Judicial debt collection and the coronavirus: the status of European courts
Due to the Coronavirus many countries are now locked. At this moment there is a lockdown in several European countries, people are no longer allowed on the streets without a valid reason. This also has an impact on many European Courts. There, too, measures are being taken to combat the Coronavirus. This has an impact on new and ongoing legal proceedings. That is why our international lawyers explain what the current status is in their country and what consequences this has for legal proceedings.
For the time being there is no lockdown in the Netherlands. However, meetings of more than 3 persons are forbidden. The Dutch people have been asked to stay at home as much as possible and only go out for necessary things such as shopping. Schools and restaurants are closed.
The Dutch courts, tribunals and special colleges are closed until the 6th April. Only urgent cases will continue. These are cases that cannot be postponed because this affects the legal rights of the parties involved. Bankruptcy hearings will continue, as will some urgent commercial cases. The hearings will be dealt with as much as possible in writing or by means of a video conference. When a hearing does take place, the public is no longer welcome in court cases.
There is currently no lockdown in Germany. Responsibility has been transferred to the various regions. A state of emergency has been declared in the southern region of Bavaria. There, all non-essential shops are closed and only supermarkets are open. In other regions and cities, such as Berlin, catering establishments are closed. Most schools in Germany are closed as well.
Since the regions themselves are responsible for their policy on the Coronavirus crisis, there is also a certain amount of ambiguity concerning the policy for the German courts. It is up to each judge to decide whether or not they carry out a planned court hearing. This is a core part of the independence of judges. The judge is responsible for a court case: therefore, he decides himself whether a hearing will take place, in what way, and whether any dates will be adjusted.
In Belgium there is a lockdown. Only shops that provide the essential necessities of life may remain open, while other shops are currently closed. Moreover, there is a strict door policy for those shops that are still open. The Belgian population has been asked to stay at home as much as possible, but Belgians are still allowed to take a stroll on the streets. However, this is only allowed in small groups.
The Board of Courts and Tribunals has decided that only urgent cases may be heard in the courts. New cases will not be initiated until the 19th of April, with the exception of urgent cases. Cases already established will be postponed until after that date, with the exception of urgent cases.
In France there is a lockdown that will last until the end of March. French people are only allowed to leave their homes to work or to buy food. However, in order to leave their homes, they have to fill in and sign a form that must be handed over during a possible police check. If no (valid) form can be handed over, they risk a hefty fine.
The measures in France have the following consequences for the French courts:
- Hearings in the courts will be cancelled in the coming month, except for urgent cases and cases relating to the protection of vulnerable persons.
- Hearings in the commercial courts will be postponed. This is different for each court because nothing concrete has been decided from the government. At the Paris Commercial Court, for example, all hearings are postponed until after the 17th of April 2020, without any specific date being mentioned. Other courts, such as Versailles, have already planned new dates, such as the hearing of our French lawyer which was to take place on the 25th of March, and has now been postponed to the 22nd of April.
- The Court of Appeal of Paris has decided to keep the hearings for urgent cases and to postpone all other planned hearings until after April 30. New dates are planned after September 28th.
- In addition, there should be a new regulation suspending prescription periods or judicial delays, but this has not yet been decided.
If we need to contact a bailiff, this is still possible. Most bailiffs in France are still open for business. Nevertheless, some home visits may be postponed for a few weeks, but this varies from one bailiff to another.
In Italy there has been a lockdown for several weeks. The country is completely closed, with the exception of supermarkets, pharmacies and banks. Other shops and restaurants are, instead, closed. All Italians have to stay at home. They are allowed to leave their home only after filling out a form, which is strictly controlled by the police. If someone does not have a valid form, they risk a fine.
At the beginning of March, the Turin Tribunal was closed, and urgent matters were allowed to continue. At the moment, indeed, only urgent cases are being handled and not urgent hearings have been postponed. The limited number of Judges and personnel of the clerks are slowly handling new case. Our Italian lawyer explains that every court and bar follow different rules, which makes it quite unclear how each courthouse deals with the current situation. Submitting subpoenas and other court documents is still possible, but only online. Also, when possible (for example for the first stage of the enforcement), the verdict is served VIA PEC by the attorney instead of via the Bailiff. Therefore, courts are not closed. The status of Italian courts changes week by week, but it is still uncertain when hearings will take place again.
In Spain there is a complete lockdown. Only people who live or work in Spain are still allowed to enter the country. The Spanish population is obliged to stay at home. Taking a walk is not an option, the Spanish army patrols the streets. People are only allowed on the streets if they can show that they have a good reason to do so. If not, they are sent home and risk a fine or a year in prison.
The lockdown in Spain also has consequences for the Spanish courts. As long as Spain is in the state of emergency, legal proceedings and time limits are suspended. An exception only applies to urgent cases. In addition, prescriptions and expiration periods are also suspended during the state of emergency.
In Portugal there is currently no lockdown, but the state of emergency is in place. This means that it is no longer possible to travel, and the border with Spain is closed. Schools and all non-essential businesses are closed. Moreover, the Portuguese population is expected to work from home as much as possible.
- The Portuguese courts are currently closed to the public. Working from home is privileged by the judges. A rotation system is used for the registers, to ensure that only a few people are in the office at a time.
- As far as possible, deadlines are kept to a minimum. Urgent cases continue for the time being, so the time limits are not suspended.
- Hearings scheduled prior to the Corona situation will still take place on the scheduled date. However, they will not be public. Only the necessary parties will be admitted to the courtroom.
- New hearings are provisionally postponed until 29 March. Therefore, no new hearings are scheduled at this time until we know more. After the 29th they will re-evaluate the situation.
Trials that have already been scheduled can go ahead and lawyers can just work from home. This is possible because in Portugal there is an online system to start subpoenas and lawsuits.
In Turkey, there is no complete lockdown for everyone. Only people over 65 years of age or with chronic health problems are obliged to stay home. The rest of the Turkish population is expected to stay at home as much as possible. In addition, new measures are taken every day to combat the coronavirus.
The measures also have an impact on the Turkish courts. At present, the courts in Turkey are still open, but civil cases that are not urgent will be postponed until another date to be determined.
In Romania, a 30-day state of emergency was declared on the 16th of March. Schools and restaurants are closed. On the 24th of March, the Romanian population was also informed that they should stay at home as much as possible. For most of the population, it is only allowed to go to work or to the supermarket. Meanwhile, people who are over 65 years old or those who have health problems are only allowed to go outside between 11:00 and 13:00.
The state of emergency also affects the courts in Romania:
- Limitation periods are suspended or do not start running at all. .
- Only urgent hearings take place in the courts.
- Courts may grant short time limits for urgent cases.
- Urgent cases can only be solved through online hearings.
- When parties are in quarantine, postponement may be requested.
- Enforcement files may only be continued if this contributes to the protection of health.
- Deadlines for appeals have been discontinued. New time limits will start to run as soon as the state of emergency has ceased.
Judicial proceedings in Europe
In general, most courts in Europe are currently closed and only urgent cases are dealt with. At the courts, too, we are now opting to work digitally as much as possible. Legal proceedings are handled in writing or via a video conference.
What if I have legal proceedings in progress?
If you still have legal proceedings pending, it is possible that they have been postponed, unless it is an urgent matter. Our lawyers will inform you of the current state of affairs. But as you may also see with the Corona measures in our own country, the measures may change at any time. Therefore, if you have any questions about your case, it is best to contact your case handler. At the moment, our international lawyers all work from home, so they are just as accessible as usual.
What if I want to start legal proceedings?
If you want to start legal proceedings against another party, you should bear in mind that most deadlines are currently postponed. However, do not hesitate to start legal proceedings. The longer you wait, the longer it will take for your case to be dealt with. In most countries, we are still able to start new proceedings digitally. There is a good chance that these proceedings will then also be conducted online.
The measures taken to face the Corona crisis are rapidly evolving. At the time of writing, some of the measures will already have changed. We will do our best to update this article as quick as possible, and to provide you with the latest state of affairs. However, for the most accurate information it is best to contact our international lawyers. We will be happy to provide you with more information on legal proceedings in various European countries.