The dwelling house with an extension, greenhouses and a garden used by the applicant, Ms. Marina, were destroyed. She lodged a civil claim for damages against the alleged perpetrator and asked the court for exemption from the court fee. Ms. Marina submitted to the court a certificate confirming her low-income status. The court reduced the amount of the court fee from approximately EUR 2,148 to EUR 143. All other requests to waive the fee or postpone the payment until the final judgment were denied.
Ms. Marina complained that she was not able to pay the court fee and therefore she was denied access to a court.
The Court stated that court fees as such are not incompatible with Article 6(1), provided that the very essence of the right of access to court is not impaired and the measures applied are proportionate to the aims pursued. The applicant’s ability to pay the amount due at the time the fees are imposed have to be taken into account in this assessment. Restrictions of a purely financial nature which are completely unrelated to the prospects of success of the claim should be subject to a particularly rigorous scrutiny. The Court found that in Latvia the court fees served as a measure dissuading potential litigants from bringing unreasonable and unmeritorious claims. At the same time the national courts granted exemptions from court fees to those applicants who could prove their poor financial situation. In the Court’s view, the national courts when assessing the proportionality of the reduced court fee had not taken into account the fact that the applicant’s income per month was below the guaranteed minimum income level (EUR 108). Although domestic law provided for such possibility, the national courts had also failed to postpone the payment of the court fee or divide it into separate installments. Therefore the Court acknowledged that the approach used by the domestic courts had been such as to prevent Ms. Marina from exercising her rights to access to a court and found a violation of Article 6(1) of the Convention.