Judgment in W. v Slovenia

The European Court of Human Rights has on 23 January 2014 delivered judgment in W. v Slovenia (no. 24124/06), which we have discussed before. The Court held that Slovenia violated its procedural obligations under Article 3 of the European Convention. More specifically, it held that :

69. … the Court agrees with the applicant that the prolonged state of uncertainty and other negative implications of the lengthy proceedings, in particular having to relive the painful events a number of times in three separate retrials, caused her unnecessary suffering and frustration which could have been avoided had the criminal-law mechanisms aimed at deterrence of and punishment for criminal acts of sexual abuse been applied in an effective and prompt manner. In this regard, the Court would add that the failure of the State to ensure effective prosecution of rape cannot be justified by the backlog of cases in the relevant courts (see, mutatis mutandisScordino v. Italy (no. 1) [GC], no. 36813/97, § 183, ECHR 2006‑V, and the references cited therein). Neither can it be justified by the frequent changes of the sitting judges who were dealing with the applicant’s case. Namely, as the Court has already emphasised on many occasions, it is for the State to organise its judicial system in such a way as to enable its courts to comply with the requirements of the Convention (see, for example, Šilih, cited above, § 210).

The Court also held that redress obtained by an applicant was not sufficient. It reasoned as follows :

84.  In the Court’s opinion the effects of the prolonged uncertainty as to the outcome of the criminal proceedings and related mental distress endured by the applicant over the period of seventeen years, coupled with the short prison sentences imposed on the defendants, are comparable to the breaches found by the Court in the cases cited in the previous paragraph, which should be reflected in the amount of compensation awarded to the applicant. This finding cannot be changed by the fact that the outcome of the present case, in which eight out of ten defendants were eventually convicted and sentenced to imprisonment, was, as pointed out by the Government, favourable to the applicant.

85.  Therefore, the Court considers that the compensation awarded to the applicant by the domestic courts did not constitute sufficient redress and thus she may still claim to be a “victim” of a breach of Article 3 of the Convention.

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