The chilling effect of 690, 000 euro

In the case of Handölsdalen Sami Village and Others v. Sweden the applicants argued that legal costs at a national level that amounted to 690, 000 euro were in breach of the right to access to court under Article 6.

The applicants were four Swedish Sami villages. The case concerned domestic proceedings about a disputed right of the Sami to use private land for winter grazing of their reindeer. Large numbers of landowners brought proceedings against villages, including the applicants, seeking to obtain a judgment forbidding them from using land without concluding a contract with the respective owner. The Sami villages contested the action. The District court found against the applicants. The court ordered the applicants to pay the landowners’ legal costs, amounting to approximately 400,000 euro. The applicants appealed. The court of appeal upheld the district court’s judgment and ordered the applicants to pay the landowners’ legal costs in the appeal proceedings, amounting to approximately 290,000 euro. The applicants appealed to the Supreme Court, which refused their leave to appeal.

In the proceeding before the Court in Strasbourg the applicants asserted that, given the high legal costs of the proceedings, they did not have an effective access to court. The applicants also stated that these costs can lead to bankruptcy of the villages. Continue reading