Judgment (Merits and Just Satisfaction) of European Court of Human Rights, February 22, 2001 (case CASE OF KURZAC v. POLAND)

Appeal Nbr:31382/96
Resolution Date:February 22, 2001
 
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FOURTH SECTION

CASE OF KURZAC v. POLAND

(Application no. 31382/96)

JUDGMENT

STRASBOURG

22 February 2001

FINAL

22/05/2001

This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It is subject to editorial revision before its reproduction in final form.

In the case of Kurzac v. Poland,

The European Court of Human Rights (Fourth Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:

Mr G. Ress, President,

Mr A. Pastor Ridruejo,

Mr J. Makarczyk,

Mr V. Butkevych,

Mrs N. Vajić,

Mr J. Hedigan,

Mrs S. Botoucharova, judges,

and Mr V. Berger, Section Registrar,

Having deliberated in private on 1 February 2001,

Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:

PROCEDURE

1. The case originated in an application (no. 31382/96) against the Republic of Poland lodged with the European Commission of Human Rights ("the Commission") under former Article 25 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ("the Convention") by a Polish national, Mr Władysław Kurzac ("the applicant"), on 9 May 1995.

2. The applicant, who had been granted legal aid, was represented by Mr Z. Cichoń, a lawyer practising in Kraków (Poland). The Polish Government ("the Government") were represented by their Agent, Mr K. Drzewicki, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

3. The applicant alleged a violation of Article 6 § 1 in that the proceedings which he had brought to the Warsaw Regional Court in order to have his late brother's politically-motivated conviction annulled had been unreasonably long.

4. Following communication of the application to the Government by the Commission, the case was transmitted to the Court on 1 November 1998 by virtue of Article 5 § 2 of Protocol No. 11.

5. The application was allocated to the Fourth Section of the Court (Rule 52 § 1 of the Rules of Court). Within that Section, the Chamber that would consider the case (Article 27 § 1 of the Convention) was constituted as provided in Rule 26 § 1 of the Rules of Court.

6. By a decision of 25 May 2000 the Chamber declared the application admissible.

7. The applicant, but not the Government, filed observations on the merits (Rule 59 § 1). They were received at the Court's registry on 9 August 2000. The respondent Government replied to those observations on 18 October 2000.

8. Subsequently, the Chamber, after consulting the parties, decided that no hearing on the merits was required (Rule 59 § 2 in fine).

THE FACTS

I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE

A. Background

9. H.K., the applicant's brother, had been a member of the Polish resistance troops of the underground National Armed Forces (Narodowe Siły Zbrojne), commonly referred to as the "NSZ". The NSZ had been founded in September 1942 and, originally, formed partisan forces fighting the Germans during the Second World War. At the end of 1943 the NSZ's command, considering that the defeat of the Germans was inevitable, decided that the main enemy was the communist Soviet Union and ordered that, from that time on, the NSZ should direct its attacks against the Red Army and the Polish communist partisan forces. After the liberation of Poland, some of the NSZ members took refuge in the West, while others, after being ordered not to attack the Red Army directly, established an underground resistance movement against the communist government. On 10 February 1948 H.K. was convicted by the Warsaw District Military Court (Wojskowy Sąd Rejonowy) in connection with, inter alia, his membership of the NSZ, which was considered an "illegal organisation established with the aim of subverting the political and legal system of the State". He was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment and then served his sentence. He was released on an unspecified date. On 7 August 1956 he was shot dead by a militia officer.

B. Rehabilitation proceedings in issue

10. On 3 September 1993 the applicant lodged an application under section 3(1) of the Law of 23 February 1991 on annulment of convictions whereby persons were persecuted for their activities aimed at achieving independence for Poland (Ustawa o uznaniu za nieważne orzeczeń wydanych wobec osób represjonowanych za działalność na rzecz niepodległego bytu Państwa Polskiego) ("the 1991 Act") with the Warsaw Regional Court (Sąd Wojewódzki), seeking to have his late brother's conviction of 10 February 1948 declared null and void. Shortly afterwards, the court decided that the applicant's request would be examined together with a similar application, which had been lodged by the widow of a co-defendant of his brother on 24 June 1993.

11. On 27 December 1993 the applicant's lawyer asked the court to set a date for a hearing as soon as possible, submitting that his client was an elderly person suffering from various ailments and that the court should therefore give priority to his case.

12. On 9 November 1994 the applicant's lawyer again asked the Warsaw Regional Court to fix a date for a hearing, maintaining that his previous application for the proceedings...

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