FOURTH SECTION

PARTIAL DECISION

AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF

Application no. 9359/03 
by Aleksander WRÓBLEWSKI 
against Poland

The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting on 29 August 2006 as a Chamber composed of:

Sir Nicolas Bratza, President
 Mr J. Casadevall
 Mr G. Bonello
 Mr S. Pavlovschi
 Mr L. Garlicki
 Ms L. Mijović, 
 Mr J. Šikuta, judges, 
and Mr T.L. Early, Section Registrar,

Having regard to the above application lodged on 2 March 2003,

Having deliberated, decides as follows:

THE FACTS

The applicant, Mr Aleksander Wróblewski, is a Polish national who was born in 1937 and lives in Ruda-Huta.

A.  The circumstances of the case

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

1.      The civil proceedings

On 25 May 1999 the applicant filed an action with the Warsaw Regional Court against a housing co-operative for reimbursement of a down-payment he had made in 1984. The applicant was exempted from the court fees and was granted legal aid.

On 3 January 2000 a first hearing was held and the applicant submitted documents in support of his claim.

During a second hearing on 19 June 2000 the court asked the applicant to submit another document and stayed the proceedings. The applicant obtained the required document in August, but apparently his legal aid lawyer failed to submit it to the court and to request that the proceedings be resumed.

The applicant discharged the lawyer and on 19 February 2001 he submitted the relevant document to the court and requested it to resume the proceedings.

On 11 July 2001 he complained to the President of the Warsaw Regional Court that the proceedings had not been resumed.

On 8 March 2002 the Regional Bar appointed another legal aid lawyer for the applicant.

On 2 April 2003 the proceedings were resumed.

On 28 June 2004 the Regional Court delivered a judgment, finding in the applicant’s favour and awarding him PLN 84,310, representing the amount the applicant had paid in 1984 re-assessed so as to take account of inflation. The defendant co-operative appealed.

On 20 January 2005 the applicant asked the Court of Appeal to accelerate the examination of the appeal.

On 4 August 2005 the Warsaw Court of Appeal amended the judgment by reducing the award to PLN 42,155. The court found that the responsibility of the co-operative was indisputable. However, in the court’s view, the defendant co-operative should not be required to pay the whole amount. The court considered that a housing co-operative was an entity of a particular character in that it consisted of the residents of apartments managed by the co-operative. Accordingly, all liabilities of the co-operative in fact encumbered its members. The court noted that the co-operative’s management could not have lawfully returned the down-payment to the applicant before he had officially resigned from membership of the co-operative. He had done so in 2000, only after having been informed by the Regional Court that he had to. Therefore, the Court of Appeal considered that the interests of both parties should be balanced against each other and that the consequences of inflation should encumber the applicant and the co-operative in equal measure. Hence, it reduced the amount of the award.

A cassation appeal was not available since the amended provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure which had entered into force on 5 February 2005 increased the financial threshold for appeals to the Supreme Court in cases concerning non-commercial pecuniary claims from PLN 10,000 to PLN 50,000.

2.      The proceedings under the 2004 Act

On 23 October 2004 the applicant lodged a complaint with the Warsaw Court of Appeal under the 2004 Act about the excessive length of the proceedings.

On 29 December 2004 the court confirmed that the proceedings had indeed been lengthy. The court took into consideration the fact that the proceedings had been stayed for almost three years, despite the applicant’s repeated requests to resume them. The court also found that the decision to stay the proceedings had not been justified and lacked a legal basis. Further, although the lower court had taken some procedural steps, which were in any event in breach of relevant provisions, these had not led to any tangible progress in the case. The court considered that in the circumstances of the case an award of PLN 2,000 would be adequate.

B.  Relevant domestic law and practice

Article 3921 of the Code of Civil Procedure, as applicable until 5 February 2005, provided that a cassation appeal to the Supreme Court was not available in cases where the amount sought in the litigation was lower than PLN 10,000. The amendment to the Code, which entered into force on 5 February 2005, increased this threshold to PLN 50,000.

COMPLAINTS

1.      The applicant complains under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the excessive length of the proceedings in his case.

2.      The applicant also complains about the unfavourable outcome of the civil proceedings, in particular the incorrect assessment of facts by the Court of Appeal.

3.      Further, the applicant complains, invoking Article 13 of the Convention, that he was deprived of an effective remedy with regard to his civil claim, since the Court of Appeal reduced his award to an amount which was below the threshold for filing a cassation appeal.

THE LAW

1. The applicant complains under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention about the excessive length of the proceedings in his case.

The Court considers that it cannot, on the basis of the case file, determine the admissibility of this complaint and that it is therefore necessary, in accordance with Rule 54 § 2 (b) of the Rules of Court, to give notice of this part of the application to the respondent Government.

2. The applicant also complains about the unfavourable outcome of the proceedings, in particular the allegedly incorrect assessment of evidence by the domestic courts.

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 in the Convention. In particular, it is not its function to deal with errors of fact or law allegedly committed by a national court unless and insofar as they may have infringed rights and freedoms protected by the Convention (see García Ruiz v. Spain [GC], no. 30544/96, § 28, ECHR 1999- I).

In the light of all the material in its possession and insofar as the applicant’s complaint about the outcome has been substantiated, the Court finds that it does not disclose any appearance of a violation of the Convention. In particular, it finds no elements which would indicate that the national courts went beyond their proper discretion in the assessment of the facts or reached arbitrary conclusions.

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

3. The applicant complains, invoking Article 13 of the Convention, that he was deprived of an effective remedy with regard to his civil claim, since the Court of Appeal reduced his award to an amount which was below the threshold for filing a cassation appeal with the Supreme Court.

Insofar as it can be understood that the applicant complains about the lack of access to a court, the Court recalls that the right to a court, embodied in Article 6 of the Convention, is not absolute and may be subject to limitations. However, the limitations applied cannot restrict or reduce the access left to the individual in such a way or to such an extent that the very essence of the right is impaired (see, inter alia, Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein v. Germany [GC], no. 42527/98, § 44, ECHR 2001-VIII).

 Article 6 of the Convention “does not ... compel the Contracting States to set up courts of appeal or of cassation. Nevertheless, a State which does institute such courts is required to ensure that persons amenable to the law shall enjoy before these courts the fundamental guarantees contained in Article 6” (Delcourt v. Belgium, judgment of 17 January 1970, Series A no. 11, p. 14, § 25). In addition, the compatibility of the limitations permitted under domestic law with the right of access to a court set forth in Article 6 § 1 of the Convention depends on the special features of the proceedings in issue, and it is necessary to take into account the whole of the trial conducted according to the rules of the domestic legal system and the role played in that trial by the highest court, since the conditions of admissibility of an appeal on points of law may be more rigorous than those for an ordinary appeal (Delcourt, cited above, p. 15, § 26).  It is for the Contracting States to decide how they should comply with the obligations arising under the Convention. The Court must satisfy itself that the method chosen by the domestic authorities in a particular case is compatible with the Convention.

The Court first observes that the applicant’s case was examined on the merits by two judicial instances with full jurisdiction as to the facts and law. It further observes that the applicant’s right of access to a court was subject to certain limitations in so far as no cassation appeal was available against the second-instance judgment. It also notes that this limitation became effective as from 5 February 2005, when the applicant’s case was pending before the Court of Appeal. The Court notes, however, that the solution adopted in the instant case by the Polish legislator followed a generally recognised principle which provides for the immediate application of new procedural provisions, save where expressly provided to the contrary. Furthermore, the amendments to the Code of Civil Procedure served the aim of accelerating proceedings by excluding the examination of appeals in cases of lesser importance (mutatis mutandis Brualla Gómez de la Torre v. Spain, judgment of 19 December 1997, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1997-VIII, p. 2956, § 36-39; Zmaliński v. Poland, (dec.) no. 52039/99, 10 October 2001)

In the light of the foregoing, the Court considers that the limitation pursued a legitimate aim and cannot in the circumstances of the case be considered disproportionate.

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

Decides to adjourn the examination of the applicant’s complaint concerning the excessive length of the civil proceedings;

Declares the remainder of the application inadmissible.

T.L. Early Nicolas Bratza  
 Registrar President

WROBLEWSKI v. POLAND DECISION


WROBLEWSKI v. POLAND DECISION