Facts: The case concerned Varnienė’s rights to a plot of land in Valakupiai. In 2000 local authorities restored her rights to part of this plot, which had belonged to her mother but had been nationalised in the 1940s.
Ms Varnienė also launched an action to have 0.33 hectares of the plot, which remained government property, returned to her. However, this claim was dismissed in December 2001 because the relevant land had been designated as a forest of national importance which was to be bought out by the State. This decision was quashed by the Supreme Administrative Court in February 2002, and Ms Varnienė obtained an order obliging the local authority to return the land to her. However, the local authority appealed the execution order, and in May 2004 the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that its previous judgment ordering the land to be returned to Ms Varnienė had been made in error.
Issue: The case was brought to the Court to decide whether there is violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial) and Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) of the Convention.
Holdings: Yes, there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial); Yes, there had been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) of the Convention.
Court’s Rationale: The arguments used to justify the reopening of the proceedings were essentially the same as those employed by the Vilnius local authorities in the first set of administrative proceedings. Those arguments had already been examined and rejected by the Supreme Administrative Court on appeal, the reopening of the proceedings can be regarded as an attempt by the authority to re-argue the case on the points which had failed on appeal. The legal bases it relied upon were identical to those that existed during the first set of administrative proceedings.
The Court holds that the resumed examination of the applicant’s case and setting aside of the decision of February 2002 infringed the principle of legal certainty and the applicant’s “right to a court” under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.
The Court observes that the then final and effective decision of February 2002 provided the applicant with an enforceable claim which constituted a “possession” within the meaning of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1. Despite all efforts by the applicant a decision which could be attributed solely to the Vilnius local authority had not been reached. Furthermore, after the administrative court proceedings were reopened, on 20 May 2004 the Supreme Administrative Court deprived the applicant of all the fruits of the previously final court decision in her favour.
In these circumstances the Court finds that there has been interference with the applicant’s right to the peaceful enjoyment of her possessions, which amounts to a “deprivation” of property within the meaning of the first paragraph of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.
Just satisfaction: The court held that Lithuania was to pay the applicant 8,000 Euros in respect of non-pecuniary damages and 580 Euros in respect of costs and expenses.