Barta And Drajko v Hungary: ECHR 17 Dec 2013

Article 46-2
Execution of judgment
Measures of a general character
Respondent State required to provide genuine effective relief for violations of the right to trial within a reasonable time
Facts – In 2006 and 2008, respectively, the applicants were interrogated as suspects on charges of tax fraud. In 2008 criminal proceedings were initiated against them for tax fraud and other related crimes. The first hearing was held in 2011. Two further hearings were held in the same year and one in 2012. In 2012 a district court found the applicants guilty as charged and fined them, respectively, approximately EUR 2,000 and EUR 1,000. Before the European Court the applicants complained that the criminal proceedings against them had been excessively long.
Law – Article 6-1
(a) Admissibility
(i) Exhaustion of domestic remedies – The Government argued that the applicants had failed to exhaust domestic remedies as they had not made a complaint under section 262/B of the Code of Criminal Procedure to expedite the proceedings. The Court recalled that, as the effectiveness of a remedy to accelerate proceedings could depend on whether it had a significant effect on the length of proceedings as a whole, where proceedings included a substantial period during which there was no possibility of accelerating them, such remedy could not be considered effective. In the applicant’s case, criminal proceedings included a substantial period during which, according to the law in force, there had been no possibility to accelerate them by making a complaint. Furthermore, the Code of Criminal Procedure did not provide specific time-limits for the key phases of criminal proceedings, with the exception of cases of particular importance. Moreover, as the Government had not demonstrated that the legal avenue referred to was indeed capable of accelerating the proceedings or securing compensation for delays already occurred, the effectiveness of the remedy in question remained uncertain. Finally, since a complaint for accelerating the proceedings had no binding effect on the court concerned, nor was its eventual rejection subject to an appeal, it could not have any significant effect on expediting the proceedings as a whole. In light of the above, the remedy suggested by the Government could not be regarded as an effective one to be exhausted in cases of protracted criminal proceedings.
Conclusion: preliminary objection dismissed (unanimously).
(ii) Victim status – The Government referred to the fact that the district court had taken the long duration of the proceedings into consideration as a mitigating circumstance in sentencing the applicants. In this regard, the Court noted that the district court’s judgment had not stated the elements that had been taken into consideration in sentencing or whether – and if so, how – the duration of the proceedings had been taken into account as a mitigating factor. Therefore, even assuming that the imposition of mere fines had corresponded to the undue length of the criminal proceedings, the measure did not fulfil the other requirement for removal of the applicants’ victim status, namely the acknowledgement of a breach of Article 6-1 of the Convention. Consequently, the applicants could still claim to be victims of an alleged violation of Article 6-1.
Conclusion: preliminary objection dismissed (unanimously).
(b) Merits: The Court observed that the applicants’ proceedings lasted, respectively, six years and three months and four years and three months for one level of jurisdiction. Having regard to its case-law on the subject, the Court considered that the length of the proceedings had been excessive and failed to meet the ‘reasonable time’ requirement.
Conclusion: violation (unanimously).
Article 46: The violation of the applicants’ right to a trial within a reasonable time constituted a systemic problem in Hungary resulting from inadequate legislation and inefficiency in the administration of justice. Although it was in principle not for the Court to determine what remedial measures could be appropriate to satisfy the respondent State’s obligations under Article 46 of the Convention, in view of the systemic situation which it had identified, general measures at national level, which must take into account the large number of persons affected, were undoubtedly called for in execution of the present judgment. In this regard, in order to assist the respondent State to comply with its obligations under Article 46, the Court reiterated that it had already clarified States’ obligations with regard to the characteristics and effectiveness of legal avenues created to remedy complaints concerning excessive length of judicial proceedings. To prevent future violations of the right to a trial within a reasonable time, the respondent State was therefore encouraged to take all appropriate steps, preferably by amending the existing range of legal remedies or creating new ones, to secure genuinely effective redress for violations similar to the present one.
Article 41: EUR 3,000 to the first applicant and EUR 2,000 to the second applicant in respect of non-pecuniary damage.

35729/12 – Chamber Judgment, [2013] ECHR 1293, 35729/12 – Legal Summary, [2013] ECHR 1364
Bailii, Bailii
European Convention on Human Rights

Human Rights, Litigation Practice

Updated: 28 November 2021; Ref: scu.519691