ECHR Ruling of March 18, 2021 in the case "Petrella v. Italy" (aplication No. 24340/07).
In 2007, the applicant was assisted in the preparation of the aplication. Subsequently, the aplication was communicated to Italy.
In the case, an aplication was successfully considered for information that does not correspond to reality, discrediting the honor, dignity and business reputation of the applicant. The case involved violations of the requirements of part 1 of Article 6 and article 13 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
On July 22, 2001, an article entitled "Millions have sunk into a black hole" was published on the front page of the newspaper thanks to "Petrella & Co." together with a photo of the applicant, who was a lawyer and chairman of a football club. Among other things, the article claimed that he was responsible for serious cuts in the local and regional budget allocated to health care over a six-year period. Then, over the next three days, other articles of the same content were published in the newspaper.
Having decided that these articles cast doubt on his honor and reputation, on July 28, 2001, the applicant filed a criminal case for defamation in the press under aggravating circumstances against the journalist and the managing director of the newspaper, as well as against the general and executive director of the publishing house. In his appeal to the Prosecutor's office, the applicant explained that he intended to enter into criminal proceedings as a civil plaintiff and demanded five million euros in damages. In addition, he stated that he would like to be notified if the consideration of his application is postponed.
On September 10, 2001, the case was transferred to the Prosecutor's Office at the District Court. On January 17, 2007, the judge conducting the preliminary investigation terminated the proceedings in the case due to the expiration of the statute of limitations for bringing to responsibility for the criminal offense that was the subject of the application.
Regarding compliance with paragraph 1 of article 6 of the Convention.
(a) The applicability of the complaint for consideration on the merits. In order to fall within the scope of the Convention, the right to prosecute or convict third parties for a criminal offence must be inseparable from the exercise by the victim of the right to initiate civil proceedings in accordance with domestic law, even if this is done only to obtain symbolic compensation for damage or to protect civil law, for example, the right to a "good name". Consequently, paragraph 1 of Article 6 of the Convention applies to proceedings involving a civil plaintiff from the moment when the plaintiff becomes a party to a civil case, except in cases when such a plaintiff unequivocally waives his right to compensation for damage (See: The Ruling of the Grand Chamber of the European Court in the case "Perez v. France" of February 12, 2004, complaint No. 47287/99.). The European Court considered that this article applies to a victim who has not yet entered into criminal proceedings as a civil plaintiff, since according to Italian law, even before the preliminary hearing at which such a status could be assigned to a person, the victim already had the right to enjoy certain rights and privileges established by law.
In the present case, the applicant applied for the initiation of criminal proceedings in order to protect civil law, namely the right to protect his reputation, in connection with which he submitted a provable statement. In his statement on the initiation of criminal proceedings, he noted that he wants to enter into criminal proceedings as a civil plaintiff and demand damages in the amount of five million euros. He also explicitly asked for a notification to be sent to him in case of termination of the judicial proceedings. Thus, the applicant took advantage of at least one of the rights or privileges granted to the injured party by Italian law (see the Judgment of the European Court in the case "Arnoldi v. Italy" (Arnoldi v. Italy) of December 7, 2017, complaint No. 35637/04). Accordingly, the European Court rejected the objection of the Italian authorities that the present complaint is incompatible with the provisions of the Convention according to the criterion ratione materiae.
Article 6 of the Convention is applicable in the present case.
(b) The substance of the complaint. The applicant exercised the rights and privileges available to him under Italian law in the context of criminal proceedings, and thus had the opportunity at a preliminary hearing to state his claims in a civil claim. Solely as a result of delays in the consideration of the case by the prosecutor's office and the subsequent termination of the proceedings in connection with the expiration of the statute of limitations, the applicant was unable to file a claim for damages or obtain a decision of the criminal court on his claim. Such negligent conduct on the part of the authorities deprived the applicant of the opportunity to determine his civil rights in the framework of the proceedings that he decided to initiate in accordance with Italian law. The plaintiff could not be required to file a new claim in a civil court for the same purposes of bringing to civil liability if the statute of limitations for initiating criminal proceedings in which the claim could be considered expired due to the fault of the criminal investigation authorities. This claim, apparently, would entail the need to reassemble evidence, and responsibility for this would be assigned to the applicant, and the establishment of possible liability could be extremely difficult after such a long time after the event in question.
The case involved a violation of the requirements of paragraph 1 of Article 6 of the Convention (adopted by five votes in favor, with two against).
In the application of article 41 of the Convention. The European Court awarded the applicant 5,200 euros in compensation for moral damage.
The European Court also ruled unanimously that there had been violations of the requirements of article 6, paragraph 1, of the Convention in connection with the excessive length of the criminal proceedings, as well as article 13 of the Convention due to the absence of a domestic remedy by which the applicant could defend his right to a trial within a reasonable time.