Judgment No. I. ÚS 2430/13 – Courts’ failure to properly assess new evidence supporting re-opening of restitution proceedings amounts to a violation of the right to a fair trial and the right to protection of property

18 March 2014

The applicant applied for a re-opening of restitution proceedings concerning real property in Opočno. She argued that she had found new evidence proving that her father had been racially persecuted. Racial persecution was the critical criterion under the Extra-Judicial Rehabilitations Act, as interpreted by the Constitutional Court, which the applicant failed to establish in the original proceedings. However the Rychnov nad Kněžnou District Court rejected the request for re-opening because it still did not agree that the new evidence proved racial persecution of the applicant’s father. The court accepted arguments of the opposing party that the persecution was rather political. The subsequent appeal was rejected by the Hradec Králové Regional Court, as well as the appeal on points of law lodged with the Supreme Court. In her constitutional appeal, the applicant contested the narrow interpretation of the Extra-Judicial Rehabilitations Act previously given in the case-law of the Constitutional Court and the fact that all instances had not attached adequate weight to the new evidence which justified the re-opening of restitution proceedings.

The Constitutional Court refused to review its position on the interpretation of the Extra-Judicial Rehabilitations Act because it did not find any reason to do so. The applicant herself did not submit any justification for the change in the case-law. As far as the second complaint is concerned, the Constitutional Court held in the applicant’s favor. The Constitutional Court observed that the previous instances incorrectly assessed the evidence which led to a violation of the right to a fair trial. The purpose of the evidence submitted by the applicant was to prove one of the legal requirements for her restitution claim. The evidence suggested that her father was of Jewish origin and that his persecution was not merely national or political but also a racial one. But the Rychnov nad Kněžnou District Court rejected this argument without adequate reasoning only with a reference to an opinion of the applicant’s opposing party. This led to the denial of justice for the applicant because insufficient assessment of the evidence caused rejection of the re-opening request and inability of the applicant to submit the evidence in a regular hearing. The lower courts therefore never had an opportunity to decide the case on the basis of full complex of evidence submitted by the applicant. The applicant’s right to access to court was thus violated.

In the Constitutional Court’s opinion, previous instances additionally failed to apply the favoris restitutionis principle – if the interpretation of a restitution law leads to doubts on whether the past injustice should be redressed or not, it is appropriate to redress it, especially if costs of the redress are borne by the state and not by an individual. As a result, the applicant’s property rights were also violated as the above mentioned failures of courts precluded her from achieving restitution of property which was unlawfully confiscated from her family. For all these reasons, the Constitutional Court annulled all decisions of previous instances.