|Daniel Futej||Cyril Hric|
In May, the Slovak parliament adopted reforms to civil procedure. The Code of Civil Procedure of 1963 will be replaced by three new codes – the Code of Civil Dispute Procedure (CDP); the Code of Civil Non-Dispute Procedure (CNP); and, the Code of Administrative Procedure (CAP). All of them are expected to come into force on July 1 2016.
One of the key novelties is the introduction of preliminary hearings. Before the actual trial, the judge will examine the case file and summon the parties. At the preliminary hearing, the court will determine which allegations of fact between the parties are in dispute, which of them it deems not to be in dispute, and what evidence it will and will not admit. The court will also give its preliminary legal assessment. This may encourage the parties to drop legal action and settle out of court. Where it is possible and expedient, the court may even make a determination on the matter at the preliminary hearing.
One of the goals of the CDP is to enhance the specialisations of the courts, which should ensure that cases are disposed of more promptly. While it is true that even under the existing legislation specific cases, such as bankruptcy and restructuring or disputes concerning bills of exchange and cheques, were handled only by a few courts – typically the district court in the regional seat – under the new legislation the number of specialisations will be extended. For instance, cases involving labour disputes will only be handled by eight of the 54 district courts. Additionally, the District Court in Banska Bystrica will have sole jurisdiction over cases involving industrial property in Slovakia.
Another change is that the new CDP does not include orders for payment of bills of exchange, so the recovery procedure for bills of exchange will no longer fall under the current system that is distinguished by its short time periods. Moreover, in those proceedings the court only examined objections submitted by the authorised party within three days of service of the order for payment; the court could not take into account any objections submitted after that time, even if they meant the defendant could have won the case. Another distinct characteristic of these proceedings was that the delivery of the order for payment to the defendant's own hands was not absolutely necessary; substituted service was also possible. Essentially, this separate system for recovering bills of exchange will not be replaced by any similar system affording such short time periods. There will now apparently be no option other than to seek recovery of bills of exchange through an application for an order for payment as is the case with other unpaid debts, such as invoices and loans.
For monetary dispute cases, the new CDP provides for a charging order. Upon application, the court may create a charge (security interest) against the debtor's property, rights or other assets if it is reasonable to believe enforcement of the claim would be in jeopardy. If the application satisfies all the requirements, the court will decide on the issuance of a charging order within 30 days. The application for a charging order must indicate the decisive elements that warrant the need for the charging order or that give rise to the belief that enforcement will be in jeopardy. This type of security interest is established by a court order and implemented by registration in the applicable register: real estate in the land registry; securities in the register of pledges held at the Central Securities Depository; and receivables and/or movables in the central notarial register of pledges. However, actual enforcement of the security interest can only be realised after the claim is awarded by a court. The charging order will act as a sort of alternative to or enhancement of the existing preliminary ruling (or emergency ruling, as it will be called), whereby the court will restrain the defendant from disposing of certain property or rights. Even if the defendant were to dispose of that property by transferring it to another person, the charge against/pledge on the property ordered by the court can still be enforced against the person who acquires the property.
The attempt to accelerate and streamline the civil procedure can also be seen in the simplification of the rules for service of documents by the court. Under the new legislation, notices intended for personal service will be deemed to have been served after the very first failed service attempt, and documents will be deemed to have been served on the day the unserved documents are returned to the court (this does not apply to the service of orders for payment). The court may also impose a fine of up to €500 ($570) for a manifestly frivolous or vexatious objection of bias.
Daniel Futej and Cyril Hric