Article 6 paragraph 1 of the ECHR provides that “everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.” The requirement that (judicial) proceedings be conducted/completed within a reasonable time is one of the components of the right to a fair trial. Excessively lengthy proceedings and delays in the issuance or execution of judgments infringe on the individual’s right to speedy administration of justice and may undermine respect for the rule of law and impede access to justice. Especially in the context of criminal proceedings, the right to a trial within a reasonable time is also intended to ensure that the accused do not remain for an excessively long period of time in a state of uncertainty as to the outcome of the criminal charges brought against them. According to ECtHR jurisprudence, the “reasonable” duration of the procedure is judged according to the facts of each case and with the help of the following criteria: a) the complexity of the case, b) the behavior of the applicants, c) the behavior of the competent authorities and d) the stakes of the case for the stakeholders.
Article 13 of the ECHR establishes that, “everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in [the] Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.” The state is therefore obliged to provide appropriate legal remedies and means for this purpose. Among other things, article 13 guarantees the provision and existence in the domestic legal order of a real appeal process that allows parties to complain about exceedingly lengthy proceedings.
In 2019, 4 decisions were issued by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), in which it was recognized that Greece had violated the provisions of the ECHR due to the excessive length of criminal proceedings.
1. January 2019, GILBERT v. Greece (app. no. 64347/12)
The ECtHR noted that the duration of the disputed criminal proceedings amounted to 4 years and 4 months for one degree of jurisdiction although the specific case did not present any particular difficulty. Given that the government did not present facts or data justifying the unreasonable duration of the trial, the court considered that the duration of the disputed proceedings did not meet the requirement of a reasonable time and therefore violated Article 6 paragraph 1 of the ECHR. In addition, the ECtHR ruled that, as it had already established in the Michelioudakis case, the Greek legal order did not offer the interested parties a real recourse that would allow them to complain about the duration of the trial and therefore there was also a violation of Article 13 of the ECHR.
2. April 2019, Georgiou v. Greece (appeal no. 1406/13).
In this case, the applicant complained about the excessive length of the criminal proceedings.
The ECtHR, after examining the evidence submitted before it and finding no specific reason to deviate from its previous jurisprudence on similar issues, decided that the duration of the disputed procedure (8 years and over 4 months for 3 degrees of jurisdiction) was excessive, it did not meet the conditions of the “reasonable period” and therefore there was a violation of Article 6 paragraph 1 of the ECHR.
3. July 2019, Dimitras and the Hellenic Observatory of the Helsinki Agreements (EPSE) against Greece (appeal no. 62643/12).
This appeal raised issues relating to (a) the excessive length of the criminal proceedings in which the applicant appeared as a civil plaintiff and (b) the absence of a genuine remedy allowing one to complain of the excessive length of the trial.
The applicant, who was the legal representative of the applicant organization, filed a lawsuit in July 2005 (in his own name and in the name of the applicant organization) against I.D. (General Secretary of Social Solidarity at that time) and N.K. (Minister of Health at that time) for defamation through the press. I.D. was prosecuted in October 2019 for defamation. In March 2012, the Misdemeanor Court found that the defendant had committed the offense in question, however, the criminal prosecution was dismissed due to the statute of limitations.
The ECtHR noted that the contested procedure lasted 6 years and more than 8 months for one degree of jurisdiction even though the procedure did not present any particular difficulty. The civil action remained pending before the competent authorities for a period of more than 4 years, and no facts or arguments were presented by the government that would justify the duration of the proceedings. The court therefore decided that the duration of the contested proceedings did not meet the requirement of a reasonable period of time, violating Article 6 paragraph 1 of the ECHR. In addition, the ECtHR ruled that in this particular case there was also a violation of Article 13 of the ECHR due to the absence in national law (at the time of the facts) of an appeal that would have allowed the applicant to complain about the length of the proceedings.
4. November 2019, Papargyriou v. Greece (appeal no. 55846/15).
The applicant complained about the length of the criminal proceedings initiated against her.
The ECtHR noted that the contested procedure lasted at least 10 years and approximately 9 months for one degree of jurisdiction and did not find any justification for this. The court therefore considered that the disputed proceedings were excessively long and incompatible with the “reasonable time” requirement, violating Article 6(1) of the ECHR.
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