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Court: 30-Year German Case Violates Human Rights

Germany violated the Convention on Human Rights by letting a court case drag on for more than 30 years, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Thursday. The plaintiff now seeks millions in compensation.


Documents related to the case are bound to fill cupboards by now

Just seven weeks after the soccer World Cup ended in Germany, Jürgen Grässer took his case to court. The young developer sued the city of Saarbrücken, which refused to issue him a building permit for a shopping center on land he already owned.

The above-mentioned World Cup took place in 1974 and Grässer's been making his way through the courts ever since. On Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the extraordinary length of the legal proceedings amounted to "a particularly grave violation of the right to a hearing within a reasonable time.

"He undoubtedly suffered distress resulting from the protracted length of the proceedings, which he had to conduct for almost all his working life," the court continued. "Throughout these proceedings, his economic existence had been at stake, which is illustrated by the fact that he went bankrupt following the levy of execution to enforce payment of heavy court costs."

A moral, not a monetary victory

Europäischer Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte in Straßburg

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

While Grässer had hoped for millions of euros in compensation, the judges in Strasbourg sided with lawyers for Germany's government, who had called Grässer's compensation claims "excessive." The government's side also argued that "no causal link between the mere length of these proceedings and the damage alleged" could be found. The court awarded Grässer a total of 60,000 euros ($76,446).

"That's a moral victory that doesn't buy me much," the 66-year-old was quoted as saying by German news service DPA.

But Grässer hasn't given up hope for more compensation: He still has a case pending before a German court, claiming 180 million euros in damages.

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