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Unreasonably long legal proceedings lead to reforms to speed up access to justice

Šulcas v. Lithuania  | 2010

Unreasonably long legal proceedings lead to reforms to speed up access to justice

Everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time

Extract from Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights

Background

In numerous cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights, applicants complained about the excessive length of legal proceedings in Lithuania.

One of the cases was brought by a businessman, Donatas Šulcas. When Mr Šulcas was involved in some litigation, it took the Lithuanian courts eight years and nine months to make a final ruling on it.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that numerous delays had been caused by mistakes or inertia on the part of the Lithuanian authorities. Overall, the length of the proceedings had been excessive. This had violated Mr Šulcas’ right to access a court in a reasonable time. The court also found that, under Lithuanian law at the time, Mr Šulcas had no access to an effective remedy for this delay.

One of the biggest legal problems of Lithuania that has been experienced during many years in Strasbourg, that is, the length of the proceedings at the national level resulting in finding violations in many cases in Strasbourg has finally been addressed and applicants obtain an effective remedy before Lithuanian courts in order to claim compensation for the lengthy domestic proceedings.

Danutė Jočienė, Judge of the Constitutional Court of Lithuania, former judge of the European Court of Human Rights, writing in “The Impact of the ECHR on Democratic Change in Central and Eastern Europe”

Follow-up

Cases before the European court identified unreasonable delays across the Lithuanian justice system, in civil, criminal and administrative cases.

Between 2010 and 2014, a series of significant and wide-ranging reforms were made to ensure timely access to justice in the Lithuanian courts. These included changes to the Criminal Procedure Code, the Code of Civil Procedure and the Law on Administrative Proceedings.

These changes led to a significant drop in the average length of legal proceedings. By 2013 the average time taken for proceedings to be concluded was well under two years.

A procedure to obtain compensation for unreasonable delays was also introduced, which the European court recognised as being effective in 2013.