Facts: The applicant, Juozas Padalevičius, is a Lithuanian national. The case concerned Mr Padalevičius’s complaint about the excessive length of civil litigation and about the annulment of the land-purchase agreement. He further argued that the compensation granted to him by the domestic courts for that land had been derisory.
Mr Padalevičius became the owner of the land belonging to the Noreikiškės settlement, situated on the LAA, due to Lithuanian law. On 5 June 1995, civil proceedings were brought by a group of private individuals for annulment of the land-purchase agreements, including that of the Applicant. On 27 June 1995 the Kaunas District Court ordered the seizure of the Applicant’s land. However, on 10 May 2002 the Constitutional Court adopted a ruling, finding that the Government decrees are in contradiction with the Constitution (Art. 23) and with the Restitution Law (Art. 12 § 1 (15)). Hence, the acts violated the rights of the former owners of the land, who had the right to restitution of their property. In 2002 the Panevėžys Regional Court reversed the decision of the Kaunas District Court. The court ordered restitution and obliged the local authorities to return to the applicant the money that he had previously paid for the plot of land at issue. The Applicant alleged i.a. that the Panevėžys Regional Court had examined the case in the absence of their lawyer. He also alleged that it is impossible to execute the appellate court’s decision since it ordered restitution in “single-use investment vouchers”, which no longer have pecuniary value and that the annulment of the land-purchase contracts was contrary to the right to protection of private property and would amount to re-privatisation.
On 31 January 2003 the Supreme Court upheld the decision. However, it noted that the appellate court had taken a reasonable decision to hear the case in the lawyer’s absence. By a decision of 14 March 2005 the Deputy Governor of Kaunas County restored the former owners’ title to the plot of land on the LAA settlement.
Issue: The case was brought to the Court to decide whether there was a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the ECHR (right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time) and violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention (protection of property).
Holding: Yes, there has been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
No, there has been no violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention.
Court’s Rationale: Mr Padalevicius complained about the excessive length of civil litigation within the meaning of Article 6 § 1. According to the Court, if the outcome of proceedings was decisive for civil rights and obligations, those proceedings came within the scope of Article 6 § 1. The Court held that the proceedings before the Constitutional Court about the constitutionality of the Government’s decrees on the basis of which the land purchase agreement had been concluded had been closely linked to the proceedings before the civil courts. In the instant case, the Court concluded that the reasonable time required by Article 6 § 1 had been exceeded, and that there had therefore been a breach of that provision.
In connection with Article 1 of Protocol No. 1, the Court would not regard as disproportionate every imbalance between the relevant public interest and the effects of restitution laws on the particular individual concerned. A certain “threshold” of hardship is essential to determine a breach of the Applicant’s Article 1 Protocol No. 1 rights. In this case the Court does not consider that such a threshold of hardship has been reached and this part of the application has been found manifestly ill-founded and must be rejected.
Just satisfaction: The court held that Lithuania is to pay the applicant, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final, 2,500 Euros in respect of non-pecuniary damages and 869 Euros for costs and expenses.