CASE OF ROSSI v. ITALY (European Court of Human Rights) Application no. 21844/10

The case concerns legislative intervention in the course of ongoing proceedings. In particular, the applicant complained, under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, that the enactment of Law no. 296/2006 had denied her the right to a fair trial.


FIRST SECTION
CASE OF ROSSI v. ITALY
(Application no. 21844/10)
JUDGMENT
STRASBOURG
14 October 2021

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

In the case of Rossi v. Italy,

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

Péter Paczolay, President,
Gilberto Felici,
Raffaele Sabato, judges,
and Liv Tigerstedt, Deputy Section Registrar,

Having regard to:

the application (no. 21844/10) against the Italian Republic lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by an Italian national, Ms Albertina Rossi (“the applicant”), on 14 April 2010;

the decision to give notice to the Italian Government (“the Government”) of the complaint concerning legislative interference with pending proceedings and to declare inadmissible the remainder of the application;

the parties’ observations;

Having deliberated in private on 21 September 2021,

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

INTRODUCTION

1. The case concerns legislative intervention in the course of ongoing proceedings. In particular, the applicant complained, under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, that the enactment of Law no. 296/2006 had denied her the right to a fair trial.

THE FACTS

2. The applicant was born in 1949 and lives in Mazzo Valtellina. She was represented by Mrs E. Fatuzzo, a lawyer practising in Bergamo.

3. The Government were represented by their former Agent, Mrs E. Spatafora, and their former co-Agent, Mrs M. L. Aversano.

4. The circumstances of the case are analogous to those described in Maggio and Others v. Italy (nos. 46286/09 and 4 others, 31 May 2011) and Stefanetti and Others v. Italy (merits) (nos. 21838/10 and 7 others, 15 April 2014).

5. On an unspecified date the applicant’s late husband, E.G.R., who had transferred to Italy the pension contributions he had paid in Switzerland, lodged an application with the Istituto Nazionale della Previdenza Sociale (“INPS”) for his pension to be recalculated, in accordance with the 1962 Italo-Swiss Social Security Convention (see “Relevant legal framework and practice” below and the authorities cited therein), on the basis of the contributions he had paid in Switzerland in respect of work that he had performed there over several years. As a basis for the calculation of his pension (in respect of his average remuneration over the final five years of his working life), the INPS employed a theoretical level of remuneration (“retribuzione teorica”) instead of the actual remuneration (“retribuzione effettiva”). The former resulted in a readjustment on the basis of the existing ratio between the social security contributions paid in, respectively, Switzerland (8%) and in Italy (32.7%), which meant that the calculation had as its basis a notional salary, which, according to E.G.R., led him to receive a pension equal to one fourth of the pension he should have received.

6. The INPS dismissed E.G.R.’s application. Consequently, in June 2006, E.G.R. lodged a claim with the Sondrio District Court (the body responsible for labour and social security disputes), contending that the calculation was contrary to the spirit of the Italo-Swiss Convention.

7. When the relevant proceedings before the Sondrio District Court were pending, Law no. 296 of 27 December 2006 (“Law no. 296/2006”) entered into force on 1 January 2007.

8. E.G.R. died in November 2008. His lawyer did not declare his death at trial and the proceedings continued as if he was still alive.

9. On 30 November 2009, the Sondrio District Court dismissed E.G.R.’s claim on the basis of Law no. 296/2006.

RELEVANT LEGAL FRAMEWORK

10. The relevant domestic law and practice concerning the case are to be found in Maggio and Others (cited above, §§ 27-35) and in Stefanetti and Others (merits) (cited above, §§ 13-27).

11. The relevant parts of the Articles of the Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) read:

Article 110 – Legal succession in respect of proceedings (Successione nel processo)

If a party to an action [is unable to further participate in that action] owing to [his or her] death or for another reason, the proceedings [in question] are continued by his universal successor …

Article 299 – Party’s death or loss or capacity prior to appearing before a judge (Morte o perdita della capacità prima della costituzione)

If, before joining the proceedings before the registry or before the judge in charge of the preparation of the proceedings in question, one of the parties or his legal representative dies …, the proceedings shall be interrupted …

Article 300 – Death or loss of capacity on the part of a party appearing before a judge or by a party that fails to appear (Morte o perdita della capacità della parte costituita o del contumace)

If any of the events described in the previous Article arises in respect of a party who has joined the proceedings while represented by his lawyer, the latter declares the occurrence of that event at the hearing or notifies the other parties thereof. The proceedings shall be interrupted from the time of such a declaration or notification … Should the party who joined the proceedings be unrepresented, the proceedings shall be interrupted from the time of the [occurrence of the] event [in question]. ….

12. The Court of Cassation, sitting as a full court (Sezioni Unite), stated in its judgment no. 15295 of 4 July 2014 (see also, among others, judgments no. 710 of 18 January 2016 and no. 24845 of 9 October 2018) that, in case of the death of a party who has joined the proceedings through a lawyer, the fact that the latter does not declare the party’s death at trial does not lead to the interruption of the proceedings, which continue by and against the original parties as if the interruptive event had not taken place. As a consequence, all the legal effects of the trial – as well as all the other legal relationships of the deceased – pass on the heirs, even in the event that they were unaware of the pending trial.

THE LAW

I. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 6 OF THE CONVENTION

13. The applicant complained that legislative intervention – namely the enactment of Law no. 296/2006, which altered the well-established relevant case-law while proceedings were still pending – had denied her the right, as E.G.R.’s heir, to a fair hearing in accordance with Article 6 § 1 of the Convention, which reads as follows:

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

A. Admissibility

14. The Government disputed the applicant’s locus standi, arguing that she had not been a party to the domestic proceedings.

15. The applicant contested that argument.

16. The Court has previously accepted that deceased applicants’ close relatives may maintain applications regarding complaints concerning various aspects of Article 6 of the Convention, provided that they have a sufficient interest in so doing (see Raimondo v. Italy, 22 February 1994, Series A no. 281‑A; Andreyeva v. Russia (dec.), no. 76737/01, 16 October 2003; Mihailov v. Bulgaria (dec.), no. 52367/99, 9 September 2004; Stojkovic v. “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, no. 14818/02, § 26, 8 November 2007; and Grosz v. France (dec.), no. 14717/06, 16 June 2009). In other cases concerning complaints under Articles 5, 6 or 8 the Court has been prepared to recognise the victim status and the standing of close relatives to submit an application where they have shown a material interest on the basis of the direct effect on their patrimonial rights (see Marie-Louise Loyen and Bruneel v. France, no. 55929/00, §§ 29-30, 5 July 2005; Ressegatti v. Switzerland, no. 17671/02, § 25, 13 July 2006; Milionis and Others v. Greece, no. 41898/04, §§ 23-25, 24 April 2008; and Ljajic v. Serbia, no. 58385/13, §§ 17-18, 21 July 2015).

17. In the present case, the Court notes that the applicant declared herself to be the heir of E.G.R. and that the Government did not contest that fact. Indeed they identified the applicant as E.G.R.’s heir. The Court furthermore notes that the applicant has a “definite pecuniary interest” in the proceedings at issue, given the fact that the alleged violation of Article 6 § 1 had a direct effect on her patrimonial rights in that a judgment in favour of her late husband would have affected her, as his heir (see paragraph 12 above).

18. With regard to the possibility of the applicant to take part in the proceedings, the Court notes that it has repeatedly stated that an applicant’s participation in the relevant domestic proceedings has been found to be only one of several relevant criteria (see Centre for Legal Resources on behalf of Valentin Câmpeanu v. Romania [GC], no. 47848/08, § 100, ECHR 2014, and the jurisprudence cited therein). In respect of the present case, the Court notes that E.G.R. died during the proceedings before the Sondrio District Court in November 2008, at a time where Law no. 296/2006 had already entered into force. The domestic courts were therefore required to apply Law no. 296/2006 in the proceedings before them (see Maggio and Others, cited above, § 44).

19. The Court further notes that in the absence of the declaration of E.G.R.’s death at trial, proceedings continued by and against the original parties, and that the legal consequences of the trial passed on to the applicant (see paragraph 12 above).

20. Given all the above, the Court finds that the applicant has standing to proceed with his application. Accordingly, the Government’s objection must be dismissed.

21. The Court furthermore notes that the application is neither manifestly ill-founded nor inadmissible on any other grounds listed in Article 35 of the Convention. It must therefore be declared admissible.

B. Merits

22. The applicant submitted that by means of the enactment of Law no. 296/2006 the Government had interfered in favour of one of the parties in pending proceedings. Law no. 296/2006 introduced an interpretation of the relevant legal provisions that was diametrically opposed to the meaning given to them by the established case-law of the Court of Cassation (particularly after its 2004 judgment – see Stefanetti and Others (merits), cited above, § 17).

23. The Government did not make any submissions on the merits of this complaint.

24. The Court observes that virtually identical circumstances gave rise to a violation of Article 6 in the cases of Maggio and Others (cited above) and Stefanetti and Others (merits) (cited above) and is satisfied that there is no reason to hold otherwise in the present application.

25. There has accordingly been a violation of Article 6 of the Convention.

II. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION

26. 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

27. The applicant claimed 285,118 euros (EUR) in respect of pecuniary damage and EUR 25,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

28. The Government disputed the applicant’s claims and the calculation criteria employed with regard to the pecuniary damage. They asserted that the difference between what should have been paid as a pension to E.G.R. in the absence of Law no. 296/2006 and the amount actually received amounted to EUR 194,411. With regard to non-pecuniary damage, the Government contested the applicant’s claims as excessive.

29. The Court notes that in the present case an award of just satisfaction can only be based on the fact that the applicant did not have the benefit of the guarantees of Article 6 in respect of the fairness of the proceedings. While the Court cannot speculate as to the outcome of the trial had the position been otherwise, it does not find it unreasonable to regard the applicant as having suffered a loss of real opportunities (see Maggio and Others, cited above, § 80). Having regard to the calculation made by the INPS (see Stefanetti and Others v. Italy (just satisfaction), nos. 21838/10 and 7 others, § 22, 1 June 2017), which took into account the difference between what should have been paid as a pension to E.G.R. had Law no. 296/2006 not come into effect, and the amount actually received, the Court awards, as a loss of real opportunities, EUR 9,721 to the applicant.

30. With regard to non-pecuniary damage, making its assessment on an equitable basis, as required by Article 41, the Court awards the applicant EUR 5,000 under this head.

B. Costs and expenses

31. The applicant also claimed a lump sum of EUR 10,000 for the costs and expenses incurred before the domestic courts and before the Court.

32. The Government contested the claim as excessive.

33. Regard being had to the documents in its possession and to its case-law, the Court considers it reasonable to award the sum of EUR 500, covering costs under all heads.

C. Default interest

34. 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 there has been a violation of Article 6 of the Convention;

3. Holds

(a) that the respondent State is to pay the applicant, within three months, the following amounts:

(i) EUR 9,721 (nine thousand seven hundred and twenty-one euros) in respect of pecuniary damage;

(ii) EUR 5,000 (five thousand euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable, in respect of non-pecuniary damage;

(iii) EUR 500 (five hundred euros), plus any tax that may be chargeable to the applicant, in respect of costs and expenses;

(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;

4. Dismisses the remainder of the applicant’s claims for just satisfaction.

Done in English, and notified in writing on 14 October 2021, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court.

Liv Tigerstedt                               Péter Paczolay
Deputy Registrar                              President

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