Country
Greece
Sources
InforMEA
Tagging
Permits, Human Rights, Property, Damages, Administrative
Abstract
The applicants, complained, under Article 6 § 1 and Article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, about the failure of the authorities to comply with two decisions of the national Supreme Administrative Court annulling two permits for the construction of buildings near their property. The first applicant was the owner of a house and a plot of land on a Greek peninsula, which was adjacent to a swamp by the coast. In 1985 the prefect in charge redrew the boundaries of the settlement for the area. Later on the town-planning authority issued building permits on the basis of the prefect’s decision. The applicants lodged an application for judicial review of the prefect’s decisions and of the building permits with the Supreme Administrative Court. The basic argument was that the prefect’s decisions, and consequently the building permits, were illegal because in the area concerned there was a swamp and Article 24 of the Greek Constitution, which protected the environment, provided that no settlement should be built in such a place. The court found that the decision had violated Article 24 and the building permits were also unlawful and had to be quashed. The European Court of Human Rights emphasized that the execution of a judgment given by any court had to be regarded as an integral part of the “trial” for the purposes of Article 6. Where administrative authorities failed to comply the guarantees under Article 6 were rendered devoid of purpose. It noted that the Greek authorities had refrained for more than seven years from taking the necessary measures to comply with the enforceable judicial decision in the present case. Thus they had deprived the provisions of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention of all useful effect. There had accordingly been a breach of that Article. Apart from that, the applicants contended that urban development in the area in question had led to the destruction of their physical environment and had affected their life. They relied on Article 8 of the Convention, which provided: “1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” They complained that urban development had destroyed the swamp which was adjacent to their property and about other environmental pollution. With regard to the first complaint, the Court noted that severe environmental pollution could affect individuals’ well-being and prevent them from enjoying their homes in such a way as to affect their private and family life adversely. Yet the crucial element for the violation of the rights in Article 8 was the existence of a harmful effect on a person’s private or family sphere and not simply the general deterioration of the environment. Neither Article 8 nor any of the other Articles of the Convention were specifically designed to provide general protection of the environment as such; to that effect, other international instruments and domestic legislation were more pertinent in dealing with this particular aspect. In the present case, even assuming that the environment had been severely damaged by the urban development of the area, the alleged damage to the birds and other protected species living in the swamp was not of such a nature as to directly affect their own rights under Article 8 § 1 of the Convention. It could have been otherwise if, for instance, the environmental deterioration complained of had consisted in the destruction of a forest area in the vicinity of the applicants’ house, a situation which could have affected more directly the applicants’ own well-being. In conclusion, the Court could not accept that the interference with the conditions of animal life in the swamp constituted an attack on the private or family life of the applicants.