COUNCIL OF EUROPE
COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS
Interim Resolution ResDH(2006)27
on judgments by the European Court of Human Rights concerning issues of reafforestation and violations of property rights in Greece in the cases:
- Papastavrou and others, judgments of 10 April 2003, final on 10 July 2003 and of 18 November 2004, final on 18 February 2005
- Katsoulis and others, judgments of 8 July 2004, final on 8 October 2004 and of 24 November 2005, final on 24 February 2006
(adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 7 June 2006,
at the 966th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)
The Committee of Ministers, under the terms of Article 46, paragraph 2, of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (hereinafter referred to as “the Convention”);
Having regard to the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights delivered in the cases of Papastavrou and others, and Katsoulis and others, transmitted to the Committee of Ministers once they had become final under Articles 44 and 46 of the Convention;
Recalling that the case of Papastavrou and others originated in an application (No. 46372/99) against Greece, lodged with the European Commission of Human Rights on 6 October 1998 under former Article 25 of the Convention by twenty-five Greek nationals;
Recalling that the case of Katsoulis and others originated in an application (No. 66742/01) against Greece, lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 6 December 2000 under Article 34 of the Convention by thirty-nine Greek nationals;
Recalling that in its respective judgments of 10 April 2003 and 8 July 2004, the Court unanimously held that there had been violations of Article 1 of Protocol No 1 to the Convention due to a decision by the Prefect of Athens in 1994 to reafforest plots of land possessed in good faith by the applicants (in pending domestic court proceedings the state has claimed property rights itself), thus confirming a 1934 ministerial decision to the same effect, without a fresh assessment of the situation described in the latter decision;
Recalling, furthermore, that the Court also found in the case of Katsoulis and others a violation of Article 6, paragraph 1, of the Convention on account of the excessive length of the proceedings before the Council of State (Supreme Administrative Court);
Having regard to the Rules adopted by the Committee of Ministers concerning the application of Article 46, paragraph 2, of the Convention;
Recalling that the obligation of all member states to abide by the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in accordance with Article 46, paragraph 1, of the Convention involves an obligation to adopt rapidly individual measures in order to grant the applicants, to the extent possible, full redress for the violations found (restitutio in integrum), as well as to adopt without delay general measures, including, to the extent possible, interim measures, to stop ongoing violations of the Convention and to prevent the recurrence of violations similar to those found by the Court;
Having invited the government of the respondent state to inform it of the measures which had been taken in consequence of the judgments of 10 April 2003 and 8 July 2004, having regard to Greece’s obligation under Article 46, paragraph 1, of the Convention to abide by them;
Whereas during the examination of the cases by the Committee of Ministers, the government of the respondent state gave the Committee information about interim and long-term general measures taken and under way in order to prevent new violations of the same kind as those found in the present judgments; this information appears in the appendix to this resolution;
Stressing, in particular, that the violations established in these cases have highlighted the problems inherent in the present absence of a functioning, up-to-date national forest register;
Noting, however, that the setting up of such a forest register is intimately linked to that of setting up also a functioning land register and that this latter situation is at the origin of a number of further violations established by the Court of Articles 6 of the Convention and 1 of Protocol No. 1 (see e.g. the Tsirikakis group of cases, judgment of 17 January 2002, final on 10 July 2002 and other similar cases);
Noting with concern the delay taken in setting up the national forest and land register foreseen since 1994, and stressing the need, in view of the problems caused by the present situation, to bring this project to an end as rapidly as possible;
Noting also the absence of any proposal to introduce through legislation, pending the completion of the forest register, a remedy capable of providing compensation for bona fide landowners affected by reafforestation decisions and involved in lengthy litigation related to the recognition of the ownership of forests, as is the case with the applicants;
Noting, however, in this context the direct effect granted to the Convention and the Court’s case-law in cases regarding reafforestation and protection of individual land property rights, as was expressly affirmed in 2005 by the Plenary of the Court of Cassation (see Appendix) and awaiting information on the consequences of this development, particularly for the right of compensation;
Noting with interest that Greece has adopted certain general measures to accelerate proceedings before all administrative courts (see Final Resolution ResDH(2005)65 on Pafitis and others and 14 other cases against Greece, 18 July 2005) and that additional problems revealed by recent judgments of the Court (see e.g. Manios, judgment of 11/03/04) are being addressed by Greece under the Committee’s supervision;
Underlining in this connection the importance attached to following up the Committee’s 2004 Declaration “Ensuring the effectiveness of the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights at national and European levels” and the Recommendations referred to therein, in particular, Recommendation Rec(2004)5 to member states on the verification of the compatibility of draft laws, existing laws and administrative practice with the standards laid down in the Convention and Recommendation Rec(2004)6 on the improvement of domestic remedies1;
ENCOURAGES the competent Greek authorities, in particular the Ministry of Environment, Urban Planning and Public Works, to intensify and accelerate their efforts to complete the national land and forest register;
ENCOURAGES the rapid development of a remedy capable of providing compensation for bona fide landowners such as the applicants, affected by reafforestation decisions and involved in lengthy litigation related to recognition of the ownership of forests;
INVITES the Greek government to keep the Committee regularly informed of the progress of the national land and forest register project and of the other relevant developments of national law;
DECIDES to examine at one of its meetings, not later than at the end of the planned 2nd stage of the forest and land register reform, i.e. by December 2008, further progress achieved in the adoption of the general measures necessary effectively to prevent similar violations of Article 1 of Protocol No 1 to the Convention.
to Interim Resolution ResDH(2006)27
Information supplied by the Government of Greece
during the consideration of the cases of
Papastavrou and others and Katsoulis and others
by the Committee of Ministers
I. Introductory note
The government is aware of the present need to guarantee the long-term effectiveness of the European Convention system and has approached the execution problems raised in these cases, as indeed those raised in all cases presently pending before the Committee of Ministers for supervision of execution, in the light of the Committee’s 2004 Declaration “Ensuring the effectiveness of the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights at national and European levels” and the different Recommendations mentioned therein, including Recommendation Rec(2004)5 to member states on the verification of the compatibility of draft laws, existing laws and administrative practice with the standards laid down in the Convention and Recommendation Rec(2004)6 on the improvement of domestic remedies.
II. Individual measures
In both cases the European Court found that the applicants had suffered a “drastic limitation of their property’s use”2 and awarded them just satisfaction covering the pecuniary damage that had been caused. Possible consequences of the violation still suffered by the applicants should be remedied in the context of the interim and long-term general measures (see below). The applicants have not communicated any further claims.
III. Interim and long-term general measures adopted and under way with a view to preventing similar violations of Article 1 of Protocol No 1 to the Convention
III.1 Interim measures – Direct effect granted to the Convention and the Court’s case law
Both judgments (merits), immediately after their delivery, were translated and published on the website of the State Legal Council (www.nsk.gr). They have also been sent by the State Legal Council to the Ministry of Justice and to the Council of State. Further dissemination of both judgments to competent administrative authorities is currently envisaged, possibly with a circular explaining their practical implications for these authorities.
The Greek government notes that the effectiveness of these interim measures is corroborated by the fact that the Convention and the Court’s case law enjoy direct effect in Greek law. In particular, the Plenary of the Court of Cassation, by its judgment no 21/2005 of 1 April 2005 (published in the widely-read Athens Bar journal Nomiko Vima, 2005, 1084-7) recognised and stressed the supra-statutory force of Article 1 of Protocol No 1 to the Convention in cases regarding reafforestation and protection of individual land property rights.
The government does not exclude that a case-law development following this Supreme Court Plenary decision may provide for a possibility of reparation to bona fide landowners, such as the applicants, affected by reafforestation decisions. The situation is being kept under supervision in order to ensure that the Court is not seised with unnecessary applications.
It is to be noted that under Greek law, compensation may always be awarded to individuals after their land or forest ownership has been recognised by courts. This compensation may cover any potential damage that individuals may have suffered during the period during which they had been unable to use their property due to pending proceedings concerning ownership.
III.2 Long-term general measures under way - Progress report on the national land and forest register project
1. The Greek government stresses that the project of national land and forest register initiated in 1994 is a priority of national importance.
The project consists of four stages. Approximately 800 specialised companies have been involved in it collaborating with 300 law firms and 170 offices of forest experts. The procedure of land registration consists of 11 stages:
· Inclusion of an area in the register;
· Publication of the announcement of the register in the press and its notification to State and local administrative entities;
· Lodging of registration requests by the beneficiaries;
· Processing of the requests and drafting of register tables;
· Publication of the above tables;
· Possible lodging of objections by interested parties;
· Judgments on objections and amendment of register tables;
· Second publication of corrected tables;
· Lodging of objections against corrected tables;
· Judgments on the objections against corrected tables;
· Registration in the register.
2. In 2005 the Greek Technical Chamber (TEE), acting as consultant to the Greek state, submitted a study to the Ministry of the Environment, Urban Planning and Public Works, taking stock of the work accomplished during the first 10 years of the project and making proposals for its conclusion:
(a) The first 10 years produced the groundwork by laying down guidelines facilitating the management of various land property problems in Greece (problems relating to public areas, forests, usucapio, non-registered land transactions etc);
(b) After the conclusion of the first stage, the legal and technical framework is in position to support the next stages. The human resources and the infrastructures already in place at state and private levels are capable of leading to the conclusion of the project;
(c) The delays encountered so far have been caused primarily by the lack of official forest maps and by the enormous volume of land ownership-related declarations submitted by natural or legal persons;
(d) It is foreseen that the second stage of the project (2005-2008) will cover all urban centres and may materialise without state funding which may instead be used for the third and fourth stages (2009-2016).
3. On 5 May 2006 the Minister of Environment, Urban Planning and Public Works submitted a new Bill to the Greek Parliament, which aims at the acceleration of the completion of the national land register, in particular by simplifying the land registration procedure (item 1 above) laying down, in cases of objections, simpler administrative procedures and providing for the possibility of short, ex parte proceedings.
IV. General measures adopted and under way to accelerate proceedings before administrative courts, with a view to preventing new, similar violations of Article 6, paragraph 1
Greece has adopted a number of legislative and other measures with a view to accelerating proceedings before all administrative courts (see Final Resolution ResDH(2005)65 on Pafitis and others and 14 other cases against Greece, adopted on 18 July 2005). Additional problems in this field, including that of an effective domestic remedy against this kind of violations, have been highlighted in more recent judgments (see Manios group of cases) and are being addressed by the Greek authorities under the Committee’s supervision. Such measures include in particular, provision of an effective domestic remedy in case of excessively lengthy judicial proceedings.
The Greek government believes that the measures above demonstrate the efforts that it has made with a view to fully executing the Court’s present judgments, in accordance with Article 46, paragraph 1, of the Convention. The Greek authorities will continue to adopt measures to that effect and will keep the Committee of Ministers regularly informed of all new developments, in particular those relating to the completion of the national land and forest register.
Note 1 See documents at: www.coe.int/t/cm.
Note 2 See above-mentioned judgments (just satisfaction) in the cases of Papastavrou and others, §16 and Katsoulis and others, §21.