THIRD SECTION

CASE OF NAHTIGAL v. SLOVENIA

(Application no. 75777/01)

JUDGMENT

STRASBOURG

1 June 2006

FINAL

01/09/2006

This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.

 

In the case of Nahtigal v. Slovenia,

The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:

Mr J. Hedigan, President
 Mr B.M. Zupančič
 Mr L. Caflisch,

Mr V. Zagrebelsky
 Mr E. Myjer
 Mr David Thór Björgvinsson, 
 Mrs I. Ziemele, judges
and Mr V. Berger, Section Registrar,

Having deliberated in private on 11 May 2006,

Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:

PROCEDURE

1.  The case originated in an application (no. 75777/01) against the Republic of Slovenia lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by s Slovenian national, Mr Mihael Nahtigal (“the applicant”), on 24 July 2001.

2.  The applicant was represented by the Verstovšek attorneys-at-law. The Slovenian Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mr L. Bembič, State Attorney-General.

3.  The applicant alleged under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention that the length of the proceedings before the domestic courts to which he was a party was excessive. In substance, he also complained about the lack of an effective domestic remedy in respect of the excessive length of the proceedings (Article 13 of the Convention).

4.  On 16 September 2003 the Court decided to communicate the complaints concerning the length of the proceedings and the lack of remedies in that respect to the Government. Applying Article 29 § 3 of the Convention, it decided to rule on the admissibility and merits of the application at the same time.

THE FACTS

5.  The applicant was born in 1947 and lives in Velenje.

6.  On 25 August 1994 the applicant was severely injured in an accident at work in a carpenters’ workshop. VE, the applicant’s employer, had taken out insurance with the insurance company ZT.

7.  On 31 July 1997 the applicant instituted civil proceedings against VE and ZT in the Celje District Court (Okrožno sodišče v Celju) seeking damages in the amount of 10,337,422 tolars (approximately 43,000 euros) for the injuries sustained.

He also sought an exemption from court fees.

Between 30 December 1997 and 5 September 2001 the applicant lodged twenty-six preliminary written submissions and/or adduced evidence.

Between 30 December 1997 and 3 January 2001 he made eight requests that a date be set for a hearing.

Of the four hearings held between 18 January 1999 and 28 March 2002 none was adjourned at the request of the applicant.

During the proceedings the court appointed commission of three medical experts and two additional medical experts.

At the last hearing the court decided to deliver a written judgment. The judgment, upholding the applicant’s claim in part, was served on the applicant on 15 April 2002.

On 10 April 2002 the court asked the applicant to complete his request for an exemption from court fees. Since the applicant failed to comply, the court dismissed his request on 24 April 2002.

8.  On 18 April 2002 the applicant appealed to the Celje Higher Court (Višje sodišče v Celju) against the first-instance court’s judgment and also requested that the court amended the judgment. ZT and VE cross-appealed.

The first instance-court corrected the judgment on 24 April 2002.

On 28 August 2002 the applicant appealed against the decision on the exemption from court fees.

On 4 December 2003 the court allowed the applicant’s appeals in part and dismissed the VE’s and ZT’s appeal. The court remitted the case, in the part referring to the exemption from court fees, to the first-instance court for re-examination.

The judgment was served on the applicant on 19 January 2004.

9.  On 30 January 2004 the applicant lodged an appeal on points of law with the Supreme Court (Vrhovno sodišče). ZT and VE cross-appealed.

On 1 December 2005 the court allowed the appeals in part and lowered the amount of the damages awarded. The judgment was served on the applicant on 20 January 2006.

THE LAW

I.  ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLES 6 § 1 AND 13 OF THE CONVENTION

10.  The applicant complained about the excessive length of the proceedings. He relied on Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which reads as follows:

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

11.  In substance, the applicant further complained that the remedies available for excessive legal proceedings in Slovenia were ineffective. Article 13 of the Convention reads as follows:

“Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in [the] Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.”

A.  Admissibility

12.  The Government pleaded non-exhaustion of domestic remedies.

13.  The applicant contested that argument, claiming that the remedies available were not effective.

14.  The Court notes that the present application is similar to the cases of Belinger and Lukenda (Belinger v. Slovenia (dec.), no. 42320/98, 2 October 2001, and Lukenda v. Slovenia, no. 23032/02, 6 October 2005). In those cases the Court dismissed the Government’s objection of non-exhaustion of domestic remedies because it found that the legal remedies at the applicant’s disposal were ineffective. The Court recalls its findings in the Lukenda judgment that the violation of the right to a trial within a reasonable time is a systemic problem resulting from inadequate legislation and inefficiency in the administration of justice.

15.  As regards the instant case, the Court finds that the Government have not submitted any convincing arguments which would require the Court to distinguish it from its established case-law.

16.  The Court further notes that the application is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention. Nor is it inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.

B.  Merits

1.  Article 6 § 1

17.  The period to be taken into consideration began on 31 July 1997, the day the applicant instituted proceedings with the Celje District Court, and ended on 20 January 2006, the day the Supreme Court’s judgment was served on the applicant. The relevant period has therefore lasted nearly eight years and six months for three levels of jurisdiction.

18.  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 following criteria: the complexity of the case, the conduct of the applicant and 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).

19.  Having examined all the material submitted to it, and having regard to its case-law on the subject, the Court considers that in the instant case the length of the proceedings, in particular before the first-instance court, was excessive and failed to meet the “reasonable-time” requirement.

There has accordingly been a breach of Article 6 § 1.

2.  Article 13

20.  The Court reiterates that Article 13 guarantees an effective remedy before a national authority for an alleged breach of the requirement under Article 6 § 1 to hear a case within a reasonable time (see Kudła v. Poland [GC], no. 30210/96, § 156, ECHR 2000-XI). It notes that the objections and arguments put forward by the Government have been rejected in earlier cases (see Lukenda, cited above) and sees no reason to reach a different conclusion in the present case.

21.  Accordingly, the Court considers that in the present case there has been a violation of Article 13 on account of the lack of a remedy under domestic law whereby the applicant could have obtained a ruling upholding his right to have his case heard within a reasonable time, as set forth in Article 6 § 1.

II.  APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION

22.  Article 41 of the Convention provides:

“If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.”

A.  Damage

23.  The applicant claimed 15,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

24.  The Government contested the claim.

25.  The Court considers that the applicant must have sustained non-pecuniary damage. Ruling on an equitable basis, it awards him EUR 3,200 under that head.

B.  Costs and expenses

26.  The applicant also claimed approximately EUR 1,260 for the costs and expenses incurred before the Court.

27.  The Government argued that the claim was too high.

28.  According to the Court’s case-law, an applicant is entitled to reimbursement of his costs and expenses only in so far as it has been shown that these have been actually and necessarily incurred and were reasonable as to quantum. The Court also notes that the applicant’s lawyers, who also represented the applicant in Lukenda (cited above), lodged nearly 400 applications which, apart from the facts, are essentially the same as this one. Accordingly, in the present case, regard being had to the information in its possession and the above criteria, the Court considers it reasonable to award the applicant the sum of EUR 1,000 for the proceedings before the Court.

C.  Default interest

29.  The Court considers it appropriate that the default interest should be based on the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank, to which should be added three percentage points.

FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT UNANIMOUSLY

1.  Declares the application admissible;

2.  Holds that there has been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention;

3.  Holds that there has been a violation of Article 13 of the Convention;

4.  Holds

(a)  that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final in accordance with Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, EUR 3,200 (three thousand two hundred euros) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 1,000 one thousand euros) in respect of costs and expenses, plus any tax that may be chargeable;

(b)  that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amounts at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;

5.  Dismisses the reminder of the applicant’s claim for just satisfaction.

Done in English, and notified in writing on 1 June 2006, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.

Vincent Berger John Hedigan 
 Registrar President


NAHTIGAL v. SLOVENIA JUDGMENT


NAHTIGAL v. SLOVENIA JUDGMENT