Okyay and Ors. v. Turkey

Application No. 36220/97; (2006) 43 EHRR 37
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Ten Turkish nationals filed suit against the Republic of Turkey alleging violation of their right to a fair hearing under the Article 6 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the “Convention”). Plaintiffs alleged administrative authorities had failed to enforce court orders to shut down three thermal power plants in the Muğla province whose operations adversely impacted the region’s biodiversity. Plaintiffs alleged a constitutional right to a “healthy and balanced environment”.

Plaintiffs had first requested that the Ministries of Health, of the Environment, and of Energy and Natural Resources, TEAŞ, and the Muğla provincial governor (the “authorities”) take action in halting the operation of three offending power plants, which the plaintiffs alleged had failed to obtain the required licenses and whose operation endangered public health and the environment. These authorities did not respond, constituting a refusal. Plaintiffs then brought three actions in the Aydin Administrative Court against the authorities. The Administrative Court, finding that the plants did not have the requisite permits and had already caused pollution harmful to health and the environment, ruled that the authorities’ refusal to halt operations was unlawful and issued an interlocutory injunction for the suspension of the plants’ operation.. The authorities appealed, and the Supreme Administrative Court upheld the judgments.

The Council of Ministers refused to enforce the administrative courts’ judgments, noting that (a) the power plants were responsible for a significant portion of the country’s electricity production and contributed substantial amounts to the Turkish economy, workforce and tourist sector, and (b) measures were already being taken to protect the environment and public health..

The Court held that there was a violation of the Plaintiffs’ right to a fair hearing under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention. In doing so, the Court noted that a right to live in a healthy and balanced environment was recognized in Turkish law, as evidenced by Article 56 of the Turkish Constitution and by the decisions of the administrative courts. Plaintiffs were therefore entitled to protection from the environmental damage caused by the power plants. The Court held that Article 6 § 1 of the Convention was therefore applicable to the case because the right to said protection related to Plaintiff’s civil rights, and because there was a genuine and serious dispute regarding the right.

The Court further held that the authorities’ failure to comply with the administrative courts’ decisions constituted a violation of Article 6 § 1 because the “execution of a judgment given by a court is to be regarded as an integral part of the ‘trial’ for the purposes of Article 6 of the Convention.”

The Court awarded Plaintiffs each 1,000 euros under Article 41 of the Convention for distress suffered as a result of Defendant’s failure to comply with the administrative courts’ decisions.

“67. Be that as it may, it is to be noted that the applicants, as individuals entitled to live in a healthy and balanced environment and duty bound to protect the environment and prevent environmental pollution (see paragraphs 46 and 47 above), had standing under Turkish law to ask the administrative courts to issue injunctions for the suspension of the power plants' environmentally hazardous activities, and to set aside the administrative authorities' decision to continue to operate them (see paragraphs 22 and 53 above). In addition, the judgments delivered by the administrative courts were favourable to the applicants and any administrative decision to refuse to enforce these judgments or to circumvent them paved the way for compensation (see paragraphs 57 and 58 above and Taşkın and Others, cited above, § 133). Accordingly, the outcome of the proceedings before the administrative courts, taken as a whole, may be considered to relate to the applicants' civil rights.”

 

“72. The Court reiterates that the execution of a judgment given by a court is to be regarded as an integral part of the “trial” for the purposes of Article 6 of the Convention (see Hornsby v. Greece, judgment of 19 March 1997, Reports 1997-II, pp. 511-12, § 40). The right of access to a court guaranteed under that Article would be rendered illusory if a Contracting State's legal system allowed a final binding judicial decision or an interlocutory order made pending the outcome of a final decision to remain inoperative to the detriment of one party. This principle is of even greater importance in the context of administrative proceedings concerning a dispute whose outcome is decisive for a litigant's civil rights (ibid.).”

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