Three new codes of procedures will become effective in Slovakia on July 1, 2016, all of them having been passed by Parliament as early as May 21, 2015. In terms of importance and scope, the adoption of these new codes represents the largest law reform since Slovak independence.
The new codes of procedure are the Code of Civil Contentious Procedure, the Code of Civil Non-Contentious Procedure, and the Code of Administrative Procedure – all of them, together, constituting a straightforward replacement of the only code of procedures valid in Slovakia since 1963, namely the Code of Civil Procedure. During its entire 52 years of existence, the currently valid and effective Code of Civil Procedure was amended on more than 80 occasions, and this greatly contributed to a lack of clarity and inconsistencies in its contents.
The new change in the code of civil procedures aims to achieve an efficient and high quality judiciary system in Slovakia, ensuring an enforcement of law comparable to that in other member states of the European Union.
Re-codification of the existing code of procedures requires the adoption of changes to more than 170 other legal regulations, if possible by July 1, 2016, to ensure terminological unity of legal regulations affected by the new codes of procedures.
Code of Contentious Civil Procedure (Act No. 160/2015 Coll.)
The Code of Contentious Civil Procedure (CCCP) sets out the procedures for dispute resolution to be followed by the courts and parties to and other persons involved in disputes. The CCCP brings about changes to terminology which has been in use for more than 50 years; such changes relate to denomination of the parties to the dispute and the acts to be performed by both parties to the disputes and the courts which hear them.
The new CCCP introduces many changes and below we mention only a few of them. One of the major changes is the structure of the CCCP itself. Individual provisions of the law are concise, and ordered according to relevant stages of the court proceedings. The procedures prescribed by this law only delineate a certain framework, which sets out a basis for decision-making which must be adhered to by the court and the parties to the litigation.
The CCCP also introduces a preliminary hearing of disputes. In this stage, courts will be required to establish which of the statements given by the parties are deemed dubious, to provide a legal opinion on the matter under dispute, and to determine the evidence which the court shall execute. As far as is possible and useful, the court will be empowered to resolve a dispute without ordering and opening a first hearing of a case. It will be the first time that the principle of judicial concentration applies to all proceedings tried under this law (this principle requires that parties present their evidence without undue delay and at a certain stage of the proceedings; otherwise, the court will not consider the evidence).
The CCCP also introduces special proceedings involving parties holding a weaker position – i.e., consumers, employees, or persons involved in anti-discrimination disputes. The court must advise parties whose position is weaker of their rights, the evidence which may be submitted to the court, and the urgent measures that the parties are entitled to seek. Also, the court may take the initiative to execute evidence, meaning that the court is not bound by the evidence or the statements produced by a party to the proceedings as in other types of proceedings; rather, the court itself may obtain and execute evidence conducive to establishing the facts of the case. The concentration principle is thus not applied to disputes where one of the parties holds a weaker position, with the exception of a consumer dispute where the consumer is represented by a lawyer.
Other areas that have seen significant changes include the service of documents (written documents are deemed accepted by the addressee once the statutory period for collecting mail at the post office expires) and special jurisdiction of courts (courts have been re-organized by the types of cases they try, such as labor disputes or consumer matters where lawsuits are filed by agencies supervising consumer protection instead of the consumers proper).
The CCCP was drafted, read by the Parliament, and passed within a record time frame of two years, but only judicial practice will show whether the law sufficiently reflects the array of procedural acts of the court and the parties.
The existing situation in the Slovak justice system, especially regarding the extended duration of judicial proceedings, has called for corrective action. The Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic is permanently overburdened with proceedings for extraordinary remedies applied for by parties dissatisfied with decisions given by appellate courts. This meant that disputes that were meant to be tried at two tiers were in fact tried at three tiers. Thus, the judicial practice of the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic has long lacked coherence and homogeny. It is hoped that re-codification of the codes of civil procedure in Slovakia will result in the consolidation of the decision-making practice of the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic, which will bring the decisions of the appellate courts and the Supreme Court in line, enhancing the degree of legal certainty in Slovakia.
By Sarlota Stosova, Partner, Ruzicka Csekes in association with members of CMS
This Article was originally published in Issue 3.1 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.