ECKLE v FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY (Series A, No 51, Application No 8130/78)
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS (1983) 5 EHRR 1, 15 JULY 1982

Length of Criminal Proceedings

FACTS:
The applicants' business dealings were the subject of three separate prosecutions in West Germany two of which lasted for 20 years and 15 years after the initial complaint. The applicants filed this suit alleging that the duration of the prosecution constituted a violation of Article 6 (1) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court held that West Germany had breached Article 6 (1) of the Convention.

Length of proceedings. Reasonable time (Article 6 (1). Periods taken into account.

- The 'reasonable time' limitation begins to run in criminal cases at the time a defendant is charged, which does not necessarily coincide with the trial date but may precede it. The Court defined 'charged' as "when notified officially of an allegation of criminal conduct and not when the initial complaint is made or a preliminary investigation begun". . The period in question under Article 6(1) includes the period from the when a defendant is charged until the end of the appeal process. A criminal charge terminates when the sentence is definitely set, the charges are dropped, or the defendant is acquitted.

The number of years is one factor that should be taken into account but it is not dispositive. A reasonableness requirement exists under Article 6(1) of the Convention. That requirement depends on the circumstances surrounding each case. Thus, the conduct of the applicants, the conduct of the judicial authorities as well as the complexity of the case are all relevant issues. However, delays of 17 years (as in this case) or even of 10 years are inordinate and as a general rule to be regarded as exceeding a reasonable time unless some extenuating circumstances existed.

In this case the applicant had exhausted all available remedies. In addition, the state lacked the resources to adequately pursue this type of crime. Nevertheless, the court held that these factors cannot explain away the long period of time it took this case to end. The Court thus places the blame on the German authorities and held for the applicant.

The following cases are referred to in the judgment.

1. ADOLF v AUSTRIA (1982) Series A, No 49; 4 EHRR 313.
2. AIREY v IRELAND (1979) Series A, No 32; 2 EHRR 305.
3. ARTICO v ITALY (1980) Series A, No 37; 3 EHRR 1.
4. BELGIAN LINGUISTIC CASE (No 2) (1968) Series A, No 6; 1 EHRR 252.
5. BUCHHOLZ v FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY (1981) Series A, No 42; 3 EHRR 97.
6. DEWEER v BELGIUM (1980) Series A, No 35; 2 EHRR 439.
7. HANDYSIDE v UNITED KINGDOM (1976) Series A, No 24; 1 EHRR 737.
8. KONIG v FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY (1978) Series A, No 27; 2 EHRR 170.
9. NEUMEISTER v AUSTRIA (No 1) (1968) Series A, No 8; 1 EHRR 191.
10. NEUMEISTER v AUSTRIA (No 2) (1974) Series A, No 17; 1 EHRR 136.
11. RINGEISEN v AUSTRIA (No 1) (1971) Series A, No 13; 1 EHRR 455.
12. RINGEISEN v AUSTRIA (No 2) (1972) Series A, No 15; 1 EHRR 504.
13. SCHLOFFER v FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY (1980) (App No 8182/80).
14. VAN DROOGENBROECK v BELGIUM (1982) Series A, No 50, 4 EHRR 443.
15. WEMHOFF v GERMANY (1968) Series B, No 5.
16. WEMHOFF v GERMANY (1968) Series A, No 7; 1 EHRR 55.
17. Judgment of 10 November 1971, Federal Court of Justice, Entscheidungen des Bundesgerichtshofes in Strafsachen.

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