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issued by the Registrar of the Court ECHR 131 (2012) 03.04.2012
issued by the Registrar of the Court
ECHR 131 (2012)
03.04.2012

Excessive length of criminal proceedings: Greece must take measures to deal with this systemic problem

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Michelioudakis v. Greece (application no. 54447/10), which is not final, 1 the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case concerned a Greek applicant who complained about the excessive length of criminal proceedings and the lack of a remedy in domestic law by which to obtain redress for his complaint.

Observing that the violations were the result of the malfunctioning of the domestic legal system, the Court adopted a pilot judgment in which it called on Greece to introduce, within one year, a domestic remedy or set of remedies capable of affording redress for the unreasonable length of criminal proceedings.

More than 250 Greek cases concerning the length of judicial proceedings are currently pending before the Court, of which over 50 concern criminal proceedings. The Court decided to adjourn all similar cases during the time it gave Greece to adopt measures at domestic level.

Principal facts

The applicant, Ioannis Michelioudakis, is a Greek national who was born in 1960 and lives in Athens (Greece).

On 5 February 2003 criminal proceedings were brought against him for incitement to commit perjury. On 15 February 2006 the Athens Criminal Court found him guilty and sentenced him to 22 months’ imprisonment. The applicant appealed.

The hearing was initially scheduled for 11 December 2006 but was adjourned until 2 March 2007, on which date the Athens Court of Appeal reduced the sentence to nine months. On 10 May 2007 Mr Michelioudakis appealed to the Court of Cassation.

On 25 November 2008 the Court of Cassation quashed the judgment and remitted the case to the Court of Appeal. On 27 March 2009 the Court of Appeal reduced the applicant’s sentence to seven months.

1 Under Articles 43 and 44 of the Convention, this Chamber judgment is not final. During the three-month period following its delivery, any party may request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court. If such a request is made, a panel of five judges considers whether the case deserves further examination. In that event, the Grand Chamber will hear the case and deliver a final judgment. If the referral request is refused, the Chamber judgment will become final on that day. Once a judgment becomes final, it is transmitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for supervision of its execution. Further information about the execution process can be found here:

its execution. Further information about the execution process can be found here: www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/execution
On 25 September 2009 Mr Michelioudakis appealed to the Court of Cassation, which dismissed the

On 25 September 2009 Mr Michelioudakis appealed to the Court of Cassation, which dismissed the appeal in a judgment delivered on 24 February 2010 and certified on 5 March 2010.

Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court

Mr Michelioudakis submitted, firstly, that the length of the proceedings had breached the “reasonable time” principle set forth in Article 6 § 1 of the Convention and, secondly, that there was no remedy in Greece by which to complain about the excessive length of proceedings.

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 4 September

2010.

Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:

Nina Vajić (Croatia), President, Anatoly Kovler (Russia), Peer Lorenzen (Denmark), Elisabeth Steiner (Austria), Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska (“the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”), Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos (Greece), Erik Møse (Norway), Judges,

and also André Wampach, Deputy Section Registrar.

Decision of the Court

Article 6 § 1

After reiterating that the reasonableness of the length of proceedings should be assessed with reference to criteria including the complexity of the case, the conduct of the applicant and the relevant authorities and what was at stake for the applicant in the dispute, the Court reaffirmed that the Contracting States were required to organise their legal systems in such a way that their courts could guarantee everyone the right to a final decision determining a criminal charge against him or her within a reasonable time.

The Court observed that although the present case had not raised any complex issues, the overall length of the proceedings had exceeded seven years, thus failing to satisfy the “reasonable time” requirement.

The Court therefore held that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1.

Article 13

Relying on Article 13, the applicant also complained that no court in Greece had jurisdiction to deal with complaints about the excessive length of criminal proceedings.

The Court reiterated, firstly, that Article 13 required an effective remedy before a national authority in respect of the excessive length of proceedings and, secondly, that it had previously held that the Greek legal system did not provide an effective remedy within the meaning of Article 13 of the Convention for complaints about the length of criminal proceedings.

In the present case, although the Greek Government argued that the applicant could have applied to the administrative courts on the basis of the Introductory Law to the

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Civil Code, it had not been shown that that remedy was effective and available in

Civil Code, it had not been shown that that remedy was effective and available in theory and in practice and thus satisfied the requirements of Article 13.

The Court therefore held that there had been a violation of Article 13.

Article 46

The Court observed that the excessive length of criminal proceedings in Greece was a persistent problem which had led it to adopt more than 300 judgments between 2001 and 2011 concerning the length of judicial proceedings, a significant number of which related to criminal cases. In addition, the Court had repeatedly found violations of Article 13 on account of the lack of an effective domestic remedy by which the applicants could have asserted their right to a “hearing within a reasonable time”. Given the chronic and persistent nature of these problems, the Court considered it appropriate to apply the pilot-judgment procedure.

Although the various efforts made in terms of domestic legislation (increased number of judges, building of new courthouses, computerisation of court registries, new possibilities for expediting proceedings) showed that the appropriate authorities were not simply ignoring the acute problem of the excessive length of court proceedings, the Court observed that the Greek legal system had still not introduced a remedy or set of remedies enabling persons facing criminal charges to enforce their right to a hearing within a reasonable time.

Furthermore, the systemic nature of the problem identified in the present case was borne out by the fact that, firstly, the Court had delivered more than 40 judgments against Greece since 2007 in which it had found a violation of Article 6 § 1 on account of the length of criminal proceedings and, secondly, more than 250 length-of-proceedings cases against Greece were currently pending before the Court, more than 50 of which related solely to criminal proceedings.

The Court therefore considered that this situation reflected a practice that was incompatible with the Convention.

As to the general measures to be adopted, the Court reiterated that it was in principle for the State to choose, subject to monitoring by the Committee of Ministers, the means by which to discharge its legal obligation under Article 46 (binding force and execution of judgments).

As to the domestic remedy or remedies to be adopted in order to tackle the systemic problem identified in the present case, the Court noted that although the best solution in absolute terms was prevention by ensuring that the domestic court system was organised in an appropriate manner, provision could be made for a remedy to expedite proceedings, a compensatory remedy or the possibility of reducing a sentence on account of the excessive length of criminal proceedings.

While leaving it to the Greek State to choose the specific measures to take and while acknowledging recent developments in the Greek legal system, the Court considered that the national authorities should, within one year, introduce a remedy or a set of effective domestic remedies capable of affording adequate and sufficient redress for the unreasonable length of criminal proceedings.

The Court further considered that pending the adoption by the Greek authorities of the necessary measures at national level, adversarial proceedings in all cases before it relating solely to the length of criminal proceedings in the Greek courts should be adjourned for a period of one year from the date on which this judgment became final.

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Article 41 Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court held that Greece

Article 41

Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court held that Greece was to pay the applicant 3,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 1,230 in respect of costs and expenses.

The judgment is available only in French.

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The European Court of Human Rights was set up in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.

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