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Landmark judgment on excessive length of administrative proceedings

The Supreme Administrative Court has issued a judgment in a case concerning the excessive length of proceedings, which lasts for over ten years. The SAC relied on the standards of human rights protection well-established in the case law of the ECtHR. The HFHR has presented an amicus curiae opinion in the case.

In 2006 H.K. requested the Minister of Agriculture to declare invalidity of an administrative decision of 1979. The proceedings in this case have not yet been completed because for the last ten years all subsequent decisions made by the Minister have been annulled by administrative courts. When in July 2015 the Minister once again denied H.K.’s motion, he applied for the re-examination of the case. After an ineffective lapse of the time-limit for considering the motion, H.K. filed a complaint about the excessive length of the proceedings with the Provincial Administrative Court. However, several days later he received the decision of the Minister sustaining the decision to dismiss his application. It turned out it had been issued one day before the application was made. In March 2016, the PAC dismissed the H.K.’s complaint about the Minister’s inaction, stating that at the moment the complaint was filed the body had already issued a decision, thus it was not responsible for a delay. H.K. has filed a cassation appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court.

HFHR’s amicus curiae brief

In August 2016, the HFHR presented its amicus curiae brief to the SAC. “We pointed out that the interpretation of the PAC is incompatible with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights”, says Marcin Szwed, an HFHR lawyer. “In assessing whether a case of excessive duration occurred, the ECtHR takes into consideration proceedings as a whole, that is from their commencement to conclusion. Viewed from this angle, proceedings in the case of the motion of H.K. have not yet been completed but have been pending uninterruptedly for over ten years”, explains Marcin Szwed.

Justification of the Supreme Administrative Court

In its judgment of 2016, the SAC subscribed to the reasoning of the H.K.’s complaint in cassation and the HFHR’s brief and revoked the challenged judgment. It stated in the justification that, as a rule, a complaint for an excessive length of proceedings cannot be made if an authority has already issued an administrative decision and it has been served on a party. In the discussed case, the condition of effective service of process has not been satisfied. Furthermore, the PAC ignored the fact that the proceedings in the H.K.’s case have not yet been finished – in March 2016 the Minister’s decision was once again revoked by an administrative court. The complaint against the excessive length of proceedings is only inadmissible only after the proceedings are already concluded by a final ruling.

The SAC also noted that the current model of the complaint against the excessive length of administrative proceedings results in what is known as “fragmentation”, or focusing exclusively on the segment of the proceedings during which the complaint is filed, a practice criticised in the jurisprudence of the ECtHR. Regardless of the above, the PAC ruled that an assessment of the efficiency of the proceedings should extend to previous stages of the case and be based on an individualised approach.

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