CASE OF MUDR. VLADIMÍR GERGEL, S.R.O. v. SLOVAKIA (European Court of Human Rights) Application no. 48858/20

FIRST SECTION
CASE OF MUDR. VLADIMÍR GERGEL, S.R.O. v. SLOVAKIA
(Application no. 48858/20)
JUDGMENT
STRASBOURG
22 July 2021

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

In the case of MUDr. Vladimír Gergel, s.r.o. v. Slovakia,

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

Erik Wennerström, President,
Lorraine Schembri Orland,
Ioannis Ktistakis, judges,
and Viktoriya Maradudina, Acting Deputy Section Registrar,

Having deliberated in private on 1 July 2021,

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

PROCEDURE

1. The case originated in an application against Slovakia lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) on 26 October 2020.

2. The applicant, a private company with its registered seat in Slovakia, was represented by Mr O. Urban, a lawyer practising in Bratislava.

3. The Government of the Slovak Republic (“the Government”) were given notice of the application.

THE FACTS

4. The applicant company’s details and information relevant to the application are set out in the appended table.

5. The applicant company complained of the excessive length of civil proceedings no. 23 Cr 22/2016 before the Bratislava V. District Court (“the district court”). The impugned proceedings started on 27 September 2016 upon the applicant company’s action and, based on the information available to the Court, they are still pending at the first instance level for the part concerning the costs.

6. In its judgment no. II. ÚS 316/2020 of 24 September 2020, the Constitutional Court found a violation of the applicant company’s right to a hearing within a reasonable time, ordered the district court to proceed without delay and awarded the applicant company 500 euros (EUR) in compensation.

7. Following the Constitutional Court’s judgment, the district court issued the judgment on the merits on 12 October 2020 (final on 11 November 2020) and its decision on the costs on 25 January 2021. On 24 February 2021 the applicant company appealed against the latter decision. The proceedings are pending.

THE LAW

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

8. The applicant company complained that the length of the civil proceedings in question had been incompatible with the “reasonable time” requirement and that the just satisfaction awarded by the Constitutional Court had been insufficient. It relied on Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which reads as follows:

Article 6 § 1

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

9. The Government submitted that in respect of the period of the proceedings examined by the Constitutional Court, that is until 24 September 2020, the applicant company could no longer be considered a “victim” given the explicit acknowledgement of the violation by the Constitutional Court, the acceleratory effect of its judgment and the financial compensation awarded. As for the period of the proceedings following the Constitutional Court’s judgment (and relating to the costs), the applicant company had, in the Government’s view, failed to lodge a fresh constitutional complaint and thereby exhaust domestic remedies.

10. The Court observes that in the present case the applicant company’s status as a “victim” depends on whether the redress afforded to it at the domestic level was adequate and sufficient having regard to Article 41 of the Convention. This issue falls to be determined in the light of the principles established under the Court’s case law (see Scordino v. Italy (no. 1) [GC], no. 36813/97, §§ 178-213, ECHR 2006‑V, and Cocchiarella v. Italy [GC], no. 64886/01, §§ 69-98, ECHR 2006‑V).

11. At the time of the Constitutional Court’s examination of the relevant part of the proceedings, on 24 September 2020, the proceedings had lasted almost four years before a single judicial instance. The Constitutional Court awarded the applicant company EUR 500 in compensation, which is less than twenty-five percent of what the Court would generally award in a similar situation in a Slovakian case (see Šidlová v. Slovakia, no. 50224/99, § 58, 26 September 2006; Kuril v. Slovakia, no. 63959/00, § 36, 3 October 2006; and Solárová and Others v. Slovakia, no. 77690/01, § 40, 5 December 2006). Since the Constitutional Court’s judgment, the proceedings have been pending for some eight months (including the part on the costs) and based on the information available to the Court, they have still not been completed. In these circumstances, the redress obtained by the applicant company at the domestic level must be considered as insufficient (see Scordino (no. 1), cited above, §§ 205-206 and 214-215). The applicant company can accordingly still claim to be a “victim” of a breach of the “reasonable time” requirement and the Government’s objection in this respect should be dismissed.

12. The Court further observes that the Constitutional Court explicitly ordered the district court to proceed with the applicant company’s case without further delay. In these circumstances, the applicant company was also not required, for the purpose of Article 35 § 1 of the Convention, to file a fresh constitutional complaint if it was of the opinion that the district court had failed to comply with that order (see Kuril, cited above, § 37).

13. The period to be taken into consideration began on 27 September 2016 and has not yet ended. It has lasted more than four and a half years.

14. 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 Frydlender v. France [GC], no. 30979/96, § 43, ECHR 2000-VII).

15. In the leading case of Obluk v. Slovakia (no. 69484/01, 20 September 2006), the Court already found a violation in respect of issues similar to those in the present case.

16. Having examined all the material submitted to it, the Court has not found any fact or argument capable of justifying the overall length of the proceedings at the national level. 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.

17. These complaints are therefore admissible and disclose a breach of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION

18. 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.”

19. Regard being had to the documents in its possession and to its case‑law (see, in particular, Obluk v. Slovakia, cited above), the Court considers it reasonable to award the sums indicated in the appended table.

20. 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. Declares the application admissible;

2. Holds that this application discloses a breach of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention concerning the excessive length of civil proceedings;

3. Holds

(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicant company, within three months, the amounts indicated in the appended table;

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

Done in English, and notified in writing on 22 July 2021, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.

Viktoriya Maradudina                                   Erik Wennerström
Acting Deputy Registrar                                    President

_____________

APPENDIX
Application raising complaints under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention
(excessive length of civil proceedings)

Application no.

Date of introduction

Applicant’s name

Year of registration 

Representative’s name and location Start of proceedings End of proceedings Total length

Levels of jurisdiction

Domestic court

File number

Domestic award

(in euros)

Amount awarded for pecuniary and non‑pecuniary damage per applicant

(in euros)[1]

Amount awarded for costs and expenses per application

(in euros)[2]

48858/20

26/10/2020

MUDR. VLADIMÍR GERGEL, S.R.O.

2006

Ondrej Urban

Bratislava

26/09/2016 pending More than 4 years and 8 months

1 level of jurisdiction

Constitutional Court II. US 316/2020

 

500

2,800 250

[1] Plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicant.
[2] Plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicant.

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