2002/02/19 - I. ÚS 663/01: Delayed Proceedings

19 February 2002

HEADNOTES
 

The

Constitutional Court states that, under its settled case law, if there

is an objection about delays in proceedings before the general courts,

it is necessary, even before filing a constitutional complaint, to file a

complaint about delays in proceedings – under Act No. 436/1991 Coll.,

on Certain Measures in the Judiciary, on Election of Lay Judges, Their

Removal and Recall from Office and on State Administration of the Courts

of the Czech Republic – with the chairman of the relevant court (note:

this Act has been annulled as of 1 April 2002 by Act No. 6/2002 Coll.,

on the Courts, Judges, Lay Judges and the State Administration of the

Courts and Amending Certain Other Acts; nonetheless, the right to file a

complaint about delays in proceedings with court administration bodies

is provided in a comparable way in § 164 para. 1 of Act No. 6/2002,

which replaces the annulled Act No. 436/1991 Coll. However, this

principle is not without exception. The Constitutional Court has also

ruled, that if filing of the appropriate procedural means is evidently

ineffective, it can not be insisted upon (see, e.g. judgment file no.

IV. US 240/95, The Constitutional Court of the CR: Collection of

Judgments and Resolutions, vol. 5, p. 298).

The Constitutional

Court states that it has already considered the question of delays in

proceedings before the general courts in a number of its decisions.

Justifiable delays in proceedings include an “other actions” infringing

the petitioner’s fundamental rights ?Art. 87 para. 1 let. d) of the

Constitution of the CR and § 72 para. 1 let. a) of Act No. 182/1993

Coll., on the Constitutional Court?, enshrined in Art. 38 para. of the

Charter and in Art. 6 para. 1 of the Convention for the Protection of

Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the “Convention”). Both of these

cited provisions guarantee everyone’s right to have his case heard

without unnecessary delays (or in a reasonable time), and it is

naturally inconsistent with these provisions if unnecessary delays in

proceedings occur in a particular case before a general court. The

Constitutional Court has repeatedly ruled that delays in proceedings can

not be justified even by the generally known overload on the courts,

because “it is up to the state to organize its judiciary so that

judicial principles enshrined in the Charter and the Convention are

observed and any shortcomings in this regard can not be to the detriment

of citizens who justifiably expect from the courts protection of their

rights in a reasonable time” (e.g. judgment file no. IV. US 55/94, The

Constitutional Court of the CR: Collection of Judgments and Resolutions,

vol. 2, p. 39). It must be said that this legal opinion also conforms

to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights in the

interpretation and application of the Convention.

Reference to

the computer equipment of the registration court or to a file located

temporarily at another court are not reasons which can be interpreted

otherwise than as technical and organizational problems, which, however,

in this regard, may not be used to the detriment of the petitioner (a

private law corporation), which justifiably expects from the court

protection of its rights in a reasonable time under Art. 38 para. 2 of

the Charter and Art. 6 para. 1 of the Convention. However, if the

Regional Court is waiting to handle a petition only because it does not

have the relevant file at its disposal and is thus waiting for the High

Court’s decisions for technical reasons and not reasons on the merits,

this procedure is fundamentally unjustified, and unconstitutional in its

final results. The registration court can take steps such as requesting

the return of the relevant file for a short period for purposes of

handling the petition in question, or making copies of those parts of it

which it needs for its decision. In other words, the registration court

must do all that it can so that the petitioner’s fundamental rights are

not violated as a result of the technical and organizational problems

of state bodies.

 


 

CZECH REPUBLIC
CONSTITUTIONAL COURT

JUDGMENT

IN THE NAME OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC

 

A

Panel of the Constitutional Court decided today on the constitutional

complaint of the petitioner C., s.r.o., in which it seeks annulment of

the resolution of the Hradec Králové Regional Court of 19 September

2001, file no. F 18945/2001, Rg. C 13213, and an order to the Hradec

Králové Regional Court to act and decide in the matter Rg. C 13213, as

follows:

I. The Constitutional Court forbids the Hradec

Králové Regional Court to continue violating the petitioner’s rights

under Art. 38 para. 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms

and Art. 6 para. 1 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights

and Fundamental Freedoms, and orders it to process the petitioner’s

matter file no. Rg. C 13213 without unnecessary delays.

 II. The

petition to annul the resolution of the Hradec Králové Regional Court of

19 September 2001, file no. F 18945/2001, Rg. C 13213, is denied.




REASONING


I.
 

In

the resolution cited in the introduction, the Hradec Králové Regional

Court (a higher court official), in the matter of an application to

register the petitioner’s changes in the commercial register, ordered

the petitioner to (1.) send another copy of the current text of the

memorandum of association to be included in the file, (2.) send another

copy of the application under § 79 para. 3 and § 200c para. 1 of the

Civil Procedure Code and pointed out (3.) the fact that “the submitted

application will be processed only after the High Court’s decision on

the appeal.”
 


II.
 

In

its constitutional complaint, the petitioner states that his submission

in the matter of an application to register changes is in no way

related to further proceedings conducted before the High Court, in which

the High Court will decide on the petitioner’s appeal. Therefore, the

petitioner filed a complaint with the Ministry of Justice, which,

however, approved the Regional Court’s procedure with the reasoning that

“the computer equipment at the Hradec Králové commercial register does

not permit making any changes in the register until the previous

application has been concluded with legal effect and until registration

of the previous change has been made and completed.” However, the

petitioner objects that the Civil Procedure Code does not permit the

court to not act in a matter because it does not have the appropriate

technical equipment at its disposal. Therefore, it claims that by this

procedure and the contested decision the Hradec Králové Regional Court

violated its right enshrined in Art. 36 of the Charter of Fundamental

Rights and Freedoms (the “Charter”).

The petitioner consented to waive a hearing before the Constitutional Court.
 


III.
 

The

Constitutional Court first of all states that, under its settled case

law, if there is an objection about delays in proceedings before the

general courts, it is necessary, even before filing a constitutional

complaint, to file a complaint about delays in proceedings – under Act

No. 436/1991 Coll., on Certain Measures in the Judiciary, on Election of

Lay Judges, Their Removal and Recall from Office and on State

Administration of the Courts of the Czech Republic – with the chairman

of the relevant court (note: this Act has been annulled as of 1 April

2002 by Act No. 6/2002 Coll., on the Courts, Judges, Lay Judges and the

State Administration of the Courts and Amending Certain Other Acts;

nonetheless, the right to file a complaint about delays in proceedings

with court administration bodies is provided in a comparable way in §

164 para. 1 of Act No. 6/2002, which replaces the annulled Act No.

436/1991 Coll.). If the petitioner did not file such a complaint, the

Constitutional Court considered the constitutional complaint

inadmissible and denied it, because the petitioner did not, before

filing it, exhaust all means for protection of his rights (e.g.

resolution file no. III. US 169/96, The Constitutional Court of the CR:

Collection of Judgments and Resolutions, vol. 5, p. 589). In this case

the petitioner does not claim or prove that he filed a complaint about

delays in proceedings with the chairman of the relevant court and that

he has therefore – under the settled case law of the Constitutional

Court – exhausted all procedural means for protection of his rights

before filing a constitutional complaint. However, this principle is not

without exception. The Constitutional Court has also ruled, that if

filing of the appropriate procedural means is evidently ineffective, it

can not be insisted upon (see, e.g. judgment file no. IV. US 240/95, The

Constitutional Court of the CR: Collection of Judgments and

Resolutions, vol. 5, p. 298).

In the adjudicated matter the

Constitutional Court concluded that filing a complaint against delays in

proceedings with the chairman of the court under Act No. 436/1991 Coll.

would be evidently ineffective, and therefore did not make this a

condition for admissibility of a constitutional complaint. In this case,

the petitioner documented that on 27 September 2001 he filed a

complaint about the Hradec Králové Regional Court’s procedures with the

Ministry of Justice of the CR, but the Ministry found the complaint

groundless, and in a letter of 8 November 2001 informed the petitioner’s

attorney that the application for an entry in the commercial register

would be – in view of the computer equipment at the commercial register

in Hradec Králové – made only after the previous application was

concluded with legal effect and the previous change registered. The

Regional Court also refers to this position of the Ministry of Justice

of the CR in its position statement on the constitutional complaint (see

below). Thus, in this situation one can not justifiably think that

filing a complaint with the chairman of the Hradec Králové Regional

Court could be considered an effective means for the protection of the

petitioner’s rights, as far as the proceedings delays are concerned.

Therefore, the Constitutional Court concludes that the submitted

constitutional complaint meets the statutorily provided procedural

conditions and nothing prevents processing and deciding the matter on

the merits.
 


IV.
 

The

Constitutional Court requested a position statement on the

constitutional complaint from the party to the proceedings, the Hradec

Králové Regional Court. In its statement, that court primarily pointed

to the fact that the reason why the registration court could not make a

decision on the petitioner’s application is that the registration court

makes decisions on individual applications from the same company in the

order in which the court received them, and that the registration court

can not make a decision without the file, because facts stated in the

application must be verified using documents in the file. However, the

file is with the Prague High Court for purposes of handling an appeal in

the petitioner’s petition of 13 June 2000.

The Hradec Králové

Regional Court believes that in this case there was no violation of the

Charter, proposes denial of the constitutional complaint as unjustified,

and states that it consents with waiving a hearing before the

Constitutional Court.
 


V.
 

The

Constitutional Court states that it has already considered the question

of delays in proceedings before the general courts in a number of its

decisions. Justifiable delays in proceedings include an “other actions”

infringing the petitioner’s fundamental rights ?Art. 87 para. 1 let. d)

of the Constitution of the CR and § 72 para. 1 let. a) of Act No.

182/1993 Coll., on the Constitutional Court?, enshrined in Art. 38 para.

of the Charter and in Art. 6 para. 1 of the Convention for the

Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the “Convention”).

Both of these cited provisions guarantee everyone’s right to have his

case heard without unnecessary delays (or in a reasonable time), and it

is naturally inconsistent with these provisions if unnecessary delays in

proceedings occur in a particular case before a general court. The

Constitutional Court has repeatedly ruled that delays in proceedings can

not be justified even by the generally known overload on the courts,

because “it is up to the state to organize its judiciary so that

judicial principles enshrined in the Charter and the Convention are

observed and any shortcomings in this regard can not be to the detriment

of citizens who justifiably expect from the courts protection of their

rights in a reasonable time” (e.g. judgment file no. IV. US 55/94, The

Constitutional Court of the CR: Collection of Judgments and Resolutions,

vol. 2, p. 39). It must be said that this legal opinion also conforms

to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights in the

interpretation and application of the Convention.

In the

adjudicated matter, the Constitutional Court first of all states that

proceedings in matters of the commercial register are governed by § 200a

et seq. of the Civil Procedure Code. Under § 200c para. 3 of the Civil

Procedure Code, the court is required to take actions directed toward

deciding the matter within 15 days after an application is filed. The

court decides on the content of a file by resolution, and shall make an

entry within ten days after the resolution on the content goes into

legal effect (§ 200d para. 3, 4 of the Civil Procedure Code). Thus, it

is evident that registration proceedings are a special type of

proceedings before the general courts, characterized particularly by the

legislature’s interest in speedy decision making, which is possible in

view of the nature of these proceedings. In other words, in deciding

commercial register matters, the court generally judges only the formal

conditions for the application, provided by legal regulations (§ 200d

para. 1 of the Civil Procedure Code), and if these conditions are met,

it is required to make the entry. Therefore, in this type of proceedings

the court’s process is considerably different from other types of

proceedings in which the general court is given considerably greater

space for its own deliberation and where it judges often very difficult

factual and legal circumstances in a particular matter.

In this

case, the Constitutional Court found that the Hradec Králové Regional

Court informed the petitioner that “the submitted application will be

processed only after the High Court’s decision on the appeal”. The

reason for this was – according to the communications from the Ministry

of Justice and the court – the fact that the computer equipment at the

commercial register allegedly does not permit making changes in the

register without completing the proceedings on the previous application,

that the registration court decides on applications in a prescribed

order and that the file in question is located at the Prague High Court,

so it is not possible to verify the facts stated in the application

using documents in the file.

The Constitutional Court states

that the cited reasons can not be used to explain the delays in the

proceedings in question. Reference to the computer equipment of the

registration court or to a file located temporarily at another court are

not reasons which can be interpreted otherwise than as technical and

organizational problems, which, however, in this regard, may not be used

to the detriment of the petitioner (a private law corporation), which

justifiably expects from the court protection of its rights in a

reasonable time under Art. 38 para. 2 of the Charter and Art. 6 para. 1

of the Convention. The fact that the Regional Court is waiting to make

its decision in the adjudicated matter for the decision of the Prague

High Court in an appeal in another matter could be accepted, but only

under the condition that the Regional Court decided to do so in a due

procedural manner foreseen by law. If proceedings are being conducted

before the Prague High Court which are to resolve a question which may

be significant for the registration court’s decision, the proceedings

should be interrupted ?§ 109 para. 2 let. c) of the Civil Procedure

Code?. However, if the Regional Court is waiting to handle a petition

only because it does not have the relevant file at its disposal and is

thus waiting for the High Court’s decisions for technical reasons and

not reasons on the merits, this procedure is fundamentally unjustified,

and unconstitutional in its final results. The registration court can

take steps such as requesting the return of the relevant file for a

short period for purposes of handling the petition in question, or

making copies of those parts of it which it needs for its decision. In

other words, the registration court must do all that it can so that the

petitioner’s fundamental rights are not violated as a result of the

technical and organizational problems of state bodies.

For the

sake of completeness, the Constitutional Court emphasizes that in

proceedings on this constitutional complaint it is not addressing the

registration court’s manner of decision making, i.e. whether statutory

conditions for the entry in the commercial register have been met or

not. The unconstitutionality of the Hradec Králové Regional Court’s

procedure lies in the fact that it is not deciding in the matter and –

without the relevant procedural foundation – is waiting for the High

Court’s decision.

For all the cited reasons the Constitutional

Court granted the constitutional complaint and forbids the Hradec

Králové Regional Court to continue violating the petitioner’s rights

under Art. 38 para. 2 of the Charter and Art. 6 para. 1 of the

Convention and orders it to process the petitioner’s matter under file

no. Rg. C 13213 without unnecessary delays.

Finally, the

Constitutional Court states that it has not found grounds to

independently annul the resolution of the Hradec Králové Regional Court

cited in the introduction. The substance of the constitutional complaint

is directed only against part (3.), under which “the submitted

application will be processed only after the High Court’s decision on

the appeal.” Thus, it is apparent from the nature of the matter that in

this regard the resolution is not a decision, but only an “other action”

by a body of state power, as the contested part does not constitute or

declare any rights or obligations of the petitioner, but only states

that a body of public power (i.e. the general court) will not act in the

matter until a certain time. Therefore, the Constitutional Court, in a

situation where the verdict of this judgment forbids the Hradec Králové

Regional Court to continue in the delays in the proceedings and orders

it to act in the matter without delays, denied the petition to annul the

cited resolution.

Instruction: Decisions of the Constitutional Court can not be appealed.


Brno, 19 February 2002