A. & Ors. v. Denmark

App. No. 20826/92, 22 Eur. H.R. Rep. 458 (1996).
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The applicants were Danish citizens infected with HIV through State administered blood transfusions, who filed a violation of Article 6 of the Convention (right to court) claim.

Eight of the applicants were victims and two were relatives of victims, who through frequent blood transfusions at Danish Hospitals were infected with HIV. The eight applicants/victims joined a suit instituted by the Danish Association of Hemophiliacs against the Danish Government at the High Court in 1989, and the other two joined in 1990. In that suit, the Association asked the High Court to find that the defendants (Danish Government) were liable to pay damages to those of its members who had been infected with HIV by using blood products supplied by the defendants. After two years of adjournments and delays at the High Court the applicants lodged their application to the Commission alleging a violation of their human rights under Article 6 of the European Convention for unreasonable delay. Final judgment was delivered by the High Court in 1995.

The case was referred to the Court by the Commission claiming a breach of Article 6.1 (right to a fair trial) because the case had not been determined within a reasonable time by the High Court. The government disputed the applicants’ claims and attributed the delays to the conduct of applicants’ representatives at the time. The court narrowed its decision to the period which applicants joined the main suit until its final determination, the longest being approximately six years.

The court held that the reasonableness of the length of proceedings must be assessed using the criteria laid down by its case-law, in particular the complexity of the case, the conduct of the applicants and that of the relevant authorities. In this case, although the case raised some legal and factual legal questions of some complexity and also from the evidence the applicants contributed significantly to the length of the proceedings, the competent authorities did not act with exceptional diligence as require by Article 6 (art.6) in cases of this nature where victims were suffering from an incurable disease and their life expectancy had reduced. Accordingly, in so far as it concerns the eight applicants/victims there had been a violation of Article 6 para.1 (art.6-1)

Further, the court found that no duty of exceptional diligence applied to the two relatives and that thus they were not victims of a violation of Article 6 (art.6).

Finally, the court held that applicants should be awarded damages (Article 50 of the Convention) on an equitable basis bearing in mind that the applicants had received ex gratia payments from the Danish State, and they also significantly contributed to the length of the proceedings.

"78. The Court shares the Commission's opinion that what was at stake in the proceedings was of crucial importance for Mr A, Mr Eg, Mr C, Mr D, Mr E, Mr F and the son of Mr and Mrs G in view of the incurable disease from which they were suffering and their reduced life expectancy, as was sadly illustrated by the fact hat Mr C, Mr F and the son of Mr and Mrs G died of AIDS before the case was set down for trial. Accordingly, in so far as concerns the first eight applicants, the competent administrative and judicial authorities were under a positive obligation under Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1) to act with the exceptional diligence required by the Court's case-law in disputes of this nature (see the X v. France judgment of 31 March 1992, Series A no. 234-C, pp. 90-94, paras. 30-49; the Vallée v. France judgment of 26 April 1994, Series A no. 289-A, pp. 17-20, paras. 33-49; and the above-mentioned Karakaya judgment, pp. 42-45, paras. 29-45)." Page 22.