Tuesday 16 June 2009

Pinto Law Receives Benefit of the Doubt

A very large percentage of the cases coming to the Court from Italy have traditionally concerned complaints about judicial proceedings at the domestic level that took too long and for which no remedy existed. After numerous instances in which the Court found violations, Italy introduced the so-called Pinto law which enables claimants on the national level to have such situations remedied, at least in the sense of being able to claim compensation. Today the European Court has declared a complaint about the effectiveness of the new law (in combination with another law) inadmissible in the case of Daddi v. Italy. Since the case itself is available only in French and is procedurally complex, here is the whole press release of the Court:

The European Court of Human Rights has declared inadmissible the application lodged in the case of Daddi v. Italy (application no. 15476/09) concerning the effectiveness of the “Pinto Act” after the entry into force of the second paragraph of Article 54 of Legislative Decree no. 112/2008, which provided that an application could not be lodged under the Pinto Act unless an urgent request for a hearing (istanza di prelievo) had first been made to the administrative courts.

The applicant, Alda Daddi, is an Italian national who was born in 1937 and lives in Comeana Carmignano (Italy). On 14 November 1994 Mrs Daddi asked the Tuscany Regional Administrative Court to set aside a number of planning decisions adopted between 1985 and 1994 by Carmignano District Council. On the same day she asked for a date to be set for the case to be heard. On 13 September 2006 she again asked for a date to be set for a hearing. The hearing was held on 12 April 2007. In a judgment of 10 May 2007, the Regional Administrative Court gave judgment in Mrs Daddi’s favour. As the judgment had not been served beforehand, it became final on 31 October 2008.

On 6 March 2009 Mrs Daddi complained to the European Court of Human Rights that the length of the proceedings had been excessive. She submitted that she had not lodged an application under the Pinto Act, since the Italian courts would have declared such an application inadmissible on account of the entry into force, on 25 June 2008, of the second paragraph of Article 54 of Legislative Decree no. 112/2008. The applicant emphasised that the proceedings had already ended by the date of the entry into force of the legislative decree. She relied on Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial within a reasonable time) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Court considered that applications to the courts of appeal under the Pinto Act were an accessible remedy, and that there was not yet any cause to doubt the effectiveness of that remedy at present. It noted that it could not be excluded that the second paragraph of Article 54 of Legislative Decree no. 112/2008 might be interpreted by the Italian courts in such a way as to make any application under the “Pinto” procedure concerning the length of administrative proceedings which had ended before 25 June 2008 inadmissible solely because no urgent request for a hearing had been made. Such a practice might indeed give cause to absolve applicants in that position from the obligation to make use of the “Pinto” procedure.

However, the Court considered that mere doubt about the prospects of success of a particular remedy which was not quite evidently bound to fail did not constitute a valid reason to justify a decision not to avail oneself of it. Moreover, the applicant had not provided any example of a domestic decision to the effect she had relied on in her submissions. In addition, no settled case-law could have emerged from the higher courts in the short space of time which had elapsed between the entry into force of Legislative Decree no. 112/2008 and the lodging of the present application. Furthermore, the Court observed that an interpretation compatible with the principles of the Convention did not seem to be excluded by the wording of the provision concerned and that, as far as possible, such an interpretation was binding on the Italian courts both under the Convention and under domestic law. Consequently, the Court concluded that in order to comply with Article 35 § 1 of the Convention Mrs Daddi ought to have applied to the competent court of appeal by virtue of the Pinto Act. It followed that the application had to be declared inadmissible for non-exhaustion of domestic remedies.