Arbitrary court decisions are equivalent to criminal justice. Arbitrary rejection of lawsuit claiming basic benefits violates the fair trial principal

JUDGMENT

Lazarević v. Bosnia and Herzegovina 14.01.2020 (no. 29422/17)

see here  

SUMMARY

Lawsuit for employee benefits. An arbitrary court ruling dismissed the lawsuit despite the legislative provision and earlier Supreme Court case law. Infringement of the fair trial principal.

The applicant worked for a public railway company but was dismissed in 2012. He brought proceedings before the domestic courts, seeking dismissal compensation redundancy pay, bonuses, meal allowances and pension contributions  but was only awarded dismissal compensation. He exhausted all domestic remedies, including appealing to the Constitutional Court, which, although recognizing the provisions of the Collective Labor Agreement in respect of the above allowances, dismissed the appeal as unfounded.

The Court reiterated that it cannot substitute domestic courts for the application of the law of each state, but only intervened when it found a ‘lack of jurisdiction’, which is a violation of the right to a fair trial.

In the present case, the Court found that no domestic Court, not even the Constitutional Court, correctly applied the labor law and the provisions of the Collective Labor Convention, nor applied earlier national case-law, although it was clear and precise that the applicant had no jurisdiction. Violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

PROVISION

Article 6§1

PRINCIPAL FACTS

The applicant, Slobodan Lazarević, is a national of Bosnia and Herzegovina who was born in 1960
and lives in Doboj (Bosnia and Herzegovina).

The case concerned the applicant’s complaint about a set of labour proceedings following his
dismissal from a public railway company.

Mr Lazarević was dismissed in 2012 and filed a claim against the railway company for redundancy
pay, bonuses, meal allowances and pension contributions. The first-instance court granted his claim
for redundancy pay, but rejected the other claims because of his former employer’s poor financial
situation.

The second-instance court endorsed this decision and the Supreme Court then dismissed his appeal
on points of law, without examining it on the merits. Ultimately, in 2016, Mr Lazarević lodged a
constitutional appeal, arguing that domestic law clearly provided that employees were entitled to
certain work-related benefits and that the decisions in his case had gone against recent domestic
practice. The Constitutional Court dismissed, however, his appeal as manifestly ill-founded.

Relying on Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing) of the European Convention on Human Rights,
Mr Lazarević alleged that the judgments in his case had been unfair as they had been contrary to
domestic legislation and the case-law of the highest courts.

THE DECISION OF THE COURT…

 The Court agrees with the Government that it is not its task to take the place of the domestic courts. It is primarily for the national authorities, notably the courts, to resolve problems of interpretation of domestic legislation. However, the Court may find a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention if the national courts findings are arbitrary or manifestly unreasonable, resulting in a “denial of justice”.

Turning to the present case, the Court notes that section 33 of the General Collective Agreement, in force at the material time, clearly provided that every employee was entitled to a meal allowance and summer bonus, in the amounts calculated in accordance with that provision . Indeed, this was confirmed in a similar case by the Supreme Court, which, after the closing of the appeal proceedings in the present case, referred to the “imperative and obligatory character” of those work-related benefits, due regardless of the financial situation of employer . Subsequently, the Constitutional Court upheld the Supreme Courts reasoning, holding that the provision concerning the obligation to pay the bonus and allowance at issue was clear, accessible and unambiguous.

However, when examining the applicants labour claim, the first-instance court disregarded that provision and rejected the applicants claim, relying on irrelevant grounds – namely, the applicants former employers financial situation . The second-instance court did not remedy this error but reiterated the reasoning of the first-instance court. The Court therefore finds that such arbitrary rulings by the Doboj Court of First Instance and Doboj District Court amounted to a denial of justice in the applicants case.

The Court observes that the applicants appeal on points of law to the Supreme Court was dismissed as incompatible ratione valoris, and was thus not examined on its merits . It reiterates in that connection that the application of a statutory ratione valoris threshold for appeals to the Supreme Court is a legitimate and reasonable procedural requirement having regard to the very essence of the Supreme Courts role to deal only with matters of the requisite significance.

Further recourse against the contested judgments was available to the applicant at the material time in the form of a constitutional appeal and he made use of it. In his appeal the applicant complained that despite clear legal provision the domestic courts had rejected his claim on irrelevant grounds, and he referred to the cited judgment of the Supreme Court, as well as to the interpretation by the Commission for Interpretation and Monitoring of the Application of the General Collective Agreement . However, the Constitutional Court summarily dismissed the applicants appeal as manifestly ill-founded, despite its own case-law in that connection indicating that the impugned provision, that is to say section 33 of the General Collective Agreement, was “not unclear and ambiguous, but precisely the opposite” .

The foregoing considerations are sufficient to enable the Court to conclude that the Doboj Court of First Instance and Doboj District Court did not give the applicants case a fair hearing, and that this was not remedied by the Constitutional Court. Accordingly, the Court finds that there has been a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

Just satisfaction: The applicant claimed EUR 1,704.39 as compensation for the rejection of the allowances claimed in the internal proceedings. The ECtHR held that national law in civil matters provided for a retrial following the ECtHR ruling. The Court subsequently awarded EUR 1,349.80 for costs and expenses.


ECHRCaseLaw

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