Delayed execution of a court decision and unenforced decision violate a fair trial. The authorities have an obligation to assist in the execution of court decisions
Safonov and Safonova v. Ukraine 18.06.2020 (app. no. 24391/10)
Enforcement of judgments, fair trial and right of appeal.
The applicants, owners of an apartment, appealed to the domestic courts for recognition of their ownership. They were recognised as the owners of the property with irrevocable decisions, however the Inventory Office refused to register their property.
The Court reiterated that the enforcement of a judgment is considered an integral part of the “trial” for the purposes of Article 6 and that the unjustifiably long delay by the domestic authorities in enforcing a judgment constitutes a breach of this provision. It therefore considered that the refusal of the inventory office to execute an irrevocable court decision recognizing the applicants as owners of immovable property constituted a violation of the right to a fair trial (Article 6§1 of the ECHR).
Accordingly, the ECtHR found a violation of Article 13 on the ground that the applicants did not have effective remedies for their complaints about non-enforcement of judgments.
The applicants, Eduard Safonov and Natalya Safonova, are Ukrainian nationals who were born in
1973 and 1976 respectively and live in Moscow.
The case concerned the applicants’ dispute with the local authorities and private companies over a
flat and a building in Yalta, Crimea.
Under court and administrative decisions from 2001 to 2005 the applicants became co-owners of a
building and owners of a flat within it. In October 2007 the Autonomous Republic of Crimea Court of
Appeal cancelled the applicants’ title to their flat and ordered the Inventory Bureau to register the
company Sanatoriy im. Kirova Ltd (“Company 1”) as the owner of the building, which it sold in
January 2008 to another company, Topaz-K Ltd (“Company 2”).
After proceedings initiated by the applicants, the Supreme Court in June 2009 ultimately upheld the
applicants’ title to the flat. In September 2009 Company 2 sold the building to Selbilliar Ltd
(“Company 3”). On 4 November 2009 the Yalta Court ordered the Inventory Bureau to register the
applicants’ property rights to the flat. The judgment became final but remained unenforced.
In January 2010 the Inventory Bureau told the applicants that it could not enforce the judgment as
their flat and others in the building had been registered as Company 3’s property. The applicants
began proceedings and on 16 February 2010 the court ordered the Inventory Bureau to renew the
registration of their ownership of the flat. The judgment became final but remained unenforced.
In 2010 Company 3 sold the building to High Tech Group Ltd (“Company 4”). In March of that year
the applicants began proceedings against companies 2-4 over ownership of their flat and the
building. In particular, in April 2012 the Supreme Court upheld lower court findings that the
applicants owned their flat, lived in it and did not therefore require its restitution from Company 4.
A fifth set of proceedings involving Company 4 and the building ended in April 2014.
The applicants complained in particular under Articles 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial) and 13 (right to an
effective remedy) of the Convention about the failure to enforce the judgments of 4 November 2009
and 16 February 2010, which concerned the registration of their property rights to the flat, and the
alleged lack of effective remedies
THE DECISION OF THE COURT…
α) Article 6 par. 1
The Court noted that, under Ukrainian law, as in force at the material time, the state registration of property rights in real estate by the Inventory Offices was an integral part of securing such rights. Therefore, the procedure leading to the final and enforceable decisions of 4 November 2009 and 16 February 2010, which ordered the Census Bureau to register the applicants’ property rights in the apartment, concerned their civil rights. Article 6 was therefore applicable.
The Court observes that under Ukrainian law, as applicable at the material time, the State registration of property rights to real estate with the inventory bureaus was a constitutive element for the emergence of such rights. Therefore, the proceedings leading to the final and enforceable judgments of 4 November 2009 and 16 February 2010, which ordered the Inventory Bureau to register the applicants’ property rights over the flat, concerned the applicants’ civil rights. Article 6 was therefore applicable.
The Court reiterates that according to its extensive case-law the execution of a judgment given by a court must be regarded as an integral part of a “trial” for the purposes of Article 6 and that an unreasonably long delay on the part of the domestic authorities in enforcing a judgment given against them constitutes, as a general rule, a breach of that provision.
As regards the Government’s arguments that the enforcement of the judgments of 4 November 2009 and 16 February 2010 would have led to a breach of the property rights of Companies 3 or 4, the Court rejects them for the following reasons. It notes that on 20 January 2010 the Inventory Bureau informed the applicants that it could not enforce the judgment of 4 November 2009 and register their property rights over the flat because it had already been registered as the property of Company 3. However, in the subsequent final judgment of 16 February 2010 the Yalta Court repeatedly ordered the Inventory Bureau to register the applicants’ property rights over the flat. It stated that Company 3 was registered as the owner of the building but not of the flat, which was a separate object of immovable property and belonged to the applicants . Lastly, the case file does not contain any document from the Inventory Bureau informing the applicants that it had been unable to enforce the judgments at issue owing to the alleged breach of Company 4’s rights. Nor does it contain any valid court decision confirming Company 4’s title to the flat. On the contrary, on 25 April 2012 the Supreme Court confirmed the lower courts’ findings that the applicants – and not Company 4 – owned their flat . The Court thus fails to see how the enforcement of the judgments of 4 November 2009 and 16 February 2010 would have breached the rights of Company 4.
In view of the above considerations and having regard to its case-law on the matter, the Court concludes that there has been a breach of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention on account of the non-enforcement of the judgments at issue.
The Court notes that neither its well-established case law nor any fact or argument suggest that the applicants had any effective remedies for their non-enforcement complaints. The Court thus concludes that the applicants did not have such remedies, in breach of Article 13 of the Convention, taken in conjunction with Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.