Press release issued by the Registrar
The European Court of Human Rights has today notified in writing its Chamber judgment on just satisfaction in the case of Scordino v. Italy (no. 3) (application no. 43662/98).
The Court decided unanimously to award the applicants 3,300,000 euros (EUR) for pecuniary damage, EUR 40,000 for non-pecuniary damage and EUR 30,000 for costs and expenses.
In its judgment of 17 May 2005 on the merits the Court noted that the authorities had appropriated the applicants’ land in breach of the rules governing expropriation and that the Italian courts had condoned the authorities’ unlawful conduct by applying the constructive-expropriation rule. The Court held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) to the European Convention on Human Rights and considered that the question of just satisfaction was not ready for decision.
In the judgment delivered today the Court noted the existence of a defect within the Italian legal system since a large number of people were in the same position as the applicants, a fact that could give rise to numerous subsequent well-founded applications. It accordingly considered that general measures should be taken by Italy under Article 46 (binding force and execution of judgments). The Court also specified what means should be used to afford full redress for the damage sustained by persons who, like the applicants, were dispossessed of property in a manner that was unlawful in itself. (The judgment is available only in French.)
1. Principal facts
The applicants, Giovanni, Elena, Maria and Giuliana Scordino are Italian nationals who were born in 1959, 1949, 1951 and 1953 respectively and live in Reggio Calabria (Italy).
The authorities took physical possession of land belonging to the applicants in 1980 with a view to expropriating it. The Italian courts ruled that such possession was illegal but held that, in accordance with the constructive-expropriation rule established by judicial precedent, ownership of the property had been transferred to the authorities. Pursuant to the Budget Act (Law no. 662/1996), which placed a ceiling on the amount of compensation to be granted in cases of constructive expropriation, the applicants were awarded amounts which, in their opinion, did not reflect the compensation to which they were entitled. However, the appeals they subsequently lodged to obtain restitution of their land or to contest the amount of compensation were unsuccessful.
The applicants submitted before the Court that they had been deprived of their land in circumstances that were incompatible with Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) to the Convention.
2. Procedure and composition of the Court
The application was lodged with the European Commission of Human Rights on 12 August 1998. It was referred to the European Court of Human Rights on 1 November 1998 and declared admissible on 6 April 2004.
Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:
Nicolas Bratza (British), President,
Josep Casadevall (Andorran),
Giovanni Bonello (Maltese),
Kristaq Traja (Albanian),
Lech Garlicki (Polish),
Ljiljana Mijović (citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina), judges,
Mariavaleria Del Tufo (Italian), ad hoc judge,
and also Lawrence Early, Section Registrar.
3. Summary of the judgment
Decision of the Court
Although in principle it was not its task to determine what measures a State should take to satisfy its obligations under Article 46 of the Convention, the Court decided, in view of the systemic nature of the violation it had found in the applicants’’ case, to give Italy indications as to the type of measures to take in order to put an end to the situation.
The Court considered that Italy should, above all, prevent any cases of illegal occupation of land and discourage practices that did not comply with the rules on lawful expropriation by enacting provisions to act as a deterrent and by establishing the liability of those who engaged in such practices.
In all cases where land had already been expropriated without title and had been transformed in the absence of an expropriation order, the Court considered that Italy should eliminate the legal obstacles that systematically prevented, as a matter of principle, the restitution of land. Where restitution proved impossible, Italy should ensure payment of a sum corresponding to the value of restitution in kind. The State should also take appropriate steps from a budgetary perspective to award damages, if need be, for losses sustained which would not be covered by restitution in kind or the sum paid in lieu.
The Court pointed out that a case of lawful expropriation that was in breach of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 could not be viewed in the same manner as a case such as the present one, in which the violation of the applicants’ right to respect for the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions resulted from a breach of the principle of lawfulness.
In cases of unlawful expropriation, the Court considered that in affording full redress for the loss sustained, it should take into account the current value of the land, together with the appreciation brought about by the existence of buildings.