2004/02/11 - Pl. ÚS 1/03: Reasons for Appeal on Point of Law

11 February 2004

HEADNOTES

1)

In various proceedings before courts of the same state, in a procedural

situation which is, if not identical, very similar (the party to the

proceedings seeks the annulment of an effective court decision on

grounds of incorrect legal evaluation, or asks the highest body in the

court system to address a question which the party to the proceedings

considers to be fundamental and as yet unresolved) the party to the

proceedings can not be treated differently unless reasonable grounds for

such action are evident.

2)

Stating brief reasons on which the Supreme Court based its denial

decision (e.g. citations of the Court’s cases which address the matter

and which the court found no reason to change or deviate from) can not

significantly burden the Supreme Court, and thus they can not

significantly influence the overall length of court proceedings; thus

limiting the rights of a party to appellate proceedings on a point of

law appears to be clearly disproportionate to the aim pursued.

 



CZECH REPUBLIC

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT

JUDGMENT


IN THE NAME OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC

 


The

Plenum of the Constitutional Court, composed of JUDr. František Duchoň,

JUDr. Pavel Holländer, JUDr. Dagmar Lastovecká, JUDr. Jiří Malenovský,

JUDr. Jiří Mucha, JUDr. Jan Musil, JUDr. Jiří Nykodým, JUDr. Pavel

Varvařovský, JUDr. Miloslav Výborný and JUDr. Eliška Wagnerová, ruled on

a petition from the minors Jan and Pavel Boukal, represented by their

mother, Monika Boukalová, all residing at Višňová 146, legally

represented by JUDr. Antonín Janák, attorney with his registered office

in Příbram, seeking the annulment of § 243c par. 2 of Act no. 99/1963

Coll., the Civil Procedure Code, as amended by later regulations, with

the consent of the parties without conducting oral proceedings, as

follows:
 

The

provision of § 243c par. 2 of Act no. 99/1963 Coll., the Civil Procedure

Code, as amended by later regulations, is annulled as of the day this

judgment is promulgated in the Collection of Laws.

 


REASONING
 

In

a petition delivered to the Constitutional Court on 2September 2002

(file no. IV. ÚS 582/02), the complainants, the minors Jan Boukal and

Pavel Boukal, represented by their mother, Monika Boukalová, legally

represented by JUDr. Antonín Janák, seek to have the Constitutional

Court annul the decision of the Supreme Court of the CR of 19 June 2002,

file no. 33 Odo 360/2002-127, the decision of the Regional Court in

Prague of 22 January 2002, file no. 28 Co 11/2002-111 and the decision

of the District Court in Příbram of 17 October 2001, file no. 11 C

165/97-81.      
Together with the constitutional complaint, the

complainants filed a petition to annul § 243c par. 2 of Act no. 99/1963

Coll., the Civil Procedure Code, as amended (the “CPC” of the CPC).
 

The

fourth panel of the Constitutional Court, after stating that

application of the contested provision resulted in one of the facts

which are the subject matter of the constitutional complaint, i.e. that

the conditions provided in § 74 of Act no. 182/1993 Coll., on the

Constitutional Court, have been met, suspended proceedings on the

constitutional complaint and forwarded the petition to annul § 243c par.

2 of the CPC to the Plenum of the Constitutional Court.
 

The

petitioners consider § 243c par. 2, of the CPC, which permits the

Supreme Court to not give any reasons at all in decisions on appeals on

points of law [“dovolání”] specified therein, to be inconsistent with

everyone’s right to a fair trial, in particular with Art. 6 par. 1 of

the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental

Freedoms. In their opinion, this convention is a treaty under Art. 10 of

the Constitution, and thus directly applicable and has precedence

before statutes. In support of their opinion, they argue on the basis of

decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, in particular they

point to the judgment of 21 January1999 in the case of García Ruiz v.

Spain, which clearly states that according to its established case-law

reflecting a principle linked to the proper administration of justice,

judgments of courts and tribunals should adequately state the reasons on

which they are based.” The petitioners also point out that the extent

of this duty may vary according to the nature of the decision and must

be determined in the light of the circumstances of the case (see Ruiz

Torija v. Spain and Hiro Balani v. Spain, 1994, and Higgins and Others

v. France, 1998). Finally, they point to the conclusions of the ECHR

that, although Article 6 par. 1 obliges courts to give reasons for their

decisions, this duty cannot be understood as requiring a detailed

answer to every argument (see Van de Hurk v. the Netherlands, 1994).

Thus, in dismissing an appeal, an appellate court may, in principle,

simply endorse the reasons for the lower court’s decision (see Helle v.

Finland, 1997).
 

The

petitioners believe that in both kinds of cases regulated by the

contested provision, § 243c par. 2 of the CPC, where the Supreme Court

can omit giving reasons, it is not a question of a mere procedural

decision in the matter (e.g. denial on grounds of a late filing or

filing by an unauthorized person), but that the appellate court on a

point of law must preliminarily answer the question concerning the

merits of the matter and conclude that it is not a question of

fundamental legal significance, or that the appeal on a point of law is

clearly groundless. Thus, it must consider the matter in terms of

substantive law. Insofar as it is one of the main tasks of the Supreme

Court to have a unifying effect on the case law of lower courts through

its interpretations of the law in individual cases, then, according to

the petitioners, this role must be fulfilled by a clear, even if only

brief, reference, e.g. to a decision of the Supreme Court in an

analogous matter. However, one can hardly speak of fulfilling this role

in a cases where the appellants are not even informed why there is not a

question of fundamental legal significance, or why the appeal on a

point of law is clearly groundless. Therefore, the petitioners conclude

that if the law permits the court to not give reasons for its decision

at all, although Art. 6 par. 1 of the Convention establishes the right

of every participant in court proceedings to an adequate statement of

the reasons on which a decision is based, it thereby directly violates

the right to a fair trial. An absence of reasons can never be adequate

reasons.
 

The Constitutional

Court, under § 69 of Act no. 182/1993 Coll., on the Constitutional

Court (the “Act”), requested opinions from the Chamber of Deputies and

the Senate.


The Constitutional Court also asked for opinions

on the petition from the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Court of

the CR ( § 48 par. 2 and § 49 par. 1 of the Act on the Constitutional

Court).      

The Ministry of Justice expressed the opinion that

the contested provision is an exception from the general framework of

providing reasoning for resolutions whereby a court decides a matter on

the merits, under § 169 par. 4, or § 157 par. 2 and 4 of the CPC. This

exception has its justification in the fact that, in the case of a

decision to deny an appeal on a point of law under § 243c par. 2 of the

CPC, the reasons for the decision may be merely formal. In its

reasoning, the court would basically only repeat the relevant provisions

of the law, which provide quite unambiguous criteria for denying an

appeal on a point of law– either it is not a question of a decision

which has fundamental legal significance for the merits of the matter,

or the appeal on a point of law is clearly groundless. The

permissibility of an appeal on a point of law, as an extraordinary means

of redress in cases under § 237 par. 1 let. c) of the CPC, or its

denial as clearly groundless under § 243b par. 1 of the CPC, depend on

the consideration of the court. However, this consideration is very

narrowly defined. If the contested decision of the appeals court is

correct, consistent with case law, and otherwise error-free, a

sufficient substantive basis for a reasoning in the scope foreseen by,

in particular, § 157 par. 2 of the CPC does not even exist.
 

The

ministry also pointed out, that an appeal of a point of law is an

extraordinary means of redress, which is permissible only if provided by

statute (it is not based on the principle of universality, unlike an

ordinary appeal) and its purpose is, apart from deciding individual

matters, to have a unifying effect on case law. If the appellate court

concludes that an appeal on a point of law is not permissible under §

237 par. 1 let. c) of the CPC, because the contested decision does not

have fundamental legal significance, or that the appeal on a point of

law is clearly groundless under § 243b par. 1 of the CPC assumes that

the decision of the appellate court is correct, and that even in terms

of its reasons the appellate court has not reason to add anything. The

fact that it does not give reasons for its decision to deny an appeal on

a point of law can not be inconsistent with the right to a fair trial,

because stating reasons for the decision of the appellate court [on the

point of law] could only point to the correct conclusions of the

appellate court [on the ordinary appeal]. Therefore, it is not

procedurally economical to give the reasons for such a decision, because

the [first] appellate court resolved the dispute correctly, and the

reasons of the appellate court [on the point of law] can bring no

benefit either to the parties or for purposes of unifying case law. For

these reasons, the Ministry of Justice is convinced that § 243c par. 2

of the CPC, which does not required the court to give reasons for its

decision, can not be considered a violation of the right to a fair trial

under Art. 6 par. 1 of the Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental

Freedoms.      
 

In its

opinion of 28 March 2003, the Supreme Court relied in part on the

statement submitted in the proceedings on a constitutional complaint by

the chairwoman of the panel which decided on the appeal on a point of

law in the particular matter, and which holds the opinion that the

contested provision of the CPC does not deny the party’s right to a fair

trial under Art. 6 par. 1 of the Convention. The contested provision of

the CPC, providing that reasons are not given in decisions to deny an

appeal on a point of law in designated cases, was established in the

Civil Procedure Code in the interest of speeding up and shortening

proceedings in appeals on points of law before the Supreme Court. It is

necessary to see that these proceedings are proceedings on an

extraordinary means of recourse, so they do not in any way interfere

with the principle of two levels of civil court proceedings (The Supreme

Court is a third level in this case), and that the European Union, or

the majority of its states, considers two court levels to be quite

adequate. One can not assume that the contested provision interferes

with the party’s constitutional right to a fair trial, as it meets the

requirement for speeding up court proceedings and making them more

economical in those cases where decisions on appeals on points of law

(of a more or less trivial nature), weighed down by unnecessary giving

of reasons, take away from the Supreme court’s capacity to unify court

practice and make decisions on matters of fundamental importance. The

complainants’ arguments, relying on the particular case law of the

European Court of Human Rights, apply to the ordinary appellate court,

not the appellate court handling the appeal on a point of law.      
 

In

conclusion, the Supreme Court’s statement says that these opinions are

also consistent with the trend toward efficiency in civil proceedings in

Germany and other states of the European Union.
 

After

reviewing the arguments presented by the petitioners and after weighing

the abovementioned opinions and statements, the Constitutional Court

concluded that there were grounds for the petition. It based this on the

following considerations.      
We can agree with the objections of

both houses of Parliament, as well as the Ministry of Justice, that the

petitioner’s arguments overlook the fact that, through the promulgation

of constitutional Act no. 395/2001 Coll., priority of application of

international treaties was enshrined in the legal order of the CR with

effect as of 1 June 2002, and as result their reference to the original

wording of Art. 10 of the Constitution. Likewise, one can agree with the

Supreme Court that the particular cases of the European Court of Human

Rights, to which the petitioners point are concerned rather with the

requirements imposed on the reasoning of decisions by first-level or

appellate courts. However, these arguments do not in themselves make the

petition groundless.
 

It is

evident from the opinions of both houses of Parliament, as well as the

expert opinions of the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Court, that

the main aim of adding the contested provision into the CPC by the

amendment performed by Act no. 30/2000 Coll. is removing unnecessary

delays in the activity of courts, in particular easing the situation of

the Supreme Court, that is, meeting the requirements of Art. 38 par. 2

of the Charter, or Art. 6 par. 1 of the Convention, as regards court

decision making in an appropriate and reasonable time. That aim is

undoubtedly legitimate, but the means of attaining it should not come

into conflict with the right of a party to court proceedings to fair and

equal treatment which prevents arbitrariness.      
 

The

Constitutional Court has already stated the requirements which must be

imposed on the decision-making of the general courts in a number of its

decisions. Primarily, it stated that the independence of decision-making

by general courts is implemented in a constitutional and statutory

framework of procedural and substantive law. The procedural law

framework means primarily the principles of a proper and fair trial, as

arising from Art. 36 et seq. of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and

Freedoms, and from Art. 1 of the Constitution of the Czech Republic. One

of these principles, which is a component of the right to a fair trial,

as well as of the concept of a state governed by the rule of law (Art.

36 par. 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, Art. 1 of

the Constitution of the Czech Republic) and which rules out

arbitrariness in decision-making, is the obligation of courts to give

reasons for their verdicts. (judgment file no. III. ÚS 84/94, Collection

of Decisions of the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic, volume

3, no. 34, p. 257). In judgment file no. III. ÚS 176/96 (Collection of

Decisions of the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic, volume 6,

no. 89, p. 151) the Constitutional Court expressed the opinion that if

one of the purposes of court jurisdiction is to be met, that being the

requirement of “education aimed at preserving the law … at respect for

the rights of fellow citizens”  (§ 1 of the Civil Procedure Code), it is

completely necessary that the decisions of the general courts not only

conform to the law in the merits of the matter, and be issued with full

observance of procedural norms, but also that the reasoning of issued

decisions, in relation to the cited aim, meet the criteria given by §

157 par. 2 in fine, par. 3 of the Civil Procedure Code, because only

substantively correct decisions (fully consistent with the law) and

decisions which are properly justified, i.e. in the legally required

manner, meet – as an inseparable component of the “designated

procedure”– the constitutional criteria arising from the Charter of

Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (Art. 38 par. 1). Similarly as in the

area of facts, likewise in the area of inadequately analyzed and

justified legal arguments there are analogous consequences which lead to

decisions being incomplete and, in particular, unconvincing, which is

of course inconsistent not only with the aim of court proceedings but

also with the principles of a fair trial (Art. 36 par. 1 of the Charter

of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms), as the Constitutional Court

understands them.
 

Also of

significance for the present matter is judgment file no. III. ÚS 206/98

(Collection of Decisions of the Constitutional Court of the Czech

Republic, volume 11, no. 80, p. 231 et seq.), in which the

Constitutional Court stated that part of the constitutional framework of

the independence of courts is their obligation to observe equality in

rights arising from Art. 1 of the Charter. Equality of rights in

relation to the general courts thus establishes, among other things, the

right to the same decision-making in the same matters, and at the same

time rules out arbitrariness in application of the law.
 

On

the other hand, the Constitutional Court has also said in its case law

that the right to an appeal on a point of law is not constitutionally

guaranteed, and this extraordinary means of redress, which the law makes

available to parties in civil and criminal proceedings, thus goes

beyond the framework of constitutionally guaranteed procedural

entitlements (decision file no III. ÚS 298/02, Collection of Decisions

of the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic, vol. 26, no. 18, p.

381).
 

Although the

constitutional order does include an entitlement to file an appeal on a

point of law, or another so-called “extraordinary” means of redress, the

Constitutional Court considered it key to review the question of

whether the procedure chosen by the legislature sufficiently eliminates

possible arbitrariness in application of the law, which is indisputably

one of the elements of a state governed by the rule of law. In other

words, whether the fact that a particular procedural process goes beyond

the framework of constitutional requirements is, in itself, sufficient

grounds to conclude that the criteria arising from the existing case law

of the Constitutional Court need not be applied to the reasoning of a

decision about such procedural process, or that it is not necessary to

apply these criteria even commensurately. Another question which the

Constitutional Court had to answer was whether limiting the right of the

appellant on a point of law to learn ( in certain cases) on what

grounds the Supreme Court denied the petition is commensurate with the

aim pursued, or whether it can even serve this aim at all.
 

The

background report for § 243c par. 2 of the CPC states that as the

reason why the Supreme Court is denying an appeal on a point of law is

obvious, it is not necessary to state a reasoning for the decision. The

opinions from both houses of Parliament and the opinions of the Ministry

of Justice and the Supreme Court of the CR were in the same spirit.

However, the Constitutional Court believes that these arguments are

unconvincing, because the “obviousness” of the reason is de facto

expressed only by reference to the text of the relevant provisions of

the CPC, which is actually a kind of circular argument. The appellant on

a point of law thus does not learn, even if briefly, why the Supreme

Court did not consider the question presented to it in the appeal on a

point of law to be one of fundamental legal significance, why it

considered the appeal on a point of law to be clearly groundless. In

this regard, the Supreme Court’s decision is thus non-reviewable, which

could perhaps stand if the Supreme Court really were the last body of a

judicial type which could consider the matter. However, in view of the

position of the Constitutional Court, as well as of the European Court

of Human Rights, the absence of any reasoning makes it impossible to

review, even roughly, the reasons for the decision, and in the event

that the matter is presented to these bodies there will still be an

obligation on the Supreme Court to give reasons for its decisions

(supplementally).
 

In the

case law of the European Court of Human Rights, it is up to each state

how to arrange its court system and the relationships between its

individuals levels. If so-called extraordinary means of redress were not

permitted at all, no doubt such a framework should stand from that

point of view, and from the point of view of constitutional law. On the

other hand, if such means are permitted, in a state governed by the rule

of law their framework should be fundamentally identical for all types

of court proceedings, or differ only if there are reasonable grounds for

it. However, a comparison of the requirements which must be contained

in a decision on an appeal on a point of law in civil and criminal

proceedings, or the requirements which the Administrative Procedure Code

requires for decisions on a cassation complaint, shows significant

differences, and their rationale is not clear to the Constitutional

Court.      
 

If the Supreme

Court denies an appeal on a point of law in criminal proceedings, it is

required by law to briefly state the reason for the denial, with a

reference to the circumstance relating to the statutory grounds for

denial(§ 265i par. 2 of the Criminal Procedure Code). The commentary to

the Criminal Procedure Code says that the defining element – brevity –

will necessary be affected by the grounds for the denial. More extensive

explanations of reasons are required, according to the commentary, for

grounds listed in § 265i par. 1 let. b),c), and particularly f), that

is, if it is to be explained why a particular question is not of

fundamental legal significance. Thus, a comparison of the requirements

for providing a reasoning in a decision on an appeal on a point of law

in civil proceedings indicates that, in terms of the requirements for

the reasons for its decision, the Supreme Court can decide quite

differently on matters of basically the same character. Comparing these

different requirements for reasons in decisions on appeals on points of

law with the requirements for a decision by the Supreme Administrative

Court on a cassation complaint shows that § 55 par. 4 of the

Administrative Procedure Code permits omitting reasons only in a

decision which does not terminate the proceedings and which does not

impose obligations on anyone. It does not permit a verdict without

reasons (§ 54). In view of the fact that under § 120 of the

Administrative Procedure Code the provisions of part three chapter one

of the Administrative Procedure Code are applied commensurately to

proceedings on a cassation complaint, one can conclude that the Supreme

Administrative Court must always give reasons for a decision on a

cassation complaint.
 

It is

evident from the foregoing that in various proceedings before courts of

the same state, in a procedural situation which is, if not identical,

very similar (the party to the proceedings seeks the annulment of an

effective court decision on grounds of incorrect legal evaluation, or

asks the highest body in the court system to address a question which

the party to the proceedings considers to be fundamental and as yet

unresolved) the party to the proceedings can not be treated differently

unless reasonable grounds for such action are evident.      
The

Constitutional Court believes that the argument that denying an appeal

on a point of law in civil court proceedings without giving reasons will

contribute to courts making decisions in an appropriate time (which is

undoubtedly a legitimate aim) will also not stand. Limiting the right of

a party in appellate proceedings on a point of law in civil matters to

learn the reason why the Supreme Court decided as it did can only

minimally serve the declared aim (if at all). Stating brief reasons on

which the Supreme Court based its denial decision (e.g. citations of the

Court’s cases which address the matter and which the court found no

reason to change or deviate from) can not significantly burden the

Supreme Court, and thus they can not significantly influence the overall

length of court proceedings; thus limiting the rights of a party to

appellate proceedings on a point of law appears to be clearly

disproportionate to the aim pursued. In this regard we can also point to

the opinion expressed in the decision by the European Court of Human

Rights in the case of Delcourt (1970 A 11, § 25), that in a democratic

society, the right to a fair administration of justice holds such a

prominent place, that it can not be sacrificed for convenience. Justice

must not only be done, it must also be seen to be done.     
 

For

the foregoing reasons the Plenum of the Constitutional Court decided to

annul § 243c par. 2 of the CPC due to its inconsistency with the

principles of a state governed by the rule of law (Art. 1 of the

Constitution), as well as with the principle of equality (Art. 1 of the

Charter), as the Constitutional Court has interpreted these principles

in its existing case law; it did not find grounds to delay the

enforceability of this decision.

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

Brno, 11 February 2004