X v. France

App. No. 18020/91, 14 Eur. H.R. Rep. 483 (1992).
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The applicant was given a number of blood transfusions and was found to have been infected with the AIDS virus. He alleged that he had been infected a result negligent delay of the Minister for Solidarity, Health and Social Protection in implementing appropriate rules for the supply of blood products. After having made unsuccessful efforts through the administrative courts to get compensation from State, he lodged this application on 19 February 1991. On 18 October 1991 the Commission referred the case to the Court. The applicant died on 2 February 1992, but his parents expressed the wish to continue the proceedings. In accordance with its own case-law the Court accepted that they were entitled to take Mr X’s place in the proceedings before it.

The applicant complained of the time taken to examine the action which he had brought against the State in the administrative courts. Specifically, he claimed that, in that in the determination of his ‘civil rights and obligations’, his case had not been heard within a reasonable time as required under Article 6 para 1 (art. 6-1) of the Convention.

Whilst the Commission and the applicant found Articles 6 para 1 (art.6-1) applicable to the case, the government claimed that, in France, a State’s liability for alleged negligence in the exercise of its regulatory authority fell outside the scope of the principles of the civil law and could not be classified as ‘civil’.

The Court held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 6-1. That bearing in mind the deteriorating health status of the applicant, the authorities had a duty to speed up the proceedings. The Court found that a reasonable time had already been exceeded from the time that applicant filed his preliminary claim with the Minister until his appeal to the administrative court of appeal - two years had already elapsed.

The Court further found that Article 6-1 was applicable to the case because, in conformity with its consistent case-law, the court was not required to interpret the notion of "civil rights and obligations" according only to the respondent State's domestic law.

"40. The Court notes that already in his memorial of 11 July 1990 the applicant had emphasised the consequences for him of the discovery that he was HIV positive and of the "idea that he was potentially afflicted with an incurable disease"; in his supplementary memorial of 29 October 1990 he had stated that his condition had deteriorated (see paragraph 14 above). Even before the disclosure on 10 September 1991 that he had developed full AIDS (see paragraph 18 above), he had therefore drawn the administrative court's attention to the worsening of his condition and the immediacy of the grave risks with which he was confronted.

The Court adds that the choice of the means of redress for obtaining compensation fell to the applicant alone." Page 14.

"47. Like the Commission, the Court takes the view that what was at stake in the contested proceedings was of crucial importance for the applicant, having regard to the incurable disease from which he was suffering and his reduced life expectancy. He was HIV positive when he lodged his preliminary application with the Minister and instituted proceedings in the administrative court and he had subsequently developed full AIDS (see paragraphs 11 and 18 above). There was a risk that any delay might render the question to be resolved by the court devoid of purpose. In short, exceptional diligence was called for in this instance, notwithstanding the number of cases which were pending, in particular as it was a controversy the facts of which the Government had been familiar with for some months and the seriousness of which must have been obvious to them.

48. Yet the administrative court did not use its powers to make orders for the speeding up of the progress of the proceedings, although from 29 October 1990 it was aware of the deterioration in Mr X's health (see paragraph 40 above). In particular, it was under a duty, as soon as the case was referred to it, to conduct inquiries into the liability of the State and to enjoin forcefully the Minister to produce his defence memorial or to give judgment without it." Page 15-16.