ECHR judgment of November 8, 2016 in the case of Pencka v. Estonia (application No. 64160/11).
In 2011, the applicant was assisted in preparing the application. Subsequently, the application was communicated to Estonia.
The case was successfully considered a complaint about the absence of significant reasons for the court's refusal to hold an oral hearing on minor claims. There has been a violation of Article 6 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
The applicant, a Finnish citizen, was convicted of murder in a court in Estonia and transferred to Finland to serve his sentence. He was sued in the courts of Estonia. Given the insignificant cost of the claim, it was reviewed in accordance with a simplified procedure (for minor claims), and the applicant's request for an oral hearing was rejected. In the conventional proceedings, the applicant complained that the absence of an oral hearing had deprived him and the two witnesses whom he wanted to summon, the opportunity to testify.
ISSUES OF LAW
Concerning compliance with article 6, paragraph 1, of the Convention. In accordance with the consistent case-law of the European Court in the trial of the first and only instance, the right to "public hearings" within the meaning of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention entails the right to "oral hearing", unless there are exceptional circumstances justifying the cancellation of such a hearing. The exceptional nature of the circumstances capable of justifying the cancellation of an oral hearing is mainly concerned with the nature of matters requiring the approval of an internal court (for example, if the proceedings involve exclusively legal or highly technical matters (see Koottummel v. Austria, judgment of the European Court of Human Rights) of 10 December 2009, application No. 49616/06), or does not contain questions of fact or law that can not be adequately resolved in the case file and in the written explanations of the parties (see Resolutions of the European Court of 12 November 2002 in the case of Dory v. Sweden, application No. 28394/95.) Otherwise, under very exceptional circumstances, parties should at least be able to demand a public hearing. In the present case, the decision of the Estonian court to elect a written procedure did not mention the nature of the questions posed to it or whether they could be considered in the absence of a hearing. In addition, even though the applicant's defense had raised certain issues of fact, the decision did not mention his petition for testimony to them and witnesses. Although the applicant requested an oral hearing, the domestic court did not in fact give reasons for rejecting his application, but merely referred to article 404 of the Civil Procedure Code in the absence of an explanation as to why it was applicable in the applicant's case. In this regard, the Court considers that in accordance with article 5 of Regulation (EC) No 861/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 July 2007 establishing a European dispute settlement procedure with a small amount of action that served as the basis for the relevant provisions of Estonian law , the court of this country had an obligation to motivate such refusal in writing. Finally, although the Court acknowledged that there was a practical problem related to the fact that, during the period relevant to the circumstances of the case, the applicant was serving a term of imprisonment in Finland, he noted that the "hearing" of the applicant did not necessarily have to take the form of an oral hearing in judicial premises in Estonia. However, it does not appear that the defendant's court was considering other alternative procedural options (such as the use of modern communication technologies) to ensure the applicant's right to be heard orally.
Article 404 of the Code of Civil Procedure allows a court considering a civil claim with a price less than a certain amount to conduct a written hearing if the party encounters significant difficulties in appearing before the court due to the length of the trip or for another valid reason. It also provides that the written proceedings should be terminated if, in the court's opinion, the personal appearance of the parties is necessary to certify the facts on which the claim is based, or if the party through whom the written proceedings was ordered requests that the case be heard at a court hearing.
In the case there was a violation of the requirements of Article 6 of the Convention (adopted by five votes "for" with two - "against").
In the application of Article 41 of the Convention. The European Court awarded the applicant EUR 1,000 in respect of non-pecuniary damage, the claim for compensation for pecuniary damage was rejected.