoned by a phone call or a telegram. Pursuant to Articles 108-109, court summonses were to be sent by mail or by courier and served on the person who was a party to the case.

Article 144 required that civil cases be heard in a court session with mandatory notification to all parties to the case.

Pursuant to Article 157, if a party to the case failed to appear and there was no evidence that the party had been duly summoned, the hearing was to be adjourned.

Provisions of the pensions' law

Section 3 of the Law on State Pensions in the Russian Federation (no. 340-I of 20 November 1990, in force at the material time) listed disability pensions among other types of State-funded pensions.

Section 46 provided that the amount of the disability pension was to be adjusted from the date when the pensioner's disability was assigned to a different category.

COMPLAINTS

The applicant complains under Articles 1, 6, 9, 10, 13, 14, 17 and 53 of the Convention about a violation of his rights in that (i) he could not properly present his case to the first-instance court; (ii) he was not notified on time and, consequently, could not attend the hearing before the appeal court; (iii) the courts wrongly determined his claims; and (iv) the proceedings were excessively long, especially before the first-instance court, and the final decision was not timely served on him.

THE LAW

The applicant complains, in substance, about the alleged procedural defects in the determination of his claims. The Court finds that these complaints fall to be examined under Article 6 § 1 which provides as follows:

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

A.  Submissions by the parties

The Government accept that the applicant was not notified of the hearing in the Chelyabinsk Regional Court in such a way as to have an opportunity to attend the hearing. They indicate that the summons was only despatched by the court registry on 28 July 2000 and, according to the postmarks on the envelope, the applicant did not receive it until 4 August 2000. However, they note that both parties were absent from the appeal hearing and therefore, in their opinion, the principle of equality of arms was not impaired. The Government consider that the applicant did not exhaust the domestic remedies available to him in respect of the complaint about his absence on appeal as he did not lodge an application for supervisory-review under the new procedure introduced on 1 February 2003 and his original applications for supervisory review of unspecified dates in 2000 did not touch upon this issue.

The applicant rejects the Government's submissions as “lies”, without giving further details. He reiterates that the judgment of the Chelyabinsk Regional Court was not made available to him until 105 days later, on 16 November 2000.

B.  The Court's assessment

Objection as to the exhaustion of domestic remedies

As regards the Government's objection concerning non-exhaustion of domestic remedies, the Court reiterates that the assessment of whether domestic remedies have been exhausted is normally carried out with reference to the date on which the application was lodged with it (see Znamenskaya v. Russia (dec.), no. 77785/01, 25 March 2004; Baumann v. France, no. 33592/96, § 47, 22 May 2001). The request for supervisory review, as it existed at that time, was not considered to be an “effective” remedy for the purpose of Article 35 § 1 (see Pitkevich v. Russia (dec.), no. 47936/99, 8 February 2001). In the present case the Court is not required to decide whether the procedure for supervisory review provided for in the new Code of Civil Procedure is an effective remedy because it only became available on 1 February 2003, i.e. after the present application was lodged (see also Denisov v. Russia (dec.), no. 33408/03, 6 May 2004). The Court therefore considers that the domestic remedies have been exhausted (see Znamenskaya v. Russia (dec.), cited above; Timishev v. Russia (dec.), nos. 55762/00 and 55974/00, 30 March 2004).

Applicability of Article 6 § 1

The Court, noting that the Government have not disputed the applicability of Article 6 § 1 to the case at hand, observes that the proceedings at issue concerned the classification of the applicant's disability. Their outcome was directly decisive for the scope of the applicant's claim to benefits under the State-funded social-security scheme because a re-classification of the applicant's disability entailed an automatic adjustment of the amount of his pension (cf. Section 46 of the Russian Law on State Pensions in the “Domestic law” part supra). The Court finds therefore that the dispute in question attracted the guarantees of  
Article 6 § 1 (see, as a recent authority, Döry v. Sweden, no. 28394/95, § 36, 12 November 2002).

Admissibility of the complaints

1.  The applicant complained that a limitation on the time for oral argument in the first-instance court impaired the essence of his right to a fair hearing enshrined in Article 6 § 1.

The Court recalls that disputes concerning benefits under social-security schemes are generally rather technical and their outcome usually depends on the written opinions given by medical doctors (see Lundevall v. Sweden, no. 38629/97, § 38, 12 November 2002). It is understandable therefore that in this sphere the national authorities should have regard to the demands of efficiency and economy (ibid.).

Turning to the facts of the present case, the Court notes that the first-instance court held an oral and public hearing on the applicant's claims. The applicant was present and he could make oral submissions, albeit for a limited period of time. However, it does not appear that such limitation interfered in any way with the applicant's right to a fair hearing. Having regard to the demands of efficiency and economy in social-security disputes, the Court notes that the applicant had had more than a year since the action had been lodged to make written submissions in support of his claims. Furthermore, the applicant has never indicated – in his points of appeal or in his application to this Court – any legal or factual arguments that he was allegedly prevented from exposing to the first-instance court because of the limited time of the oral argument.

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

2.  The applicant complained that the belated summoning to the appeal court had constituted the denial of a “public hearing”.

The submissions of the parties are summarised above.

The Court considers, in the light of the parties' submissions, that the complaint raises serious issues of fact and law under the Convention, the determination of which requires an examination of the merits. The Court concludes therefore that this complaint is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention. No other ground for declaring it inadmissible has been established.

3.  The applicant also claimed that his rights had been violated as the social-security services and the courts had allegedly failed to assess correctly the facts of the case and his submissions.

The Court reiterates that, according to Article 19 of the Convention, its duty is to ensure the observance of the engagements undertaken by the Contracting Parties to the Convention. In particular, it is not its function to deal with errors of fact or law allegedly committed by a national authority or 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, among other authorities, García Ruiz v. Spain [GC], no. 30544/96, § 28, ECHR 1999-I).

Noting that the present complaint concerns the matters of social security and the courts' evaluation of facts and evidence, the Court finds that an examination of the applicant's submissions do not disclose any appearance of a violation of the Convention.

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

4.  Finally, the applicant complained that the length of the proceedings in his case had been in breach of the “reasonable time” requirement.

The proceedings began on 26 December 1997 when the action was lodged and ended on 16 November 2000 when the applicant first took cognizance of the wording of the final decision. The proceedings therefore lasted two years and almost eleven months. However, the Court observes that, when examining the length of the proceedings, the period to be considered only began on 5 May 1998, when the Convention entered into force in respect of Russia. In the present case, two years and six months fall within the Court's competence ratione temporis. During that time period the claims were examined on two levels of jurisdiction. The Court finds that that period was compatible with the “reasonable time” criterion of  
Article 6 § 1.

It follows that this complaint is also 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 admissible, without prejudging the merits, the applicant's complaint concerning his inability to take part in the appeal hearing because of the belated summons;

Declares inadmissible the remainder of the application.

Michael O'Boyle Nicolas Bratza 
 
Registrar President

YAKOVLEV v. RUSSIA DECISION


YAKOVLEV v. RUSSIA DECISION