The length of court proceedings for 7 years and 8 months violated the right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time (ECtHR)

In Chamber's judgment dated 5.9.2023 in the case of Van den Kerkhof v. Belgium (application no. 13630/19) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time) of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The case concerned the length of civil proceedings pending before a court of the Brussels judicial district. In the present case the proceedings were brought by the applicant against the vendors of a flat and the real estate agency that had served as an intermediary for the sale. 

The Court held that the applicant’s case had not been heard within a reasonable time, noting that seven years and eight months had elapsed for two levels of jurisdiction and that the proceedings were still pending before the French-Language Brussels Court of First Instance. 

It emphasised that the system for protecting the rights guaranteed by the Convention was based on the principle of subsidiarity and that it was first and foremost for the national courts to secure respect for the rights guaranteed by the Convention. 

That system could not function properly if the domestic courts failed to administer justice within a reasonable time. It found in that regard that the problems in connection with the excessive length of proceedings in the Brussels judicial district were structural in nature and held that it was for the Belgian State to take the necessary measures to guarantee the right to a hearing within a reasonable time in that judicial district.

The Court held that Belgium was to pay the applicant 5,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage. (

Read the legal summary of the decision here

Read the full text of the decision (in French) here

Read more: Excessive formalism as a restriction on the right of access to justice


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