UK: Update From The European Court Of Human Rights - Implications For Insurance Companies

Last Updated: 17 January 2001

Insurance companies need to be aware that the Human Rights Act will affect them when it comes into force in October 2000. A recent European case on litigation delay serves as an early warning.

Nielsen v Denmark

Mr Nielsen had a car accident when aged 20 in November 1986. He was severely injured and is now partly disabled. He commenced proceedings against three insurance companies in February 1988, claiming that they should be held liable, jointly and severally, to pay a specified amount in compensation for permanent disablement and loss of working capacity.

In May 1988 the case was adjourned pending the outcome of the referral to the National Board of Industrial Injuries (Arbejdsskadestyrelsen) (NBI) to give an opinion on the degree of disablement and working capacity. Following that, Mr Nielsen was examined by two medical experts who in February 1989 also requested the Municipality of Skanderborg (where he lives) to provide information which was done in December 1989, and the NBI submitted its expert opinion in January 1990.

In March 1990 the NBI was asked additional questions about the degree of disablement and working capacity and in a letter dated February 1991 the NBI maintained its opinion.

In February 1991, Mr Nielsen asked the NBI to submit an opinion as to whether his injuries were stationary, and the NBI submitted its opinion in May 1991. From May 1991 to March 1992 the parties exchanged pleadings, the applicant being asked several times to provide further and better particulars. In March 1992 one company produced a supplementary list of questions for the NBI, and Mr Nielsen objected to this saying they should have been submitted much earlier.

The Court adjourned the case in April for this further information but listed the trial for August 1992. By that date, the information was not available from the NBI. The payment of an obligatory charge by the defendants’ counsel to the NBI had only arrived in November 1992, and in January 1993 the NBI announced it could not submit a reply on the basis of the previous medical examinations, as they were considered too old. NBI experts again examined Mr Nielsen for the final time in June 1994.

The Court eventually heard the case in January 1995 and the defendants were found to be liable to the extent of 950,803.60 Danish Crowns, plus interest. There was an appeal lodged in February 1995 (heard in September 1995) which upheld the original judgement.

Application To The European Court Of Human Rights

Mr Nielsen complained to the European Court of Human Rights in October 1996 against the state of Denmark, that the proceedings had taken 8 years, 6 months and 13 days, and that this was contrary to Article 6 which indicates that ‘everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time...’. Denmark in turn argued that the conduct of the parties was the reason for the duration of the proceedings. Denmark said that Mr Nielsen was late several times in fulfilling requests for further and better particulars, that the defendants had contributed to the delay when not funding the NBI obligatory charge and that the Municipality had taken 10 months to give information to the NBI.


The European Court of Human Rights rejected this submission completely. It said that the applicant had become partly disabled, and that in such cases special expedition was called for and that there was no reasonable explanation for the length of the proceedings. It said that States are responsible for public law bodies such as the Municipality and of course for the Courts who are obliged to ensure that trials proceed expeditiously. All the requests for NBI opinions (which the Government had argued was excessive) were approved by the Court, and at the time of the last request (1992) the proceedings had been pending for 4 years.

The ECHR found "having regard to the delays imputable to the State, the overall duration of the proceedings and what was at stake for the applicant, the ‘reasonable time’ requirement was not satisfied" and article 6.1 had been breached, and awarded Mr Nielsen 70,000 Danish Crowns in compensation.


Whilst the UK in the same case will now say that the new Civil Procedure Reforms (the Woolf Reforms) will reduce delays because the Court manages the litigation process, the reality is that many personal injury cases last as long if not longer than this case.

The UK Courts themselves are clearly a ‘public authority’ under the Human Rights Act 1998, which will be implemented as from October 2000, and according to this judgement from the European Court of Human Rights, they would be liable for the delay.

The insurance companies do not get off lightly. Once a matter is before a Court then the Court is able to impose penalties on litigants who do not act in accordance with the timetable set. If this is an insurance company then financial penalties could be imposed.

Points To Consider

After the 1998 Human Rights Act is implemented, the Courts will have even more pressure on them to deal with cases expeditiously, so as to avoid findings against them that they have transgressed a litigant’s rights.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.