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Slovak Republic: Litigation reforms

Radka Sláviková GeržováMartin Ilavský

The new Code of Civil Contentious Procedure entered into force on July 1 2016. It aims to speed up the litigation process. Previously, cases would often drag on for several years because the parties to the dispute had submitted their allegations and offered evidence to the court in small bits at a time. This may have been for tactical reasons, or because the facts and evidence did not arise all at once.

The new Code introduces considerable changes. The court can now set a deadline by which the parties must, under the threat of a penalty, submit all of the allegations and offer evidence. The court may disregard a party's means of procedural challenge or defence if it is not submitted on a timely basis.

The new code encourages the parties to submit all of the allegations and evidence at the start of proceedings. If they do not, the court may not take them into consideration and may decide against the non-complying party.

Another major change is that allegations are considered uncontested until the other party denies them and submits their own allegations. If the party simply casts doubt on or rejects the allegations without submitting their own allegations, the denial will be ineffective and the other party's allegations will be deemed uncontested.

A new development aimed at speeding up the litigation process is the introduction of preliminary hearings. The court will usually order these before the first hearing.

At the preliminary hearing, the court will determine which allegations are disputed, which it considers uncontested, and what evidence will and will not be executed. The court will also give its preliminary assessment of the matter and the expected date of the hearing. This is a significant procedural advance. Although the court could give a preliminary opinion under the former legislation, it was not obliged to do so. Even if a party asked a judge what their opinion was, judges generally would not respond by giving their preliminary opinion.

In fact, the court may issue a decision in the case at the preliminary hearing stage. The implications of this new concept are emphasised by the fact that if one of the parties fails to appear at the preliminary hearing, the court may issue a default judgment against the absent party. A default judgment for failure to appear may also be entered against the claimant. According to the previous litigation rules, it was not possible to issue a default judgment against the claimant.

The court may reject and even penalise procedural actions that are manifestly aimed at the unfounded lengthening of a case. If a hearing is postponed on the application of a party and subsequently the court determines that the reasons set out in the application have not been demonstrated, or are deemed unimportant, the court may disregard any further applications for postponement.

The new legislation also makes it more difficult to drag out disputes for health reasons. Now, if a hearing is postponed for poor health, the party or their counsel can be "justly" required to authorise another person or another counsel to stand in for them at the hearing.

Radka Sláviková Geržová and Martin Ilavský

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