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Judgment I. ÚS 1154/21 of 23 February 2020 - Assessment of the State’s liability for the length of proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights

Headnotes:

The Czech Republic is not liable for the length of proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights, which is a body of an independent international organization. The state has no control over its activities. It is therefore not a violation of Article 36.3 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (right to compensation for damage caused to an applicant as a result of an incorrect official procedure) or Article 6.1 of the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (right to a fair trial), if the court does not include the length of the proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights in the overall length of the proceedings, for which the applicant can claim damages.

 

Summary:

I. The case originated in 2007, when an action was filed with the regional court. Five years later, in 2012, the European Court of Human Rights found that the right of the applicants – “squeezed-out shareholders” – to access to court pursuant to Article 6.1 ECHR had been violated. Following Upon the applicants’ de novo application, the proceedings in the matter were reopened before the Constitutional Court, setting aside the original decisions on the applicants’ constitutional complaints.

Subsequently, the applicants sought compensation from the State before the district court for non-pecuniary damage caused by maladministration of justice, namely the disproportionate length of the proceedings, which were still pending at the time when the action for damages was filed. The district court partially granted the applicants’ claim and awarded each of them compensation for non-pecuniary damage in the amount of CZK 130,000 with appurtenances. The appellate court overturned the decision of the district court and dismissed the applicants’ claim. It concluded that length of the proceedings on the de novo application should not be taken into account when assessing the adequacy of the length of the proceedings. The municipal court held that it was not possible to count the time from the finally completed proceedings until the moment when the Constitutional Court granted the de novo application. Nor was there any reason to include in the overall length of the proceedings the time when the case was before the European Court of Human Rights, as it itself awarded the applicants monetary compensation. The proceedings before the Czech courts did not take an unreasonably long time. The Supreme Court dismissed the applicants’ application as inadmissible.

II. The Constitutional Court agreed that the overall length of the original proceedings for the purpose of compensating non-pecuniary damage for maladministration of justice cannot include the period of the proceedings pending before the European Court of Human Rights. The Constitutional Court however based its judgment on different reasons than ordinary courts. The State cannot be held liable for the length of proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights for these reasons:

For there to be international liability for wrongful acts, two cumulative conditions must be satisfied - the existence of a wrongful act of a subject of international law which is attributable to it. Neither condition was met in this case. Firstly, there was no legal title based on which an individual could seek damages against the Czech Republic for the length of the proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights, as there was no legal basis for exercising any such claim. The European Court of Human Rights is not bound by Czech law, nor does the Convention imply an obligation of the European Court of Human Rights to have the capacity to decide within a reasonable time span or that the State concerned will be liable for failure to comply with any such obligation. In addition, there is no judicial body hierarchically superior to the European Court of Human Rights, which would be empowered to assess the length of proceedings before European Court of Human Rights. Entrusting such competence to national courts would contradict the meaning and purpose of the very existence of the European Court of Human Rights. Secondly, the Constitutional Court noted that the mere membership of the Czech Republic of an international organisation does not establish its liability for wrongful acts of the international organisation. The State is only liable for actions of the bodies over whose activities it has control.

However, the Constitutional Court agreed with some of the applicants’ arguments and concluded that parts of the reasoning of the contested judgments of municipal court and Supreme Court were unconvincing and illogical. The Constitutional Court held that the courts’ comparison of the present case with retrial in civil or criminal matters is undue. The Constitutional Court pointed out the differences between the two legal institutes and emphasised that retrial in civil or criminal matters be compared with the reopening of proceedings under Section 119 et seq. of the Act on the Constitutional Court, which aims to secure national enforcement of decisions of international court.

Nonetheless, the Constitutional Court did not find the constitutional complaint to be justified, having arrived at the conclusion that the Czech Republic cannot be held liable for the length of proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights; thus, the length of these proceedings cannot be included in the assessment of the overall length of the original proceedings. Although the courts based their decisions on different grounds from the Constitutional Court and although these grounds were declared as incorrect by the Constitutional Court, this conclusion could not challenge the outcome of the contested court proceedings. Since the assessment of the merits of the constitutional complaint rested solely on question whether the length of proceedings before national courts was adequate, the courts came to a well-founded conclusion that the length of the proceedings was not disproportionate with respect to the complexity and other relevant circumstances.

For this reason, the Constitutional Court dismissed the constitutional complaint as unfounded.

III. Jaromír Jirsa served as the Justice Rapporteur in the instant case. None of the Justices submitted a dissenting opinion.