2003/06/18 - I. ÚS 153/02: Compensation of Damages

18 June 2003

HEADNOTES

 

The

Constitutional Court has already considered the constitutionality of §

31 para. 3 of Act no. 83/1998 Coll., and in its judgment of 30 April

2002, file no. Pl. 18/01, (published under no. 234/2002 Coll.) it

annulled the cited provision due to inconsistency with Art. 36 para. 3

of the Charter, in connection with Art. 1 para. 1, Art. 3 para. 1 and

Art. 4 para. 4 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.

 

In that case the Regional Court did not recognize the complainant’s

entitlement to compensation of proceedings costs (specifically, the

costs of defense which, under § 31 para. 4 of Act no. 82/1998 Coll. are

part of the proceedings costs) as material detriment which the state

caused him by its measure, for the reason that the complainant did not

incur any further (other) damages under the then valid  § 31 para. 3 of

Act no. 82/1998 Coll. In view of the subsequent finding of the

Constitutional Court it is evident that the complainant is entitled to

compensation of defense costs regardless of whether he incurred

additional damages other than those which consist of the proceedings

costs. Although the Constitutional Court is aware that on this point the

Regional Court acted in accordance with the then valid § 31 para. 3 of

Act no. 82/1998 Coll., nonetheless the contested verdict led to

violation of the complainant’s constitutionally guaranteed right under §

36 para. 3 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.

 



JUDGMENT
CONSTITUTIONAL COURT

CZECH REPUBLIC


IN THE NAME OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC

 

 

A

Panel of the Constitutional Court decided on this day in the matter of a

constitutional complaint by the complainant J. P., represented by Mgr.

V. V., attorney, against a verdict by the City Court in Prague of 14

November 2001, file no. 13 Co 223/2001, as follows:

The constitutional complaint is granted, and the verdict of the City

Court in Prague of 14 November 2001, file no. 13 Co 223/2001, is

annulled.

 


REASONING


I.
 

In

his timely filed constitutional complaint, the complainant seeks

annulment of a verdict of the City Court in Prague of 14 November 2001,

file no. 13 Co 223/2001, which changed a verdict of the District Court

for Prague 1, of 21 June 2001, file no. 13 C 177/2000, so that the

complaint was denied.
 

The

complainant stated in the constitutional complaint that he participated,

along with other persons, in a demonstration held on 16 May 1998 in

Prague 1. After the Police of the CR intervened against the

demonstrators the complainant was informed that he was charged with

crimes under § 9 para. 2 to § 202 of the Criminal Code and § 9 para. 2

to § 155 para. 1 let. a) of the Criminal Code. The criminal prosecution

was stopped by decision of 26 June 1998, and therefore the complainant

sought compensation of damages in the amount of CZK 10,169.60 with 15%

interest from 11 March 1999 until payment. This amount represents the

costs of attorney’s fees. The abovementioned factual situation was

determined by the court of the first level, and neither the parties to

the proceedings nor later the appeals court contested it.
 

In

its verdict of 21 June 2001, the District Court for Prague 1 recognized

the complainant’s claim to be justified, and awarded him compensation

of damages in the requested amount. However, the CR – the Ministry of

Justice – appealed against the verdict, and the appeals court

subsequently changed the verdict of the court of the first level and

denied the complaint. It justified its decision on the grounds that,

under § 13 para. 1 of Act no. 82/1998 Coll., the state is liable for

damages caused by incorrect official procedure, and the notification of

charges under § 160 para. 1 of the Criminal Procedure Code must be

considered as such, if criminal prosecution was stopped by decision of

the investigator or the matter was transferred to another body (§ 31

para. 1 of the cited Act). Under § 9 para. 1 of the same Act, someone

who was taken into custody is entitled to compensation of damages caused

by the decision to take him into custody if criminal proceedings

against him were stopped, if he was cleared of the charge, or if the

matter was transferred to a different body. The provisions of § 31 para.

1 and 2 of Act no. 82/1998 Coll. also regulate the right to

compensation of damages, which includes compensation of legal costs

which the injured party incurred in proceedings in which an unlawful

decision or decision on custody, punishment or protective measures was

issued or in proceedings in which a reversal or not guilty decision was

issued, whereby the criminal proceedings were stopped or the matter was

transferred to another body. This compensation includes compensation of

the proceedings costs which the injured party incurred in the

proceedings in which the incorrect official procedure occurred, if these

costs are related to the incorrect official procedure. Under § 31 para.

3 of the cited Act, the entitlement to compensation of proceedings

costs as part of compensation of damages arises only if the decision

caused damage and if compensation of costs has not yet been awarded

under procedural regulations. The appeals court concluded from the cited

provision that a condition for the entitlement to compensation of

proceedings costs to arise is the existence of “other damages” as

property detriment which the injured party suffered through the

incorrect official procedure or incorrect decision. For these reasons

the appeals court denied the complainant’s complaint.
 

In

the constitutional complaint, the complainant takes the position that

the appeals court’s interpretation leads to unjustified narrowing of the

entitlement to compensation of damages, and to such a degree that it

practically rules out compensation of damages in a case where the

injured party was not taken into custody, or was taken into custody but

did not prove lost profits. This leads to disadvantaging one group of

injured parties. An injured party who was taken into custody for more

than a month and who proved that, as a result of being taken into

custody, he lost profits, is entitled not only to compensation of

damages for that detriment, but also to compensation of attorney’s fees

in the amount of non-contractual fees. An injured party who fails to

meet one of these conditions has no entitlement to compensation of

attorney’s fees, even though he paid them, just like the first injured

party. This legal interpretation is inconsistent with the principle of

equality, which is enshrined in Art. 1 of the Charter of Fundamental

Rights and Freedoms. The complainant is convinced that everyone has the

right to compensation of damages caused by the unlawful decision of a

court, other state body, or public administration body, or by incorrect

official procedure, in accordance with Art. 36 para. 3 of the Charter of

Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. The complainant is also convinced that

he incurred, in a causal connection with the notification of charges,

he suffered damages in the amount which he was forced to expend to cover

the costs of attorney’s fees. The appeals court decision then violated

his fundamental right enshrined in Art. 36 para. 3 of the Charter of

Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.
 

The

City Court in Prague, which issued the contested decision, in its

position statement on the content of the constitutional complaint,

merely stated that it expressed its legal opinion in the reasoning of

the  verdict. The CR - the Ministry of the Interior – as a subsidiary

party to the proceedings, did not submit a position statement.
 


II.
 

The

Constitutional Court has often emphasized in the past that it is not

part of the general court system [Art. 91 in connection with Art. 90 of

the Constitution of the CR], and therefore can not review the decision

making activity of the general courts. The Constitutional Court is

authorized to intervene in the activity of the courts, in particular, if

their legally effective decisions in proceedings in which the

complainant was a party would violate his fundamental rights and

freedoms protected by a constitutional law. In the Constitutional

Court’s opinion this situation arose in this case, and therefore the

constitutional complaint is justified.
 

As

an introduction, the Constitutional Court notes that it has already

considered the constitutionality of § 31 para. 3 of Act no. 83/1998

Coll., and in its finding of 30 April 2002, file no. Pl. 18/01,

(published under no. 234/2002 Coll.) it annulled the cited provision due

to inconsistency with Art. 36 para. 3 of the Charter, in connection

with Art. 1 para. 1, Art. 3 para. 1 and Art. 4 para. 4 of the Charter of

Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, when it concluded that if “everyone is

entitled to compensation of damages caused him by an unlawful decision

by a court, other state body or a public administration body, or by an

incorrect official procedure, where the conditions and details of

implementing this right are provided by statute [Art. 36 para. 3 a 4 of

the Charter], then that statute, issued on the basis of constitutional

authorization, may not completely annul (negate) the entitlement to

compensation of damages, arising as a result of the cited actions, and

thereby deny a constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right, even if

only in certain cases. Thus, in the case of persons who incurred damages

consisting “only” of proceedings costs, the legislative procedure

reflected in the contested provision led to the complete exclusion of

this category of persons from the right to compensation of damages,

caused by an unlawful decision by a court, other state body or public

administration body. Such a procedure is strictly inconsistent with the

constitutional order of the Czech Republic and it does not respect the

principle of minimizing interference with fundamental rights in the form

of restricting them and maximizing the preservation of the essential

content of a fundamental right."
 

In

that case the Regional Court did not recognize the complainant’s

entitlement to compensation of proceedings costs (specifically, the

costs of defense which, under § 31 para. 4 of Act no. 82/1998 Coll. are

part of the proceedings costs) as material detriment which the state

caused him by its measure, for the reason that the complainant did not

incur any further (other) damages under the then valid  § 31 para. 3 of

Act no. 82/1998 Coll. In view of the subsequent finding of the

Constitutional Court it is evident that the complainant is entitled to

compensation of defense costs regardless of whether he incurred

additional damages other than those which consist of the proceedings

costs. Although the Constitutional Court is aware that on this point the

Regional Court acted in accordance with the then valid § 31 para. 3 of

Act no. 82/1998 Coll., nonetheless the contested verdict led to

violation of the complainant’s constitutionally guaranteed right under §

36 para. 3 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, and the

Constitutional Court therefore had not choice but to agree with the

complainant under § 82 para. 2 let. a) of the Act on the Constitutional

Court, and to annul the verdict cited in the heading under § 82 para. 3

let. a) of the cited Act.

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

Brno 18 June 2003