The discontinuation of the disability pension due to the Insurance Fund doctor’s mistake and the refusal to pay compensation violated the right to property

JUDGMENT

Grobelny v. Poland 05.03.2020  (no. 60477/12)

see here 

SUMMARY

Discontinuation of disability pension due to mistakes made by doctors of the Insurance Fund. Non-payment of compensation to the insured. Violation of the right to property.

The applicant had been declared incapable of working since 1994 and was awarded an invalidity pension. In a review of his state of health, the disability rate was redefined and pensions were stopped for two years. The domestic courts ruled that the applicant was entitled to a pension, but they irrevocably rejected his claim for compensation for the entire period in which he did not receive any allowance.

The Court recalls that the most important requirement of Article 1 of the First Protocol to the ECHR is that any intervention by a public authority in the peaceful enjoyment of property must be lawful. It therefore requires a fair balance so as not to impose a disproportionate burden on a citizen.

In the present case, the ECtHR found that the applicant had been overburdened by the fact that, due to an incorrect assessment of his state of health, the payment of the pension had been discontinued and concluded that the State under good governance had to correct his mistake.

The ECtHR therefore found that social equality was not safeguarded and the interference with the applicant’s property rights was disproportionate and found a violation of the right to property (Article 1 of the First Additional Protocol).

PROVISION

Article 1 of the First Additional Protocol

PRINCIPAL FACTS

The applicant, Mieczysław Grobelny, is a Polish national who was born in 1953 and lives in
Lubniewice (Poland).

The case concerned the national courts’ refusal to pay him compensation for the discontinuation of
his disability pension for 21 months after a mistake had been made in assessing his health and work
capacity.

Mr Grobelny, a farmer, was granted a disability pension in 1994 because he was unfit for work.
However, following medical examinations in 2008, the social security fund decided that he was not
completely unfit and refused pension payments with effect from April 2008.

He appealed against the decision in court, arguing that his health had not improved. The courts
eventually reinstated his pension in January 2010, finding that the fund’s medical experts had
incorrectly assessed his state of health and that he had in fact been unfit for work.

He lodged a civil claim, requesting compensation for the 21 months he had been deprived of his
benefits. His claim was examined and dismissed at two levels of jurisdiction in 2012. The courts
concluded in particular that compensation could not be awarded because the fund had not done
anything illegal.

Relying on Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) to the European Convention on
Human Rights, Mr Grobelny complained about the refusal to grant him compensation for the period
during which he had had no financial support from the State, in spite of his recognised incapacity to
work.

THE DECISION OF THE COURT…

The Court reiterates that the principles that apply generally in cases brought under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention are correspondingly relevant when it comes to social and welfare benefits. In particular, Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention does not create a right to acquire property. This provision places no restriction on the Contracting State’s freedom to decide whether or not to have in place any form of social security scheme, or to choose the type or amount of benefits to provide under any such scheme. If, however, a Contracting State has in force legislation providing for the payment as of right of a welfare benefit ‑ whether conditional or not on the prior payment of contributions ‑ that legislation must be regarded as generating possessions falling within the ambit of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention for persons satisfying its requirements

The Court furthermore reiterates that the first and most important requirement of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention is that any interference by a public authority with the peaceful enjoyment of possessions should be lawful: the second sentence of the first paragraph authorises a deprivation of possessions only “subject to the conditions provided for by law”, and the second paragraph recognises that the States have the right to control the use of property by enforcing “laws”.

Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention also requires that a deprivation of property for the purposes of its second sentence be in the public interest and pursue a legitimate aim by means reasonably proportionate to the aim sought to be realised

Lastly, Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention requires a fair balance between the demands of the general interest of the public and the requirements of the protection of the individual’s fundamental rights, so that no disproportionate burden is imposed on an applicant

  • Application of the above principles in the present case
  • Substantive scope of the application of Article 1 of Protocol 1 to the Convention

The Court notes that the applicant was awarded a disability pension in 1994 and was receiving it until 31 March 2008. There is no dispute that the applicant was unfit for work from 1 April 2008 until 19 January 2010 and he fulfilled all the conditions required for receiving a disability pension for that period. What was in dispute was the question whether he should have been compensated for the discontinuation of payment of the pension during that period. Thus, since the applicant had a right under the domestic law to receive a disability pension, that right is encompassed by the substantive scope of the application of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention.

  • Proportionality of the interference with the applicant’s possessions

The Court emphasises the fact that the applicant, in spite of his recognised incapacity for farm work, remained for a period of twenty-one months without any financial support from the State, and was refused redress. Accordingly, the Court concludes that the fact that the applicant was deprived of the right to obtain a disability pension without any tangible compensation possibility amounts an interference with his rights under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention.

Firstly, the Court considers that an excessive burden was imposed on the applicant owing to the fact that, as a result of an incorrect assessment of his state of health by the Fund’s medical experts, he was faced with a total loss of his disability pension, in spite of his being completely unfit for farm work.

Thus, regardless of any aim pursued in the general interest, it can hardly be acceptable that the authorities shifted the consequences of a mistake attributable to them onto the applicant.

Secondly, as stated above, within the context of property rights, particular importance must be attached to the principle of good governance. It is required that public authorities act with the utmost consistency, in particular when dealing with matters of crucial importance to individuals, such as social and welfare benefits and other property rights. In the present case, the Court observes that the domestic authorities, including the domestic courts during the compensation proceedings, failed in their duty to act in good time and in an appropriate manner and with the utmost consistency since they failed to remedy an error that was clearly attributable to the Fund.

In this connection it should be observed that the notion of legal certainty, albeit undeniably important in any legal system, is not absolute. The Court considers that in the instant case there were relevant and sufficient reasons to depart from that principle in order to secure respect for social justice and fairness.

The considers, however, that the domestic authorities should have provided him with a legal solution that involved him being paid compensation by the Fund; this is because it was the Fund that should have borne the consequences of the mistake made by its experts.

The foregoing considerations are sufficient to enable the Court to conclude that the interference in the applicant’s property rights was disproportionate.

There has accordingly been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention.


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