Past and recent records of litigation proceedings before first instance courts in Greece have brought to the surface a reality that depicts severe delays in case trials, most of the times coming as a result of lengthy hearings and ever-expanding caseload, as well as of many consensual or disputed trial adjournments or ex officio adjournments due to fortuitous circumstances (strikes, elections, etc.).
The Greek Civil Procedure Code, as last amended by virtue of Law 4335/2015, came into force on 1 January 2016 and introduces significant amendments to the Greek civil procedural system, aiming towards a more effective administration of justice by means of promoting a more flexible and quick written procedure (Articles 237-238) over the oral standard procedure before first instance courts (Article 233).
According to the new Civil Procedure Code, most civil cases and all contractual and commercial matters, where the nature of dispute is monetary, can be tried within 5 to 8 months as of their first registration with the court in contrast to the previous system that required a period of at least 24 months prior to the initial hearing.
The new procedure introduces a limited oral hearing of the case, in the context of which judges must render their decisions on the basis of the evaluation of pleadings and exhibits submitted before them by the litigants within 100 days as of the filing of the lawsuit, whereas any addenda must be filed within 15 days after the filing of the pleadings. Adjournments are not allowed, but such restriction is balanced by the discretion of the judge to grant an extension of the procedural time limits (Article 148) on special grounds. Further to that, cancellation of a case has been disconnected from fortuitous events (strikes, elections, etc.) and should come exclusively as a result of non-filing of pleadings by both parties. The party that fails to comply with the rules and time limitations that apply to civil proceedings is being heard in absentia leading to a summary judgment.
Such procedure does not call for a mandatory presence of the litigants and their attorneys at the hearing of the case and does not allow for witness examination. However, in case the court, having read the file of the case, considers that examination of one witness from the side of each litigant is necessary, it may do so by setting a new additional hearing in this respect. Witness testimonies are provided through affidavits filed along with pleadings.
Although litigation is –almost always– parties’ first choice in terms of dispute resolution in Greece, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes, such as arbitration or mediation, remain also at their availability. The new procedural rules seek to support alternative forms of dispute resolution prior to the issuance of the court judgment by means of introducing judicial mediation (Article 214b-c) for private law disputes.
Admittedly, the new procedural system imposes stricter rules and time limits that may impede the proper exercise of a right, such as the short deadline of 60 days to serve a lawsuit abroad after its filling, under the penalty of inadmissibility. Nevertheless, the globalization of commercial disputes calls for the simplification of adjudication procedures, a direction also depicted in the Glykantzi v Greece judgment (2012) issued by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which recognized that numerous member states have already introduced simplified rules of civil procedure (e.g. written proceedings, avoidance of lengthy oral hearings etc.) and, thus, indirectly encouraged Greece to adopt similar regulations.
Recitals of Law 4335/2015 highlight that current socio-economic conditions demand speedy court procedures amid inadequate governmental resources and, therefore, require a swift, affordable and, as far as possible, predictable litigation procedure, evidently at the expense of oral proceedings but arguably in favor of an efficient prompt administration of justice. The new procedural system may seem promising but it is on the court practice to prove whether it can ultimately meet high expectations.
For Drakopoulos Law Firm, Greece
Head of Litigation Department – Partner