Europäischer Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte
Cour européenne des droits de l'homme
Corte europea dei diritti dell'uomo
European Court of Human Rights
AS TO THE ADMISSIBILITY OF
Application No. 23090/93
by C. S.
The European Commission of Human Rights (Second Chamber) sitting
in private on 4 September 1996, the following members being present:
Mrs. G.H. THUNE, President
MM. S. TRECHSEL
I. CABRAL BARRETO
M. VILA AMIGÓ
Ms. M.-T. SCHOEPFER, Secretary to the Chamber
Having regard to Article 25 of the Convention for the Protection
of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms;
Having regard to the application introduced on 24 November 1993
by C. S. against Switzerland and registered on 15 December 1993 under
file No. 23090/93;
Having regard to :
- the reports provided for in Rule 47 of the Rules of Procedure of
- the observations submitted by the respondent Government on
21 November 1995 and the observations in reply submitted by the
applicant on 9 April 1996;
Decides as follows:
The applicant, a Swiss citizen born in 1948, is a scientist
residing at Zofingen in Switzerland. Before the Commission he is
represented by Mr. R. Sutter, a lawyer practising at Wil.
On 26 February 1988 the Cantonal Police (Kantonspolizei) of the
Canton of Aargau informed the applicant that criminal proceedings had
been instituted against him on account of traffic offences.
On 2 September 1988 the District Office (Bezirksamt) of the
Canton of Aargau issued a criminal order (Strafbefehl) imposing a fine
of 350 SFr on the applicant. The latter was accused of having driven
on the motorway too closely behind another car, and of having overtaken
on the motorway a car on the right hand lane. The applicant filed an
objection against the criminal order.
On 19 January 1989 the Zofingen District Court (Bezirksgericht)
sentenced the applicant to a fine of 350 SFr on account of these
The applicant's appeal was dismissed by the Second Criminal
Chamber (Strafkammer) of the Court of Appeal (Obergericht) of the
Canton of Aargau on 20 April 1989.
On 15 November 1989 the Federal Court (Bundesgericht) dismissed
the applicant's public law appeal (staatsrechtliche Beschwerde).
However, it upheld the applicant's plea of nullity (Nichtigkeitsbe-
schwerde), quashed the decision of the Court of Appeal of 20 April 1989
and referred the case back to the previous court. The Court found that
it had not been sufficiently established whether at the time of the
events there had been dense traffic in which case it would have been
permitted to drive in a parallel line (parallele Kolonne) on the right
hand lane on the motorway. The decisions were served on the applicant
on 8 December 1989.
On 11 January 1990 the Second Criminal Chamber of the Court of
Appeal of the Canton of Aargau again sentenced the applicant to a fine
of 350 SFr for the offences concerned.
The applicant again filed a public law appeal and a plea of
On 1 May 1990 the Federal Court rejected the plea of nullity as
being out of time.
On 29 June 1990 the Federal Court upheld the public law appeal
and quashed the decision of the Court of Appeal of 11 January 1990.
The Court found that in the previous proceedings the applicant had not
been sufficiently heard.
This decision was served on the applicant on 5 September 1990.
On 6 September 1990, the Court of Appeal of the Canton of Aargau
granted the applicant a time-limit of 20 days to file supplementary
observations on the issue of the punishment to be expected. Against
this decision the applicant filed a public law appeal.
On 6 December 1990 the Second Criminal Chamber of the Court of
Appeal sentenced the applicant a third time to a fine of 350 SFr for
the offences concerned. Against this decision the applicant filed a
further public law appeal.
The applicant's public law appeal against the decision of
6 September 1990 was rejected by the Federal Court on 14 January 1991
as the contested decision merely constituted an interim decision.
On 22 October 1991 the Federal Court upheld the applicant's
further public law appeal and quashed the decision of 6 December 1990.
The Court found that the Court of Appeal had incorrectly restricted the
possibility to file supplementary observations to the issue of the
punishment to be expected.
Also on 22 October 1991 the Federal Court struck the applicant's
plea of nullity off its list of cases as no longer having any object
The Federal Court's decisions were served on the applicant on
10 January 1992.
On 20 January 1992 the Court of Appeal of the Canton of Aargau
granted the applicant a time-limit of 20 days to file supplementary
observations on the factual and legal issues of the case.
On 11 March 1992 the applicant complained that the judges of the
Second Criminal Chamber of the Court of Appeal were no longer objective
if they had to decide a fourth time on the same case, particularly if
they felt insulted (gekränkt) by the Federal Court.
On 14 April 1992 the Administrative Commission (Verwaltungskom-
mission) of the Court of Appeal transferred the case to the First
Criminal Chamber of the Court of Appeal.
On 5 June 1992 the First Criminal Chamber of the Court of Appeal
fixed a hearing for 19 August 1992. Following the hearing, the Court
of Appeal confirmed the fine on the same day. In its decision the
Court noted the length of the proceedings which had already lasted
approximately four and a half years. The Court noted that the case was
complex in that from the outset the facts and the legal assessment of
the case had been disputed. The applicant could not be blamed for
having prolonged the proceedings, though the authorities could also not
be blamed. As a whole, the length of the proceedings did not warrant
terminating the proceedings; the applicant had not suffered any
disadvantages, and had from the outset known that he would at most be
fined 350 SFr, which was less than a tenth of his monthly income.
On 19 March 1993 the Federal Court dismissed the applicant's
public law appeal. In respect of the length of the proceedings the
Court noted that from the outset the factual and legal issues of the
case had been disputed. It considered that the length of the
proceedings was above average, though this had not caused the applicant
any disadvantage; the uncertainty whether he would be sentenced to a
fine for a traffic offence was not serious. Thus, even if there had
been a breach of Article 6 of the Convention, no sanctions would be
called for. As a result, the Federal Court left open whether the
length of the proceedings had breached the requirement of a speedy
Also on 19 March 1993 the Federal Court dismissed the applicant's
plea of nullity, considering inter alia that the applicant had not
suffered any disadvantage on account of the length of the proceedings.
The Federal Court's decisions were served on the applicant on
2 June 1993.
The applicant complains under Article 6 para. 1 of the Convention
of the length of the proceedings. He cannot be blamed for having
employed all legal remedies, and the delays were caused by the Court
of Appeal which on a number of occasions decided contrary to his
constitutional rights. He had to appear three times before court and
spent countless hours studying the case-file.
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE COMMISSION
The application was introduced on 24 November 1993 and registered
on 15 December 1993.
On 6 September 1995 the Commission decided to communicate the
application to the respondent Government, pursuant to Rule 48
para. 2 (b) of the Rules of Procedure.
The Government's written observations were submitted on
21 November 1995. The applicant replied on 9 April 1996.
The applicant complains of the length of the proceedings. He
relies on Article 6 para. 1 (Art. 6-1) of the Convention which states,
insofar as relevant:
"In the determination of... any criminal charge against
him, everyone is entitled to a... hearing within a reasonable
The Government contend that the application is manifestly ill-
founded. In the Government's opinion, the proceedings commenced on
2 September 1988 when the Zofingen District Office issued a penal
order. It is further submitted that the case raised very complex
factual and legal issues. Thus, the Federal Court's decision of
15 November 1989 served to clarify the case-law on the matter.
Moreover, the applicant constantly disputed the facts; he also filed
ten appeals of which three were admitted by the Federal Court. The
domestic judicial authorities, on the other hand, conducted their
proceedings within very short periods of time. Thus, 15 decisions were
handed down within four and a half years.
The Government also submit that only exceptionally can it play
a part under Article 6 (Art. 6) of the Convention if a higher court is
called upon to correct the decision of a lower court. In the present
case there can be no question of any obstruction of the Federal Court
on behalf of the Cantonal Court. Indeed, the latter always gave
grounds for its decisions. In any event, the fine of 350 SFr was of
a minor nature.
The applicant submits that the proceedings in his case commenced
on 26 February 1988 when the Cantonal Police informed the applicant
that criminal proceedings had been instituted against him on account
of traffic offences. Moreover, it cannot be said that the domestic
authorities gave their many decisions one after the other. Rather, the
applicant at times filed parallel appeals; moreover, when the Federal
Court upheld his public law appeal, it was not obliged to consider his
plea of nullity.
In the applicant's opinion the case could not be considered
complex, in particular as the facts remained the same throughout the
proceedings. The applicant can also not be made responsible for faulty
decisions on the part of the courts. Finally, the applicant disputes
the implication that in cases involving offences of a minor nature he
shall lose his right to speedy proceedings. He also does not lose this
right by filing various appeals.
The Commission considers that the period to be examined under
this provision in the present case commenced on 26 February 1988 when
charges were brought against the applicant, and ended on 2 June 1993
when the decisions of the Federal Court of 19 March 1993 were served
on the applicant.
The relevant period therefore lasted five years, three months and
The Commission recalls that the reasonableness of the length of
the proceedings must be assessed in the light of the particular
circumstances of the case and having regard in particular to the
complexity of the case, the conduct of the applicant and of the
relevant authorities, and what is at stake for the applicant (cf. Eur.
Court HR, Mansur v. Turkey judgment of 8 June 1995, Series A no. 321,
para. 61; Nibbio v. Italy judgment of 26 February 1992, Series A
no. 228-A, p. 10, paras. 16 and 18).
The present case involved the offences of driving too closely
behind another car on the motorway and overtaking on the right hand
lane. In the Commission's opinion, the factual and legal points at
issue were of a certain complexity which justified to some extent the
length of the proceedings conducted against the applicant.
Moreover, the applicant did not unreasonably contribute to the
overall length of the criminal proceedings. On the other hand, the
applicant filed numerous appeals. While he cannot be blamed for having
made full use of the remedies available to him under domestic law, his
behaviour is an objective fact; it cannot be attributed to the
respondent State and must be taken into account for the purpose of
determining whether or not the reasonable time has been exceeded (Eur.
Court HR, Lechner and Hess v. Austria judgment of 23 April 1987,
Series A no. 118, p. 19, para. 49).
As regards the authorities' conduct, the Commission notes that
four instances gave altogether 13 decisions relating to the charges
raised against the applicant, namely the District Office on 2 September
1988; the District Court on 19 January 1989; the Court of Appeal on
20 April 1989; the Federal Court (two decisions) on 15 November 1989;
the Court of Appeal again on 11 January 1990; the Federal Court on
1 May and on 29 June 1990; the Court of Appeal on 6 December 1990; the
Federal Court on 22 October 1991; the Court of Appeal on 19 August
1992; and the Federal Court (two decisions) on 19 March 1993.
Moreover, on 1 May 1990 the Federal Court rejected the
applicant's plea of nullity as being inadmissible. The Court of Appeal
fixed time-limits for the applicant to file supplementary observations
on 6 September 1990 and 20 January 1992. On 14 April 1992 the
Administrative Commission transferred the case from the Second to the
First Criminal Chamber of the Court of Appeal, and on 19 August 1992
an appeal hearing was held. On 22 October 1991 the Federal Court
struck the applicant's plea of nullity off its list of cases.
In the Commission's opinion the authorities thus constantly
pursued the case.
The Commission further considers that no unduly lengthy periods
of inactivity transpire. Moreover, the case does not fall within the
category of cases which in the Court's case-law have been considered
as requiring particular diligence (see Nibbio v. Italy judgment,
loc.cit.). The Commission finds no indication that the length of the
proceedings exceeded the notion of a "reasonable time" within the
meaning of Article 6 para. 1 (Art. 6-1) of the Convention.
It follows that the case is manifestly ill-founded within the
meaning of Article 27 para. 2 (Art. 27-2) of the Convention.
For these reasons, the Commission, by a majority,
DECLARES THE APPLICATION INADMISSIBLE.
M.-T. SCHOEPFER G.H. THUNE
to the Second Chamber of the Second Chamber