AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF
Application no. 77151/01
by Bärbel, Dietrich and Ireen ELLERSIEK
The European Court of Human Rights (Third Section), sitting on 23 June 2005 as a Chamber composed of:
Mr B.M. Zupančič, President,
Mr J. Hedigan,
Mr L. Caflisch,
Mr C. Bîrsan,
Mrs M. Tsatsa-Nikolovska,
Mrs A. Gyulumyan,
Ms R. Jaeger, judges,
and Mr V. Berger, Section Registrar,
Having regard to the above application lodged on 3 August 2001,
Having deliberated, decides as follows:
The applicants, Mrs Bärbel Ellersiek, Mr Dietrich Ellersiek and Ireen Ellersiek, are German nationals who were born in 1948, 1946 and 1993 respectively. The second and the third applicants live in Enger in Germany. The first applicant passed away on 11 February 2004. By letter of 26 August 2004 the second applicant informed the Court that he wished to pursue the application also on her behalf, with the consent of the first applicant's heirs.
The applicants are represented before the Court by Mr G. Rixe, a lawyer practising in Bielefeld.
The facts of the case, as submitted by the applicants, may be summarised as follows.
1. Factual background
The first two applicants are the third applicant's paternal grandparents. The parents of the third applicant and of her brother D., born in 1994, were not able to provide steady care for their children because of their drug addiction. During the first months of their life, the children were raised by their parents, their maternal grandparents and by the first two applicants.
2. The proceedings before the Bielefeld District Court
On 19 June 1995 the Youth Office requested the Bielefeld District Court (Amtsgericht) to take appropriate measures with respect to the children's care.
On 18 July 1995, during a first hearing, the children's parents and the Youth Office agreed that the children should live with their father, who was at that time undergoing therapy. Accordingly, the District Court abstained from taking measures with respect to the children's guardianship.
On 7 September 1995 the Youth Office informed the District Court that the children's father had dropped out of therapy and that both children had been placed in the care of a foster family.
On 5 October 1995 the District Court heard the children's parents and grandparents. Both parents expressed the wish that the children should be raised by the first and the second applicants.
On 4 December 1995 the court-appointed expert
K. submitted an expert opinion. He noted that both children had lacked
steady relationships and care during their first years. As a result,
the third applicant had developed behavioural disorders. While there
was no doubt that the first and the second applicant would entertain
a loving relationship with the children,
the expert feared that they might have difficulties to cope with both children. The expert also noted that the first and second applicant had not demonstrated that they acknowledged their own contribution to their son's (the children's father's) drug addiction. They had stated, on the contrary, that the educational counsellors had assured them that they had done “everything right”.
On 24 January 1996 the Bielefeld District Court, following the expert opinion, withdrew the parents' custody rights and appointed the Youth Office as guardian.
3. The first set of proceedings before the Bielefeld Regional Court
On 9 February 1996 the first two applicants lodged
a complaint with
a view to being appointed guardians themselves.
On 28 February 1996 the third applicant's father lodged a complaint in support of the first and the second applicants' request.
On 11 March 1996 the applicants submitted further pleadings and requested the Bielefeld Regional Court (Landgericht) to issue an interim order assuring that the siblings remained in their current foster family, alternatively that they were not separated, further alternatively to revoke the Youth Office's right to decide on the children's residence.
On 1 April 1996 the Regional Court asked the Youth Office whether the siblings were still staying with the same foster family.
On 9 April 1996 the first two applicants informed the Regional Court that they had entered into negotiations with the Youth Office with the aim of reaching a friendly settlement. Accordingly, the Regional Court was asked not to pass a decision on the request for interim measures.
On 26 April 1996 the third applicant's father withdrew his complaint.
On 4 September 1996 the Regional Court asked the first and second applicants' counsel whether an agreement had been reached.
On 26 September 1996 the Regional Court judge had telephone conversations with the Youth Office and the applicants' counsel. He noted that the first and the second applicant did not yet wish to withdraw their complaint and that their counsel proposed to suspend the proceedings.
On 15 April 1997 the Regional Court asked the first and second applicant's counsel on how they wished to proceed with their complaint. The presiding judge noted that a further suspension of the proceedings could not be justified.
In May 1997 D. was placed in the first two applicants' household, while the third applicant remained in a foster family.
By letter of 12 May 1997 the first two applicants
informed the Regional Court that the endeavours to reach a friendly
settlement had failed and that the third applicant had been given into
the care of another foster family. They requested the Court to continue
the proceedings and to grant them
a time-limit to submit further reasoning by 4 June 1997, which they later requested to be extended until 20 June 1997.
By letter of 3 July 1997 the first two applicants submitted further pleadings. They submitted an expert opinion, according to which there was no indication that the first two applicants would have difficulties to cope with the task of raising both children. They further declared that they did not pursue anymore their main request for an interim measure of 11 March 1996 and the first alternative request.
On 9 July 1997 the District Court requested the
to comment on the applicants' submissions within a time-limit of three weeks.
On 29 July 1997 the Youth Office stated that the third applicant should remain in the foster family.
On 21 August 1997 the first two applicants requested the Regional Court to accelerate the proceedings. They further complained that the Youth Office did not comply with its obligation to supervise the visiting rights.
On 23 September 1997 the Judge Rapporteur heard the third applicant within her foster family.
On 12 November 1997 the Judge Rapporteur heard the first two applicants and the siblings' maternal grandparents.
On 20 November and 11 December 1997 the first two applicants requested to be granted leave to submit further comments.
On 2 January 1998 the Regional Court decided
that the Judge Rapporteur should hear the third applicant's mother,
who was at the time serving
a sentence in Bielefeld prison. This was carried out on 6 March 1998.
On 30 March 1998 the first two applicants submitted their comments on the mother's hearing.
On 24 April 1998 the Youth Office submitted further comments.
On 28 April 1998 the first two applicants requested
the Regional Court
to accelerate the proceedings.
On 7 May 1998 the Regional Court requested the case-file from the District Court, which reached the Regional Court by 29 May 1998.
On 24 June 1998 the first two applicants informed
the Regional Court that their rights of access to the third applicant
had been extended from once every six weeks to once every four weeks.
Further access rights had been denied. In view of the fact that a further
lapse of time could actually weaken the applicants' position, they requested
the Regional Court to accelerate
By decision of 20 July 1998 the Regional Court
discharged the Youth Office as D.'s guardian and appointed the second
applicant as his guardian. It rejected however the first and second
applicants' complaint with respect to the third applicant's guardianship.
The Regional Court found that the first and the second applicant were
well suited to raise D. However, it would not be in the third applicant's
best interests to be deprived of her current foster family. The passages
regarding the third applicant's development read
“According to the expert K.'s opinion, which concurs with the content of the case-file, Ireen had not been able to build steady and supportive relationships during the first three years of her life. She had been taken care of by continuously changing attachment figures, including her mother, her maternal grandparents, her father, her paternal grandparents, and finally the first foster parents. When examined by the expert, she already showed considerable behavioural disorders, such as a lack of distance (Distanzlosigkeit), an inability to bond (Bindungsschwäche) and an inability to adjust (fehlende Einordnung). As [the first two applicants] had told the expert, she walked up to anybody and would not accept to be told anything. This had been confirmed by the maternal grandparents and [the first foster mother]. The latter added that Ireen did not show any inhibitions concerning her contact with men, that she followed and even kissed them. At the beginning of her stay with the foster family, she had shown distinct rocking motions, could not accept limits, put everything into her mouth and had a phase of spitting. During the subsequent time she intensively smeared around with excrement. She was also very jealous of her brother. Both children lacked a daily routine and had to learn how to play.
After Ireen had stayed for 8.5 months in the care of the [first] foster family, a new change of attachment figure occurred by her placement in the [second] foster family. As [the second foster mother] reported on the occasion of Ireen's hearing, Ireen continued to show considerable behavioural disorders. She appeared mask-like, was “just a friendly child”, did not show sorrow or pain and lacked any sense of distance. Furthermore, she was hyperactive and unable to adjust. She fell down on straight paths, which, as [the foster mother] supposed, was owed to the fact that her mind was so restless that she was unable to control her movements. Ireen had a totally disordered day and night rhythm. She was temporarily very restless and demanded permanent attention, but also to be set limits. She was now able to abide by simple rules. Ireen suffers from neurodermatitis, which – according to [the second foster mother] had been aggravated in situations of stress.
The statements of [the second foster mother] show that the behavioural disorders which had been found by the expert K., who attributed them to her unsteady socialisation, persisted after she was taken into the household of [the second foster family]. Ireen's behaviour during her hearing showed that she had since developed positively and in particular that she had learned to adjust. She followed [the foster mother's] requests and propositions without opposing to them. She did not try to raise special attention...The hearing and observation of the child made it clear that she had settled well into the foster family and that she had obviously bonded with her foster parents...”
The Regional Court concluded that, given the third applicant's lack of socialisation during the first three years of her life and her positive development in the second foster family, where she had stayed for two years, it could not be justified to deprive her of this stable environment.
4. The proceedings before the Hamm Court of Appeal
On 10 August 1998 the first two applicants lodged
a further complaint with the Hamm Court of Appeal (Oberlandesgericht) with a view to being granted guardianship
of the third applicant. They argued that the Regional Court had failed
to hear expert opinion, to hear the interested parties before the whole
chamber and to appoint a curator ad litem (Verfahrenspfleger)
to represent the third applicant during proceedings. They further requested the Court of Appeal to pass an interim order granting them the right to determine the third applicant's residence.
On 17 August 1998 the first two applicants submitted thirty additional pages of reasoning and requested the Court of Appeal to establish that the Regional Court had failed to respect their right to a trial within a reasonable time.
On 23 October 1998 the first two applicants requested the Court of Appeal to accelerate proceedings and to pass a decision on their request for an interim order.
On 9 November 1998 the Court of Appeal rejected the request for an interim order on the grounds that it would soon pass a decision in the main proceedings and that a change of the third applicant's attachment figures would be contrary to the child's best interests.
On 1 December 1998 the Court of Appeal quashed the decision of 20 July 1998 and remitted the case to the Regional Court. It found that the Regional Court had failed to raise evidence by expert opinion on the relationship between the third applicant and her foster parents. The Court of Appeal rejected the applicants' request of 17 August 1997 to establish the allegedly undue length of proceedings for lack of a legal basis. It further ordered the Regional Court to appoint a curator ad litem (Verfahrenspfleger), to safeguard the third applicant's interests during proceedings.
5. The second set of proceedings before the Bielefeld Regional Court
On 4 January and 17 March 1999 the first two applicants requested a swift processing of the proceedings in view of the fact that the third applicant still remained with a foster family.
On 16 April 1999 the Regional Court decided to hear expert opinion and appointed a curator ad litem to represent the third applicant.
On 27 July 1999 the expert informed the court that she had agreed with the first two applicants and with the foster parents that the third applicant should also be examined with respect to her behaviour during and after a three weeks' holiday which she would spend with the first two applicants. Accordingly, she would submit her expert opinion by the end of September 1999.
On 3 October 1999 the expert submitted her expert opinion. She found that the foster family, especially the foster mother, had succeeded to help the third applicant to develop from a disturbed, mentally disordered child, who had been unable to build relationships, into a healthy, self-confident six year old girl. This positive development was owed to the foster mother's high qualification as a trained social pedagogue and the additional support offered by a professional institution devoted to the welfare of children.
In spite of the fact that the third applicant was very much attached to her foster family, she nevertheless expressed the strong wish to live with the first two applicants. With regard to the fact that the child felt torn between the two families, the expert recommended to postpone a final decision for one year until the third applicant's entrance into primary school. However, if a decision had to be taken earlier, the expert found that the first and the second applicant were very well able to raise both grandchildren, and that they were willing to seek professional assistance if this should appear necessary. Considering the third applicant's strong wish to live with her grandparents, the expert recommended to place her into the care of the first and the second applicants.
On 14 October 1999 the expert opinion was served on the parties for comments within two weeks.
On 4 November 1999 the first two applicants submitted their comments and requested the Regional Court to schedule a hearing.
On 11 November 1999 the foster family organisation submitted their comments, according to which the third applicant should remain within the foster family, while maintaining regular contact with the first two applicants.
On 12 November 1999 the third applicant's curator ad litem
submitted her comments, according to which the expert had not sufficiently
explored the first two applicants' ability to raise the third applicant.
She further found that, while the child's own wishes were not to be
neglected, a child of six years was not able to reach an autonomous
decision on its circumstances
On 15 November 1999 the curator ad litem asked that the expert should be heard by the court.
On 16 November 1999 the District Court served the comments to the applicants for further comments within two weeks.
On 1 December 2001 the first two applicants submitted comments drafted by a psychological expert, which supported the court-appointed expert's conclusions.
On 6 January and 11 February 2000 the applicants
the Regional Court to promote the proceedings and to schedule a hearing.
On 8 January 2000 the curator ad litem asked to be granted one week's leave for further comments.
On 10 February 2000 the Regional Court informed the applicants about its intention to schedule a hearing for 1 March 2000, which could not take place because of the expert's illness. Should the expert be able to attend a hearing on 15 March 2000, the hearing would be scheduled accordingly.
On 28 February 2000 the expert informed the Court that she could appear on 15 March 2000.
On 29 February 2000 the Regional Court scheduled a hearing for 15 March 2000.
On 13 March 2000 the first two applicants submitted further comments.
On 15 March the Regional Court held a hearing, in which it heard the foster parents, the first two applicants, the expert and the curator ad litem.
By decision of 20 March 2000 the Regional Court discharged the Youth Office and appointed the first and the second applicants as the third applicant's guardians.
In its reasoning, the Regional Court referred to the expert's finding that the first two applicants were well suited to raise the third applicant and that the latter had expressed a strong wish to live with them.
6. The further proceedings before the Hamm Court of Appeal
On 26 April 2000 the first and second applicant lodged a further complaint against the decision of 15 March 2000 with the aim to be granted legal aid and to establish that the length of the proceedings before the Regional Court had violated their rights under the Basic Law and under Articles 6 § 1, 8 § 1 and 13 of the Convention.
On 25 September 2000 the Hamm Court of Appeal refused to grant legal aid and rejected the complaint as inadmissible, maintaining that there was no provision in the procedural law which allowed establishing that proceedings had lasted too long.
On 3 November 2000 the first and second applicant raised an objection (Gegenvorstellung) against the refusal to grant them legal aid, which was rejected on 5 December 2000.
7. The proceedings before the Federal Constitutional Court
On 11 January 1999 the first and second applicant lodged a constitutional complaint in which they complained about the length of the proceedings before the Regional Court and about the decision of the Hamm Court of Appeal of 1 December 1998.
On 6 November 2000 all three applicants lodged a constitutional complaint complaining about the length of the proceedings before the Regional Court, about the decisions of the Regional Court of 20 July 1998 and 20 March 2000 and about the decisions of the Hamm Court of Appeal of 1 December 1998 and 25 September 2000.
On 9 November 2000 the applicants requested the Constitutional Court to grant them adequate compensation for the length of proceedings.
On 15 December 2000 the applicants lodged a complaint in which they complained about the Court of Appeal's decisions of 25 September and 5 December 2000 to deny them legal aid.
On 25 January 2001 the Federal Constitutional Court, sitting as a panel of three judges, refused to entertain the applicants' complaints as being inadmissible. That Court further found that there was no legal basis to grant the applicants compensation. This decision was served on the applicants on 5 February 2001.
1. The applicants complained under Articles 6 § 1 and 8 § 1 of the Convention about the length of the proceedings before the Bielefeld Regional Court. They further complained that the Regional Court had failed to decide on their second alternative request for an interim order lodged on 11 March 1996.
2. The applicants complained under Articles 13
and 6 of the Convention and under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 about
having been denied an effective remedy and an appropriate compensation
for the undue length of
3. Under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, the applicants further complained that the Federal Constitutional Court had failed to give sufficient reasons for its decision of 25 January 2001. They finally complained about the length of the proceedings before the Constitutional Court.
1. The complaints concerning the length of the proceedings before the Bielefeld Regional Court
a) The applicants complained that the length of the proceedings before the Bielefeld Regional Court had been incompatible with the “reasonable time” requirement, provided for by 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...”
The Court notes that the period to be taken into account started on 9 February 1996 when the first two applicants lodged their complaint with the Regional Court and ended with the Regional Court's final decision rendered on 20 March 2000. From 10 August until 1 December 1998 the Court of Appeal examined the applicants' complaint. Accordingly, the proceedings before the Regional Court had an overall length of approximately four years and one month, including the complaint proceedings before the Court of Appeal which lasted approximately four months.
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 applicants and the relevant authorities
and what was at stake for the applicants in the dispute (see, among
many other authorities,
Frydlender v. France [GC], no. 30979/96, § 43, ECHR 2000-VII).
With regard to the complexity of the case, the
Court takes note that the proceedings concerning the third applicant's
guardianship involved important and sensitive questions relating to
the welfare of the child which required careful consideration and investigation
by the courts. The first and second applicants had depended on professional
help when raising their own son – the third applicant's father –
several years ago. Proceedings were complicated by the fact that at
the outset of the proceedings, the third applicant – their granddaughter
– was, according to expert opinion, severely disturbed. All improvements
were due to the professional care of the foster mother. Furthermore,
the Regional Court had to hear all interested parties, including the
applicants themselves, the third applicant's parents and maternal grandparents
and – following the decision of the Court of Appeal – the curator ad litem. It further had to raise evidence by expert
Until the end of the proceedings, neither the parties nor the experts could reach a consensus on the correct assessment of the evidence.
The proceedings were further complicated by the first two applicants' request for an interim order of 11 March 1996, which contained two alternatives which did not concern the question of guardianship – which formed the subject matter of the proceedings – as such, but the third applicant's residence.
Turning to the applicants' own conduct, the Court notes that the applicants have repeatedly requested to be granted time to submit further reasoning and further expert opinion, which contributed roughly three months to the length of proceedings. Furthermore, the proceedings came to a standstill for more than a year between 9 April 1996 and 12 May 1997 due to the applicants' endeavours to reach a friendly settlement with the Youth Office. During this period, the Regional Court had regularly asked to be informed about the outcome of the deliberations. Accordingly, this delay is not imputable to the Regional Court.
As regards the conduct of the authorities, the
Court notes that the proceedings before the Regional Court spanned three
levels of jurisdiction, namely the first set of the proceedings before
the Regional Court, the complaint proceedings before the Court of Appeal
and the ensuing second set of proceedings before the Regional Court.
Contrary to the applicants' view, the Regional Court cannot be held
responsible for the delay caused by the complaint proceedings before
the Hamm Court of Appeal which lasted from 10 August until 1 December
1998. As the Court has held in the Bock case (Bock v. Germany, judgment of 29 March 1989, Series A no. 150,
§ 44), an error by a Court leading to a delay in the proceedings brought
about by the need for appeal proceedings to correct the error may,
in combination with other factors, be taken into account in the determination of the reasonableness of the relevant period pursuant to Article 6 § 1. However, not any error of the lower courts can be taken into account. In the present case, the Court of Appeal found that the Regional Court had failed to hear expert opinion on relevant facts of the case. This cannot be compared to the situation in the Bock case, in which it had been found that the first instance court had failed to comply with the Court of Appeal's previous decision in that same case (see Bock, cited above, § 45). It follows that the proceedings before the Court of Appeal – which were in themselves not of unreasonable duration – cannot be attributed to the Regional Court's conduct.
With regard to what was at stake for the applicants, the Court notes that the proceedings concerned the guardianship for a young child who remained throughout the proceedings in the care of a foster family.
The Court, referring to its consistent case-law, recalls that it is essential, in particular for child care cases, to be dealt with speedily (see, inter alia, Nuutinen v. Finland, no. 32842/96, § 110, ECHR 2000-VIII; Niederböster v. Germany, no. 39547/98, § 39, ECHR 2003-IV). However, in the present case it has to be taken into account that the third applicant's very positive development, which was due to the special care offered by the foster family, and evolved pending the proceedings before the Regional Court, was a decisive factor for her placement with the first two applicants. According to the final assessment of the court-appointed expert, it was only due to the professional care which had been offered by the foster mother that the third applicant had a chance to develop into a healthy, self-confident girl. As the third applicant felt torn between the two families, the expert recommended that it would be in the child's best interest to postpone any final decision for one year until the third applicant's entry into primary school.
Under these circumstances, it may be argued that
the length of the proceedings even had a favourable rather than a detrimental
effect on the eventual outcome of the proceedings. The Court puts a
further emphasis on the fact that the first two applicants had been
granted the opportunity to maintain personal contact with the third
applicant by exercising their visiting rights. In this respect the case
considerably differs from the Nuutinen case, in which the Court found
that the length of the proceedings in question, which amounted to five
years and five months, violated the applicant's right under Article
6 § 1 (see Nuutinen, cited above,
§§ 109, 119).
In the light of the criteria laid down in its case-law and having regard to the particular circumstances of the case, the Court concludes that the overall length of the proceedings did not exceed a “reasonable time”. Accordingly, there has been no violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
Having regard to its above findings, the Court considers that no separate issue arises under Article 8 § 1 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.
b) With respect to the first two applicants' complaint about the Regional Court's failure to give a decision on their second alternative request for an interim order, the Court notes that on 11 March 1996, the applicants had lodged one principal request combined with two alternative requests. On 9 April 1996 the applicants informed the Regional Court that they had entered into negotiations with the Youth Office and asked the court not to give a decision on the requests for an interim order. On 3 July 1997 the applicants informed the court that they would not further pursue either their main request or their first alternative request.
The Court notes that it appears from the case-file that the Regional Court had merely overlooked that the second alternative request had still been pending. Under these circumstances, the Court finds that the applicants could have been reasonably expected to remind the Regional Court to give a decision on their second alternative request. However, the applicants have not established that they had raised this complaint during the proceedings before the Regional Court. Accordingly, this complaint has to be rejected under Article 35 § 1 of the Convention for non-exhaustion of domestic remedies.
2. The complaint about the alleged lack of an effective remedy
The applicants complained that they had been denied an effective remedy with respect of the alleged breach of the right to a hearing within a reasonable time guaranteed by Article 6 § 1. They invoked Article 13 of the Convention, which 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.”
According to the Court's case-law, Article 13 applies only where an individual has an “arguable claim” to be the victim of a violation of a Convention right (see Boyle and Rice v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 27 April 1988, Series A no. 131, p. 23, § 52; Voyager Limited v. Turkey (dec.), no. 35045/97, 4 September 2001; Ivison v. the United Kingdom (dec.), no. 39030/97, 16 April 2002).
The Court has found above that the substantive
complaints under Article 6 § 1 are manifestly ill-founded. For similar
reasons, the applicants did not have an “arguable claim” for the
purposes of Article 13,
and Article 13 is therefore inapplicable to their case.
The Court does not find that the applicants' complaint raises a separate issue under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.
It follows that this part of the application is also manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention and must be rejected pursuant to Article 35 § 4.
3. The complaints concerning the proceedings before the Federal Constitutional Court
a) With respect to the applicants' complaint
under Article 6 § 1 that the Federal Constitutional Court did not give
sufficient reasoning for its decision, the Court refers to its consistent
case-law to the effect that Article 6 does not require detailed reasons
to be given for a decision in which an appellate court, applying a specific
legal provision, dismisses an appeal as having no prospects of success
and Others v. France (dec.),
no. 34763/02, ECHR 2003-II; Teuschler v. Germany (dec.), no. 47636/99, 4 October 2001, and Vogl v. Germany (dec.), no 65863/01, 5 December 2002). It follows that this complaint is manifestly ill-founded and has to be rejected pursuant to Article 35 §§ 3 and 4 of the Convention.
b) The applicants finally complained under Article 6 § 1 about the length of the proceedings before the Federal Constitutional Court. The Court notes that these proceedings were instituted on 11 January 1999, when – at the beginning of the second set of proceedings before the Bielefeld Regional Court – the applicants lodged their first Constitutional Complaint, and ended on 5 February 2001 – four months after the final constitutional complaint which was lodged on 6 November 2000 – when the final decision was served on the applicants. The proceedings have thus lasted approximately two years. Having regard to the special role of a guardian of the Constitution attributed to the Constitutional Court (see, among other authorities, Gast and Popp v. Germany, no. 29357/95, § 75, ECHR 2000-II; Niederböster, cited above, § 43), to the fact that the applicants had lodged three separate complaints against the lower courts' decisions and to the fact that these complaints did not concern the third applicant's guardianship as such, but merely the length of the proceedings before the lower courts, the Court finds this length to be reasonable within the meaning of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. Accordingly, also this complaint has to be rejected as being manifestly ill-founded (Article 35 § 3, 4).
For these reasons, the Court unanimously
Declares the application inadmissible.
Vincent Berger Boštjan
ELLERSIEK v. GERMANY DECISION
ELLERSIEK v. GERMANY DECISION