CASE OF ANDERSONE v. LATVIA (European Court of Human Rights)

FIFTH SECTION
CASE OF ANDERSONE v. LATVIA
(Application no. 301/12)

JUDGMENT
STRASBOURG
5 September 2019

This judgment is final but it may be subject to editorial revision.

In the case of Andersone v. Latvia,

The European Court of Human Rights (Fifth Section), sitting as a Committee composed of:

André Potocki, President,
Mārtiņš Mits,
Lәtif Hüseynov, judges,

and Milan Blaško, Deputy Section Registrar,

Having deliberated in private on 9 July 2019,

Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:

PROCEDURE

1.  The case originated in an application (no. 301/12) against the Republic of Latvia lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Latviannational, Ms TatjanaAndersone (“the applicant”), on 7 December 2011.

2.  The Latvian Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Ms K. Līce.

3.  On 2 April 2014 notice of the complaint concerning the length of proceedings was given to the Government and the remainder of the application was declared inadmissiblepursuant to Rule 54 § 3 of the Rules of Court.

THE FACTS

4.  The applicant was born in 1978 and lives in Kalnciems.

5.  On 11 October 1999 the applicant lodged a defamation claim against two police officers and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Judges of two district courts recused themselves from the case. On 10 February 2000 the Bauska District Court received the case and began the examination.

6.  On 22 November 2001 the proceedings were suspended so that the applicant could obtain an expert opinion. On 4 February 2002 the Bauska District Court invited the applicant to fulfil her obligation to cover the expenses and submit a voice sample, which was neededfor the experts to carry out an assessment.On 25 May 2002 the Bauska District Court requested the applicant to provide information as to whether those duties had been complied with. It also noted that this delay was protracting the examination of the case. On 1 June 2002 the applicantinformed the court about her difficulties in paying approximately 150 Latvian lati (LVL), (approximately 213 euros (EUR)),required for the expert opinion and explained that she needed more time to collect the money. The voice sample was submitted on 19 August 2003 and the expert opinion was obtained on 10 September 2003. On 29 January 2004 the Bauska District Court resumed the examination of the case.

7.  In the meantime, on20 January 2004 the applicant amended her initial claim by increasing the amount of the compensation requested. As a result,the jurisdiction of the dispute changed and on 29 January 2004 the case was sent to the Riga Regional Court for a fresh examination sitting as a first-instance court.

8.  By a judgment of 7 March 2007 the Riga RegionalCourt dismissed the applicant’s claim. That judgment was upheld by the appellate court on 8 April 2010 and by the Civil Cases Departmentof the Supreme Court on 28 September 2011.

9.  Overall, on three occasions the court hearings were postponed solely because of the unjustified absences of the applicant or her representative, or because of the representative’s inability to participate in the hearing resulting in a delay of nearly 10 months. On seven occasions the hearings werepostponed because of the illness or absence for work-related commitments of a judge and on two occasions because the domestic courts had failed to properly inform the applicant’s representative about the hearings, thusresulting in an overalldelay of more than three years.Furthermore, the applicant’s appeal against the Riga Regional Court’s judgement was received on 26 March 2007; the first hearing was scheduled one and a half year later, on 23 September 2008. As regards the cassation proceedings, the case was sent to the Supreme Court on 24 May 2010 and the judgement was delivered in written proceedings on 28 September 2011, it is, more than one year and four months later.

THE LAW

I.  THE GOVERNMENT’S REQUEST FOR THE APPLICATION TO BE STRUCK OUT UNDER ARTICLE 37 OF THE CONVENTION

10.  After unsuccessful friendly-settlement negotiations, on 10 July 2014 the Government submitted a unilateral declaration with a view to resolving the issues raised by the present application in accordance with Article 37 of the Convention.

11.  By a letter of 12 August 2014 the applicant expressed her disagreement with the terms of the unilateral declaration.

12.  The Court recalls that it may be appropriate in certain circumstances to strike out an application under Article 37 § 1 on the basis of a unilateral declaration by the respondent Government even where the applicant wishes the examination of the case to be continued. Whether this is appropriate in a particular case depends on whether the unilateral declaration offers a sufficient basis for finding that respect for human rights as defined in the Convention does not require the Court to continue its examination of the case (see Tahsin Acar v. Turkey (preliminary issue) [GC],no. 26307/95, § 75, ECHR 2003‑VI).

13.  Considering the particular circumstances of the case and the compensation proposed, the Court findsthat the Government have failed to provide a sufficient basis for concluding that respect for human rights as defined in the Convention and its Protocols does not require it to continue the examination of the case (see,mutatis mutandis, Magoch v. Poland, no. 29539/07, § 19, 2 February 2010, and Kurs v. Ukraine [Committee], no. 48956/06, § 8, 4 May 2017).

14.  Therefore, the Court rejects the Government’s request to strike the application out of its list of cases under Article 37 of the Convention and will accordingly pursue its examination of the admissibility and merits of the case.

II.  ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 § 1 OF THE CONVENTION

15.  The applicant complained that the length of proceedings had been incompatible with the “reasonable time” requirement, laid down in Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which reads as follows:

“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations …, everyone is entitled to a … hearing within a reasonable time by … tribunal…”

A.  Admissibility

16.  The Court notes that this complaint is not manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 (a) of the Convention. It further notes that it is not inadmissible on any other grounds. It must therefore be declared admissible.

B.  Merits

17.  The Court reiterates that the reasonableness of the length of proceedings must be assessed in the light of the circumstances of the case and with reference to the following criteria: the complexity of the case, the conduct of the applicant and the relevant authorities and what was at stake for the applicant in the dispute (see, among many other authorities, Frydlender v. France [GC], no. 30979/96, § 43, ECHR 2000-VII).Only delays attributable to the State may justify a finding of failure to comply with the “reasonable time” requirement (see Humen v. Poland [GC], no. 26614/95, § 66, 15 October 1999). With respect to the conduct of the applicant the Court has held that the person concerned is required only to show diligence in carrying out the procedural steps relating to him/her, to refrain from using delaying tactics and to avail himself/herself of the scope afforded by domestic law for shortening the proceedings (see Unión Alimentaria Sanders S.A. v. Spain, 7 July 1989, § 35, Series A no. 157).

18.  The period to be taken into consideration began on 11 October 1999 and ended on 28 September 2011. It thus lasted nearly 12 years at three levels of jurisdiction.

19.  The Court observes that the civil case was not complex. The postponements caused by the unjustified absences of the applicantor her representative did not contribute significantly to the length of the proceedings(see § 9 above). As regards the amending of the initial claim, the applicant could have foreseen and should have consideredthat, under the domestic law regulation at the given time, it will trigger a fresh examination of the case.Furthermore, the Court considers that the applicant did not show the necessary diligence in carrying out the procedural stepsrequired to obtain the expert opinion since she failed to submit the necessary voice sample in a timely manner.While the Court does not consider that the applicant could be faulted for her inability to cover the expenses for the expert opinion, the delays caused due to this and other reasonsdescribed above cannot be attributable to the State either.

20.  As to the conduct ofthe State authorities, they were responsible forthe postponement of nine hearings amounting to a delay of more than three years and other nearly three years ofperiods of inactivity before the appellateand Supreme Court that significantly contributed to the overall excessive length of proceedings. The Court has frequently found violations of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention in cases raising issues similar to the one in the present case (see Frydlender, cited above).

21.  Having examined all the material submitted to it, the Court considers that the Government have not put forward any fact or argument capable of persuading it to reach a different conclusion in the present case. The applicant’s conduct, cannot justify the overall conduct and notable delays in the examination of the case by the State authorities. Having regard to its case-law on the subject, the Court considers that in the instant case the length of the proceedings was excessive and failed to meet the “reasonable time” requirement.

There has accordingly been a breach of Article 6 § 1.

III.  APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION

22.  Article 41 of the Convention provides:

“If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.”

A.  Damage, costs and expenses

23.  The applicant claimed50,000 Latvian lati (LVL) (approximately 71,144 euros (EUR)) in respect of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage. She did not claim any costs and expenses incurred before the domestic courts or this Court.

24.  The Government did not express an opinion on the matter.

25.  The Court does not discern any causal link between the violation found and the pecuniary damage alleged; it therefore rejects this claim. On the other hand, the Court considers that the applicant must have sustained non-pecuniary damage. Ruling on an equitable basis, and taking into account that some of delays were not attributable to the State;it awards the applicant EUR 6,000 under that head.

B.  Default interest

26.  The Court considers it appropriate that the default interest rate should be based on the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank, to which should be added three percentage points.

FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT, UNANIMOUSLY,

1.  Rejectsthe Government’sunilateraldeclarationand their request to strike the application out of the Court’s list of cases;

2.  Declares the complaint concerning the length of proceedings admissible;

3.  Holdsthat there has been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention;

4.  Holds

(a)  that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months, EUR 6,000 (six thousand euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage;

(b)  that from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement simple interest shall be payable on the above amount at a rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank during the default period plus three percentage points;

5.  Dismissesthe remainder of the applicant’s claim for just satisfaction.

Done in English, and notified in writing on 5 September 2019, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.

Milan Blaško                                                                      André Potocki
DeputyRegistrar                                                                        President

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