January 18
2021
Dolores Utrilla
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11th February 2020
Human Rights Justice & Litigation

ECtHR identifies flaws in the effectiveness of constitutional redress proceedings in Malta

Today, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered two judgments in which the effectiveness of constitutional redress proceedings in Malta was examined from the perspective of both the right to a hearing within a reasonable time under Article 6(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), and the right to an effective remedy under Article 13 ECHR.

In Marshall and Others v. Malta (application no. 79177/16), the ECtHR examined the applicants’ claim of ineffectiveness of constitutional redress proceedings, in relation to both a breach of their property rights and to the length of ordinary (civil) proceedings. In this case, the applicant brought the case before the Maltese Constitutional Court after ordinary proceedings that lasted for 21 years. The Constitutional Court found that there had been a breach of the applicant’s rights due to the excessive length of civil proceedings, but reduced the compensation from one million to 25,000 EUR.

When examining this case, the Strasbourg-based court noted, firstly, that the applicants did not explicitly complain about the duration of the constitutional redress proceedings, and therefore examined the application from the exclusive standpoint of the duration of civil proceedings, finding it to be excessive and contrary to Article 6(1) ECHR.

As for the effectiveness of the redress granted, the ECtHR expressed doubts regarding the approach of the Maltese Constitutional Court, in so far as it did not use all available means to bring the infringement of the applicant’s rights to an end. According to the ECtHR, the redress given by the Constitutional Court was unjustifiably inappropriate. Moreover, the amount of damages awarded did not constitute adequate redress and it was noted that this seems to be a systemic problem at the Maltese Constitutional Court, because of both the low amount of pecuniary awards and the frequent lack of an adequate award of non-pecuniary damages.

In the case of Galea and Pavia v. Malta (nos. 77209/16 and 77225/16), the applicants complained about the excessive length of ordinary (criminal) proceedings and the lack of an effective remedy for that issue. They had been convicted after 16 years of criminal proceedings and subsequently brought constitutional redress proceedings before the Constitutional Court, that lasted for a further 17 years. The Constitutional Court agreed that the applicant’s rights were violated due to the excessive length of criminal procedures, but reduced the compensation originally awarded to 5,000 EUR for each applicant.

The ECtHR found in this case that Article 6(1) ECHR had been infringed also because of the excessive length of constitutional redress proceedings, a length that was not justified, particularly because the legal issues are stake were not complex. Turning to Article 13 ECHR, the ECtHR concluded that, because of the low amount of the compensation granted and the excessive delay of the proceedings, in this particular case Malta had not demonstrated that ‘constitutional redress proceedings, which are an effective remedy in theory, constituted effective remedies in practice’.

Read the judgments here (for Marshall and Others v. Malta) and here (for Galea and Pavia v. Malta).

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