European Court of Human Rights - case of Kutic v. Croatia (2002) (excerpts)

European Court of Human Rights - case of Kutic v. Croatia (2002) (excerpts)

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25.  The Court notes that the applicants in the present case had the possibility of bringing legal proceedings; they availed themselves of it by suing the State in the Zagreb Municipal Court for damages in respect of their destroyed property.

This of itself does not satisfy all the requirements of Article 6 § 1. It must also be established that the degree of access afforded under the national legislation was sufficient to secure the individual's “right to a court”, having regard to the rule of law in a democratic society (see Ashingdane v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 28 May 1985, Series A no. 93, pp. 24-25, § 57). The Court recalls that the Convention is intended to guarantee not rights that are theoretical or illusory but rights that are practical and effective (see, mutatis mutandis, Airey v. Ireland, judgment of 9 October 1979, Series A no. 32, pp. 12-14, § 24, and García Manibardo v. Spain, no. 38695/97, § 43, ECHR 2000-II).

In this connection, the Court reiterates that Article 6 § 1 of the Convention guarantees the right of access to a court for the determination of civil disputes. The Court considers that this right of access to a court includes not only the right to institute proceedings but also the right to obtain a “determination” of the dispute by a court. It would be illusory if a Contracting State's domestic legal system allowed an individual to bring a civil action before a court without ensuring that the case would be determined by a final decision in the judicial proceedings. It would be inconceivable for Article 6 § 1 to describe in detail procedural guarantees afforded to litigants – proceedings that are fair, public and expeditious – without guaranteeing the parties that their civil disputes will be finally determined (see, mutatis mutandis, Hornsby, cited above, pp. 510-11, § 40).


32.  In the present case, however, the proceedings have so far been stayed for over six years, more than four of which have been after the Convention entered into force in respect of Croatia, and no new legislation has been passed in the meantime that would enable the applicants to have their civil claims determined.

In these circumstances, the Court cannot accept that the degree of access afforded under the national legislation was sufficient to secure the applicants' “right to a court”.