Kamenova v. Bulgaria (European Court of Human Rights)

Information Note on the Court’s case-law 220
July 2018

Kamenova v. Bulgaria62784/09

Judgment 12.7.2018 [Section V]

Article 6
Civil proceedings
Article 6-1
Access to court

Inadmissibility of applicant’s civil claim for failure to respect statutory limitation period: no violation

Facts – In 1997 the applicant’s daughter was killed in a traffic accident which had several victims. In 1999 the lorry driver responsible for the accident was convicted. In 2001, after his conviction had been quashed and the case remitted for a fresh examination, the applicant filed her compensation claim. In 2006 she was awarded damages, however, in 2007 the award was quashed and her claim was declared inadmissible on the grounds that it had been submitted out of time, that is, after the remittal of the case and not before its initial examination by a court of first instance, as required by the Code of Criminal Procedure. Later that year, the applicant brought a tort action against the driver before the civil courts. It was dismissed as time-barred, given that the statutory five-year limitation period had expired in 2002 and the applicant’s belated claim brought in the context of the criminal proceedings in 2001 could not have interrupted its running.

Law – Article 6 § 1: Although the existence of a limitation period was not per se incompatible with the Convention, the application of such statutory limitation periods had to be foreseeable for the claimants, having regard to the relevant legislation, case-law and the particular circumstances.

The Code of Criminal Procedure stated expressly that any civil claim had to be brought before the commencement of the examination of the case by the court of first instance, and case-law accepting exceptions to that rule was scarce. The applicant should thus have been aware in 2001, when she had brought her civil action in the criminal proceedings, only after a remittal of the case, that she ran a risk to have that action declared inadmissible. Moreover, the civil courts, seized by the applicant in 2007, had held, pursuant to the relevant domestic law provisions, that the bringing of such an inadmissible claim could not have interrupted the running of the limitation period, which had already expired in 2002. Accordingly, the application of the rules on limitation periods had been sufficiently foreseeable.

The applicant had not presented any explanation as for why she had failed to put forward her claim in the initial set of the criminal proceedings nor referred to any obstruction on her right of access to a court at that time. Furthermore, the possibility of bringing a separate claim before the civil court had remained open to her until the expiration of the limitation period in 2002. Even though the examination of such a claim would have been stayed to await the conclusion of the criminal proceedings as to the driver’s guilt, it had not been argued that the delay thus incurred would, in itself, impermissibly restrict the applicant’s right to access to a court, nor that the civil courts would in any way be prevented from examining the merits of the applicant’s claim. Despite the existence of two clearly available avenues to seek the examination of her claim, she had taken the risk to bring a potentially inadmissible action in the criminal proceedings after the remittal of the case.

It was true that the national courts could be criticised for the manner in which they had treated the case. In particular, in 2001, once the regional court had erroneously accepted to examine the applicant’s claim in the criminal proceedings, the applicant had been prevented, under domestic law, from bringing the same claim before the civil courts. That claim had remained pending before the criminal courts until 2007, long after the expiry of the limitation period. It was only after it had been found inadmissible that the applicant had been able to initiate separate civil proceedings. If the regional court had refused to accept the claim for examination, or had it been declared inadmissible on an earlier date, or had the criminal courts transferred it to the civil courts following the available procedure, the applicant could have been able to bring her claim before the civil courts in due time and have it examined on the merits.

However, the mistakes on the part of the national courts could not alter the fact that the applicant had failed, without any justification, to make use of the clear and indisputable possibilities to have her claimed duly examined. By failing to bring her claim for damage before the criminal courts at the start of the procedure, as the other victims of the traffic accident had done, and by not filing her claim later directly with the civil courts, the applicant had placed herself in a position where she had risked having it declared time-barred. It could therefore not be said that the statutory limitation period or the manner in which it had been interpreted or applied by the national courts had impaired the very essence of the applicant’s right of access to a court.

Conclusion: no violation (four votes to three).

(See also Baničević v. Croatia (dec.), 44252/10, 2 October 2012)

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