Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Systemic Problems of Romanian Restitution

Last week, the Court gave a pilot-like judgment in the case of Viasu v. Romania. The applicant in the case tried in vain to have a compensation order under current Romanian restitution legislation enforced. Viasu's plot of land had been nationalised in the Communist era, and restitution in itself was impossible because the land in question was being used as a mine.

The Court noted that many others, including many which had an application pending in Strasbourg, found themselves in the same situation. The Court found a violation of Article 1 of Protocol 1 ECHR (peaceful enjoyment of possessions), since the national compensation decisions for Mr. Viasu had not been enforced for years. The problem was caused by the very complicated restitution system, which had undergone many legislative changes leading to legal uncertainty. The Court refers to this as overabundant and largely ineffective legislative activity ("activité normative surabondante et ... largement inefficace", para. 72). In this sense the problem was systemic. This of course implies that the state involved has to take action which goes beyond the circumstances of the case at hand.

The most interesting part in this judgment is probably the Court's reasoning under Article 46 (states have to abide by the Court's judgments). The Court makes reference to the thousands of comparable cases in Romania and to the dozens of its own judgments since the first case on the issue, Brumarescu. In addition many comparable cases are, as indicated, still pending. This not only a factor leading to increased state responsibility, but also endangers the effectiveness of the ECHR's machinery (in the light of the high case load). The Court then continues on a path it has increasingly taken in the last few years, that of indicating more precisley what a state is expected to do. As in the past, it strongly emphasizes that these are only indications and not orders, since it is for the state, under the supervision of the Committee of Ministers, to choose the means of implementation. This is the relevant and revealing part of the judgment (para. 83, in French):

Pour aider l'État défendeur à remplir ses obligations au titre de l'article 46, la Cour a cherché à indiquer, à titre purement indicatif, le type de mesures que l'État roumain pourrait prendre pour mettre un terme à la situation structurelle constatée en l'espèce. Elle considère que l'État défendeur doit, avant tout, soit supprimer tout obstacle s'opposant à l'exercice effectif du droit des nombreuses personnes touchées par la situation jugée par elle contraire à la Convention, comme c'est le cas du requérant, ou à défaut, offrir un redressement approprié. L'État défendeur doit donc garantir par des mesures légales et administratives appropriées la réalisation effective et rapide du droit à restitution, qu'il s'agisse d'une restitution en nature ou de l'octroi d'une indemnité, conformément aux principes de la prééminence du droit et de la légalité de la protection des droits patrimoniaux énoncés à l'article 1 du Protocole no 1, en tenant compte des principes énoncés par la jurisprudence de la Cour en matière d'indemnisation (arrêt Broniowski précité, §§ 147-151, 176 et 186). Ces objectifs pourraient être atteints, par exemple, par l'amendement du mécanisme de restitution actuel, dont la Cour a relevé certaines faiblesses, et la mise en place d'urgence de procédures simplifiées et efficaces, fondées sur des mesures législatives et règlementaires cohérentes, qui puissent ménager un juste équilibre entre les différents intérêts en jeu.
For the applicant there was a directly positive outcome: Romania is to pay him 115,000 euros within three months. This in itself may form a strong inducement for the authorities to provide clarity in the restitution law system.

The judgment is available only in French, but a press release in English can be found here.

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