Terra Woningen B.V. v. The Netherlands

App. No. 20641/92, 24 Eur. H.R. Rep. 456 (1997).
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Country: Netherlands
Region: Europe
Year: 1996
Court: European Court of Human Rights
Health Topics: Environmental health, Water, sanitation and hygiene
Human Rights: Right to due process/fair trial
Tags: Cleanliness, Contamination, Pollution, Waste, Waste management, Water pollution

The applicant company’s business includes the development of real property and owned 6 blocks of flats nearby the port of Rotterdam. It was reported that a smell of mineral oil had been noticed in a garden during digging. In a report it was found that pollution was caused by heavy metals and the local residents were informed that soil cleaning measures were necessary. In the course of ensuing proceedings it was decided to reduce the rent of the flats.

The applicant company brought this application to the European Court of Human Rights alleging a violation of their Article 6-1 rights. They complained that they had not had the benefit of effective judicial review in the determination of their civil rights as the District Court had considered itself bound by the Provincial’s Executive finding in respect of the soil pollution and its effects on public health and the environment and had thus denied them a judicial ruling on an important part of their case.

The Court held that the rent determination proceedings in question concerned a determination of the applicant company's 'civil rights and obligations'. By holding that the risk of public health or environment was 'necessarily implied' by the Provincial Executive's decision, the District Court deprived itself of the jurisdiction to examine the facts which were crucial to the dispute. There had been a violation of Article 6(1) ECHR.

"53. As noted above (see paragraph 38), there was uncertainty at the relevant time as to whether district courts should themselves decide whether the "further inspection under the Soil Cleaning (Temporary Provisions) Act" justified the conclusion that "pollution of the soil" was "such as to cause serious danger to public health or the environment", or in the alternative accept without question or examination of their own the determination by the competent authorities that soil-cleaning measures were required. However, the Schiedam District Court, in its judgment in the present case, held that such risk was "necessarily implied" by the Provincial Executive's decision.

54. In so doing the Schiedam District Court, a "tribunal" satisfying the requirements of Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1) (as was not contested), deprived itself of jurisdiction to examine facts which were crucial for the determination of the dispute.

55. In these circumstances the applicant company cannot be considered to have had access to a tribunal invested with sufficient jurisdiction to decide the case before it. There has accordingly been a violation of Article 6 para. 1 (art. 6-1)." Page 16.