Strasbourg Observers

‘De minimis non curat praetor’ principle in the Court’s practice

August 25, 2010

The Court has recently issued an inadmissibility decision in the case of Korolev v. Russia invoking the new admissibility criterion, introduced with the entry into force of Protocol No.14 to the Convention on 1 June 2010.

The new admissibility criterion provides that applications are inadmissible where “the applicant has not suffered a significant disadvantage, unless respect for human rights as defined in the Convention and the Protocols thereto requires an examination of the application on the merits and provided that no case may be rejected on this ground which has not been duly considered by a domestic tribunal(Article 35 paragraph 3 (b)). The purpose of the new admissibility criterion is, in the long run, to enable more rapid disposal of unmeritorious cases so as to allow the Court to concentrate on its central mission of providing legal protection of human rights at the European level.[1] More recently, the High Contracting Parties invited the Court to give full effect to the new admissibility criterion and to consider other possibilities of applying the principle de minimis non curat praetor – not to be concerned with petty cases.[2]

In the present case, the applicant complained about the failure of the Russian authorities to pay him the 22.50 Roubles awarded by the domestic courts. He relied on Article 6 and on Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.

22.50 Roubles = 0.56 EUR. Understandably, the Court proceeded with applying the new admissibility criterion. The Court accepted that even a modest financial award might be significant for some people because of their personal circumstances or the economic situation of the country or region in which they lived. However, less than one euro was clearly of negligible value and of minimal significance for the applicant. Aware that a violation of the Convention might concern an important question of principle and thus cause a significant disadvantage without affecting pecuniary interest, the Court noted that the applicant had only complained of the failure to pay him less than a euro in dues.

To proceed further with the new admissibility criterion the Court had to respond to the security clauses that accompany the new criterion – respect for human rights might ask for examination on the merits of the case and duly consideration by a domestic tribunal is required.

The Court found that respect for human rights did not require an examination of Mr Korolev’s application on the merits. The Court recalled that it had decided on many previous occasions claims concerning the non-execution of domestic judicial decisions in Russia and the need for adoption of general measures to prevent future violations stemming from non-execution. An examination on the merits of Mr Korolev’s claim would not add anything new, and was consequently not necessary.

Concerning the duly consideration by a domestic tribunal, the Court noted that Mr Korolev’s case had been considered at two levels of domestic jurisdiction and his claims had been granted; his subsequent complaints having been rejected for non-compliance with domestic procedural requirements. Consequently, there had been due judicial consideration of his case at the national level.

Before the entry into force of Protocol No. 14, the Court has also faced cases similar to Korolov v. Russia. In Bock v. Germany, the applicant, a civil servant with a monthly salary of more than 4,500 EUR at the time, made a request for aid to his employer. He asked to be reimbursed for part of the cost, namely 7.99 EUR, he had paid for magnesium tablets prescribed by his physician. The case reached the Court concerning Art.6 – lengths of the proceedings the applicant initiated to receive the 7.99 EUR reimbursement.

In this case, the principle de minimis non curat praetor was invoked within the part of Article 35 that stated: “The Court shall declare inadmissible any individual application submitted under Article 34 which it considers … an abuse of the right of application.” Since there are no security clauses for this, the Court could use any information and argumentation it deemed relevant.

The Court had particular regard to the disproportion between the triviality of the facts, namely the pettiness of the amount involved and the fact that the proceedings concerned a dietary supplement, not a pharmaceutical product, and the extensive use of court proceedings – including the appeal to an international court – against the background of that Court’s overload and the fact that a large number of applications raising serious issues on human rights are pending. Furthermore, the Court observed that proceedings such as the one at issue in the instant case also contributed to the congestion of the courts at the domestic level and thus to one of the causes for excessive length of court proceedings. In the examination of the case, the Court further took into consideration the applicant’s comfortable financial situation as a government official and the fact that there was no question of principle involved as evidenced by the lack of an appeal after the first instance dismissal of the applicant’s claim. Finally, it also considered the nature and scope of the alleged Convention violation. In this respect, the Court noted that the issue of excessive length of court proceedings had been dealt with by the Court in numerous cases – in particular also against the respondent Government – in which the principles of the reasonable time requirement of Article 6 § 1 had been laid down. Accordingly, the Court found it appropriate to reject the applications as a whole as an abuse of the right of application.

Firstly, as one can see in the above-mentioned cases, there is not much difference in the Court’s assessment before and after the entry into force of the new criterion. This raises questions over the value of the new criterion. Since for the moment it has only been used in cases concerning petty sums of money (see also Adrian Mihai Ionescu v. Romania), the Court could have dealt with them, as demonstrated in Bock v. Germany, without the new criterion. Maybe in other cases it will prove its usefulness.

Secondly, it seems to be true that the new criterion will achieve its goal – to enable more rapid disposal of unmeritorious cases – in the long run. “More rapid disposal” will probably be achieved through further interpretation by the Court. It will then become handier. But, for now, the Court’s assessment of the facts as well as the reasoning in the decisions applying the new criterion are more elaborate than what can be seen in some Chamber judgments.

[1] See: Explanatory Report to Protocol No. 14, CETS No. 194.

[2] See: Action Plan adopted by the High Level Conference on the Future of the European Court of Human Rights, Interlaken, 19 February 2010, § 9(c).

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