Thursday, June 23, 2011

TEDH: STEFANICA Y OTROS V. RUMANIA

Uno de los aspectos más destacados de las sentencias y jurisprudencia del TEDH es que obligan a interpretar la legislación y jurisprudencia nacional a la luz de consideraciones independientes no afectadas por formulismos o rutinas poco compatibles con la administración de justicia. Se trata de una manifestación del pluralismo jurídico, porque el resultado alcanzado por una jurisdicción nacional se somete a una consideración completamente nueva sin otras ataduras que los derechos garantizados por la Convención y la propia jurisprudencia del Tribunal. El caso experimenta por ello una suerte de “deconstrucción” o liberación de los moldes impuestos por las reglas procesales y sustantivas de la jurisdicción nacional, sin perder por ello sus características propias.

Como precisa la sentencia aquí comentada:

“El Tribunal es dueño de la calificación jurídica de los hechos del caso y no está vinculado por la calificación dada por el demandante o su gobierno. Una demanda está caracterizada por los hechos alegados en ella y no meramente por los fundamentos o argumentos legales en los que se apoya (ver Powell y Rainer v. Reino Unido, 21 de Febrero de 1990, 29;y Guerra y otros v. Italia, 19 de Febrero de 1998, 44)” (Stefanica y otros v. Rumania,2 de Noviembre de 2010, 23)

La demanda (nº 38155/02) estimada por el TEDH se refiere a un colectivo de trabajadores rumanos que fueron despedidos en un procedimiento de despido colectivo u objetivo de un banco del sector estatal y que no percibieron la indemnización legalmente establecida para dichos supuestos como consecuencia de una sentencia desestimatoria de un Tribunal regional.

La sentencia desestimatoria del Tribunal regional (de fecha 25 de Marzo de 2002) sostuvo que dicha indemnización exigía una decisión previa de un denominado Fondo de la Propiedad Estatal y la participación en determinados procedimientos previos al despido colectivo.

Sin embargo, otros trabajadores afectados por despidos colectivos en la misma entidad bancaria obtuvieron bien un pronunciamiento favorable del Tribunal Supremo en un recurso extraordinario no dirigido a establecer jurisprudencia (Sentencia de 1 de Octubre de 2003) o bien decisiones favorables de los Tribunales regionales (sentencias de 30 de Junio de 2003 y 3 de Septiembre de 2004).

Las sentencias del Tribunal Supremo y de los Tribunales regionales concluyeron que el derecho a al indemnización no estaba afectado por la falta de decisión previa del denominado Fondo de la Propiedad Estatal y que la negligencia del empresario que determinó la no participación de los trabajadores despedidos en los procedimientos previos al despido colectivo tampoco afectaba a su derecho a percibir la indemnización legal.

Aunque los trabajadores formularon su demanda invocando los artículos 6.1, 2.1, 13 y 17 de la CEDH, el TEDH la examina “en sustancia” a la luz de los artículos 6.1, y1 del Protocolo 1 (“derecho al disfrute pacífico de los bienes”) en conjunción con el artículo 14.

Estos son los principales fundamentos de la sentencia estimatoria:

“22. (…) the applicants complained that the rejection of their claim by the Bucharest County Court was contrary to the solution adopted at final instance by other county courts across the country and that they had thus been deprived of the compensatory payments to which they were entitled. They also claimed that the domestic courts were not impartial or independent and had delivered a wrongful decision in their case.

23. The Court is master of the characterisation to be given in law to the facts of the case and is not bound by the characterisation given by an applicant or a government. A complaint is characterised by the facts alleged in it and not merely by the legal grounds or arguments relied on (see Powell and Rayner v. the United Kingdom, 21 February 1990, § 29, Series A no. 172, and Guerra and Others v. Italy, 19 February 1998, § 44, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1998-I). Having regard to this, the Court considers that the applicant's complaints are to be examined under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention and Article 1 of Protocol No 1 in conjunction with Article 14 of the Convention.

(…)

26. The Government submits that conflicting case-law within a legal system based on jurisdiction over specific geographic areas is not of itself incompatible with the requirements of Article 6 § 1. According to them, the applicants had failed to bring forward proof of a divergent case-law adopted consistently at national level or by the highest jurisdiction and had provided only a limited number of examples of divergent solutions.

27. The Government further underlines that contrary to the factual situation in the case of Beian v. Romania (no. 1) (no. 30658/05, ECHR 2007‑XIII (extracts)), the divergent case-law in the present case does not stem from the highest court. They consider that it was within the competence of the national judges to interpret the law and, in the absence of any decision of the Supreme Court intended to create common practice, the existence of different interpretations of the applicable legal provisions does not amount to a breach of the principle of legal certainty.

28. In respect of the decision delivered by the Supreme Court of Justice on 1 October 2003, the Government notes that it was not intended to unify the practice of the lower courts, but concerned a specific case. Nevertheless, they further draw attention to the fact that at the time the domestic law provided for a remedy in case of divergent jurisprudence, namely an appeal in the interest of law (see § 20 above).

29. The applicants disagreed with the Government's position and reiterated that opposing final decisions had been reached in cases similar to theirs.

(…)

31. The Court notes that the present case concerns a legal question affecting former employees of B. who were part of the same collective dismissal process. It accepts that the legal issue at stake was not a matter of general concern to the whole of society, such as the conflicting case-law on restitution at stake in the case of Tudor Tudor v. Romania (no. 21911/03, § 31, 24 March 2009), but affected a clearly defined category of people. However, it considers that the applicants, like any other citizen, had the right to a fair trial in the determination of their civil claims and the right to a fair trial includes the right to legal certainty. It recalls in this respect its case-law according to which the principle of legal certainty is implied in the Convention and constitutes one of the basic elements of the rule of law (see Beian (no. 1), cited above, § 39).

32. The Court considers that once a solution has been adopted by a State to regulate the collective dismissal of hundreds of persons from state-owned companies, it must be implemented with reasonable clarity and coherence in order to avoid, in so far as possible, uncertainty and ambiguity for the persons concerned by the measures of implementation. In that context, it should be stressed that uncertainty – be it legislative, administrative or arising from practices applied by the authorities – is an important factor to be taken into account in assessing the State's conduct (see Broniowski v. Poland [GC], no. 31443/96, § 151, ECHR 2004‑V; Păduraru v. Romania, no. 63252/00, § 92, ECHR 2005‑XII (extracts); and Beian v. Romania (no. 1), cited above, § 33).

33. The Court notes that the judicial decisions available in the case file and concerning the entitlement to compensatory payments concern persons in a similar situation; namely, persons who had been dismissed from different branches of the same company, before October 1999 and who had been denied by their employer the right to compensatory payments. As they were not considered by the company to have been part of a collective dismissal, the persons concerned had also not been involved in the pre-dismissal procedures. Furthermore, according to the Emergency Ordinance no. 98/1999, in order to benefit from pre-dismissal assistance, their names would have had to be provided to the agencies charged with providing these services. As it appears from the various court decisions available in the case-file, the employer did not provide the agencies with lists of the persons dismissed before October 1999.

34. The Court notes further that, while the applicants' legal action for compensatory payments was dismissed, final decisions of different county courts recognised the right to such payments to persons in similar situations. These contradictory solutions reveal an inconsistent approach of the domestic courts in interpreting the conditions set by the law for the award of compensatory payments despite similar factual situations.

35. Without deeming it appropriate to pronounce as to what the actual outcome of the applicants' lawsuit should have been (see mutatis mutandis, Vinčić and Others v. Serbia, no. 44698/06 et seq. § 56, 1 December 2009), the Court considers that this diversity of interpretation of national law by the different county courts ruling as final instances led to judicial uncertainty in the adjudication of similar civil claims.

36. The Court considers it necessary to analyse further the Government's argument that there was a mechanism in place to ensure a uniform interpretation of the applicable law. In this respect it notes that the final instance courts with jurisdiction were the county courts and, as a consequence, there was no possibility for the Supreme Court of Justice to intervene in the adjudication of the cases during the ordinary proceedings.

37. The applicants themselves applied to the Prosecutor General for leave to lodge either one of the two extraordinary appeals and both requests were refused. At the same time, a request from a different set of plaintiffs was accepted and led to a favourable solution for those concerned (see § 17 above). The decision delivered by the Supreme Court of Justice in those extraordinary proceedings concerned the particular application of law in that individual case and was not meant to settle conflicting interpretations of national law (see mutatis mutandis, Tudor Tudor, cited above, § 29). Moreover, the Court reiterates its conclusion in the case of Tudor Tudor (cited above) that where the intervention of the Supreme Court was only possible by means of an extraordinary appeal that contradicted in itself the principle of legal certainty.

The Court acknowledges that a lower court's appreciation of the facts of a case and its assessment of the evidence therein, may lead to different outcomes for parties with broadly similar grievances. Such reality does not, per se, violate the principle of legal certainty.

However, where there are divergences in the application of substantively similar legal provisions to persons in near identical groups, a problem with legal certainty does arise. Such was the situation in this case.

38. In the light of the foregoing considerations, the Court concludes that in the absence of a remedy to resolve such divergences, the inconsistent adjudication of claims brought by many persons in similar situations led to a state of uncertainty, which in turn must have reduced the public's confidence in the judiciary, such confidence clearly being one of the essential components of a State based on the rule of law (see mutatis mutandis, Vinčić, cited above, § 56). The judicial uncertainty in question has deprived the applicants of a fair hearing.

39. There has consequently been a violation of Article 6 § 1 in this connection.

40. Having regard to the above finding, the Court considers that it is not necessary to pursue the examination of the remaining complaints under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.”

Aparte del valor jurisprudencial propio del caso, las siguientes consideraciones tienen una gran trascendencia en relación con cualquier infracción nacional del derecho a la seguridad juridica, que ya apenas se invoca – si es que no se ignora- en determinadas demandas y sentencias de las jurisdicciones internas:

1) La propia caracterización del derecho a la seguridad juridica como parte del derecho a un juicio justo.

2) La incompatibilidad de soluciones contradictorias sobre las condiciones legales de determinados derechos con dicho derecho a la seguridad jurídica.Nuestro Tribunal Constitucional, por ejemplo, solo estima una infracción del mismo, como infracción del derecho a la igualdad en la aplicación de la ley, cuando la contradicción se da entre dos sentencias emitidas por la misma “Sala y Sección “ de un Tribunal.

3) La consideración de la divergencia de interpretación de la ley por diferentes tribunales que decidan como última instancia como incompatible con el derecho a la seguridad juridica en la decision de los pleitos civiles.

4) La consideración de que cuando la intervención de un Tribunal Supremo es solo possible por medio de un recurso extraordinario sin alcance general ello contradice en sí mismo el derecho a la seguridad juridica.Con mayor motivo debería considerarse contraria a dicho derecho una limitación radical de los recusos al Tribunal Supremo por falta de cuantía o interés, en la forma por cierto contemplada en el proyecto de ley de agilización procesal actualmente en las Cortes.

5) La distinta apreciación de los hechos y pruebas por los tribunales inferiores no contradice el derecho a la seguridad, pero cuando “hay divergencias en la aplicación de sustancialmente las mismas previsiones legales a personas en grupos casi idénticos, se plantea un problema con la seguridad juridica.Esta fue la situación en el caso”

6) La confianza en el sistema judicial, claramente un componente esencial de un Estado basado en el gobierno del derecho, exige un remedio para resolver estas divergencias interpretativas legales.

La Sentencia
es también importante porque rechaza la petición de daños cifrada en el importe de las indemnizaciones que los trabajadores deberían haber recibido solo porque el Codigo de Procedimiento Civil Rumano tiene un procedimiento específico para revisar las sentencias dictadas si el TEDH ha decidido que una sentencia nacional ha violado los derechos fundamentals de la Convención.En España no existe todavía una prevision similar.Solo como consecuencia de dicha previsión y del principio de subsidiariedad, considera el Tribunal que debe rechazar la petición de indemnización en este aspecto.La STEDH reconoce un daño moral de 3.000 euros a cada demandante y un derecho al reembolso de gastos de 40 euros por cada demandante.

Por ultimo, aunque el Tribunal no lo examina es destacable que el caso pudiera haberse considerado también como una infracción del derecho al disfrute pacífico de los bienes y del derecho a la igualdad en la aplicación de la ley.Los trabajadores de una empresa estatal procedente del regimen comunista habrían resultado protegidos por el derecho de propiedad.Han tenido en ello más fortuna que los del caso “Aizpurua Ortiz y otros v. España”.El Tribunal Constitucional español sigue considerando que el derecho al disfrute pacífico de los bienes frente a intromisiones no justificadas no es un derecho susceptible de amparo, tampoco cuando se invoca el artículo 1 del Protocolo 1 del Convenio Europeo suscrito por España (ver en este sentido, por todas, la reciente STC 38/2011, de 28 de Marzo)

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