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Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights lays down as one of the guarantees of a fair trial the requirement that proceedings should take place within a "reasonable time". In terms of numbers, this consideration alone has been the subject of almost one-third of the judgments delivered by the Court since 1 968.
Much can be learnt from the wealth of case-law produced, founded on a wide interpretation of the procedures that are subject to this need for rapidity. In terms of quality, the right to a reasonable time-limit in legal proceedings is an original and fundamental element of the Convention and its supervisory mechanism. By creating a genuine right for the public to have cases heard within a reasonable time, and by imposing sanctions on states which fail to observe this condition, the European human rights protection system has played a decisive role in fighting against the sometimes excessive time required to obtain justice on the European continent.
In addition, the European Court of Human Rights has obliged member states to set up, within their internal legal systems, public to bring actions against infringements of this right, defining at both European and national level what constitutes a delay which may be unreasonable and thus subject to sanction. The "Human rights files" series is aimed at specialists in European law: lawyers, practitioners and research students. It also constitutes a useful resource for the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights in the signatory states.