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ECtHR: Poland yet to solve problem of excessively lengthy proceedings

The European Court of Human Rights has entered a pilot judgment in the joined cases of Rutkowski and Others v. Poland. The Court has decided that the excessive length of the proceedings and the application of respective complaint procedure, which fail short of Convention standards, are a systemic problem in Poland. The cases resolved by the judgment are just a tip of an iceberg. Six hundred of similar matters await a hearing at the ECtHR.

In Rutkowski and Others v. Poland, the Strasbourg court examined three domestic cases which were pending for 8, 11 and 14 years. Polish courts awarded no compensation to two complaints, while the third one, Mr Rutkowski, received PLN 2,000 worth of compensation for excessively lengthy proceedings.

The ECtHR held that all three cases involved a violation of the right to have a hearing within a reasonable time, and the right to an effective remedy.

“The Court found that these violations had been a consequence of a judicial practice developed in Poland, which contravenes the standards of the ECtHR”, says Irmina Pacho, a lawyer at the HFHR. “This practice results in both excessively lengthy court proceedings, and too low monetary awards granted to persons bearing negative consequences of such excessive length of proceedings”, Ms Pacho adds.

The complaint against the excessive length of the proceedings was introduced in 2004, in the wake of an ECtHR judgment in which the Court criticised Poland for excessively lengthy court cases. The law governing the complaint was amended in 2009, when courts became obliged to award financial compensation in the event that the excessive length of the proceedings was shown; also, the maximum amount of the compensation was then increased up to PLN 20,000.

For a time, the courts struggled with the problem of how to assess the excessiveness of the length of proceedings; some judges considered proceedings as a whole, while some examined individual stages of dragging cases. Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that an assessment of the excessive length of judicial proceedings should cover the entire litigation. “One of the key effects of the ‘fragmented’ approach taken by courts in examining proceedings was awarding insufficient compensation”, Irmina Pacho says.

The ECtHR has emphasised that too low compensation awarded for delays in proceedings is a sign of a systemic problem that cannot be eliminated by a single resolution of the Supreme Court.

The ECtHR judgment issued in Rutkowski and Others v. Poland is a pilot judgment, which means that the Court has obliged Poland to take further action in order to ensure that the practice of Polish courts is brought in line with the Convention.

In entering the judgment, the Court communicated to the Government nearly 600 cases that involve violations similar to those alleged in the Rutkowski and Others judgment.

“Poland has two years to close all these cases by providing adequate compensation for complainants’ rights that have been violated”, Ms Pacho explains.

In proceedings before the ECtHR, one of the applicants was represented by Dr Adam Bodnar and Irmina Pacho, HFHR lawyers.

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