COVID-19 – Court proceedings unfrozen
The latest edition of the Anti-Crisis Shield legislation intended to address the corona crisis, enacted on 14 May 2020, includes regulations of material relevance to proceedings before the Polish courts.
Deadlines in the course of proceedings begin to run again
The latest iteration of the Shield legislation repeals art. 15 zzs of Shield 1.0 from 2 March 2020 which provided that, for as long as the country is formally in a state of epidemic or of epidemic risk in connection with the Covid-19 outbreak, deadlines in the course of all and sundry proceedings did not begin to run or, for those on which the clock was already ticking, ceased to run.
Under the newest regulations, deadlines in proceedings which have not begun to run in accordance with art. 15zzs shall now begin to run 7 days after the coming into force of the new law (which, in turn, shall occur on the day subsequent to that in which the legislation is published in the Journal of Laws). Deadlines which had already been running but were then suspended, meanwhile, shall resume running 7 days after the coming into force of the new law.
This amendment amounts to an unequivocal signal that it is the general intent of the legislature to reopen the courts after what has been a well-nigh complete lockdown over the past weeks.
Court hearings to resume
A separate issue is presented in the extent to which it is safe to hold court sessions. Art. 15.6 zzs of the original Anti-Crisis Shield from March 2020 provided that, while the country remains on an epidemic risk footing, open hearings may be held in urgent cases only. The newest Shield from 14 May 2020 now repeals this provision, with the effect that, once it has come into force, there will be no legislative counterindications to holding open hearings and sessions also in cases which do not qualify as urgent.
At the same time, the legislature has endeavoured to provide for the possibility of proceeding with court cases without the necessity of physically coming together in an actual courtroom.
Under the latest Anti-Crisis Shield, while the country remains on an epidemic or epidemic risk footing on account of the Covid-19 outbreak, and likewise for a year after their repeal:
- A hearing or an open session in a civil case may be held using remote communications technologies with simultaneous relay of audio and video – unless proceeding with a hearing / session in “traditional” form does not entail undue risk to the health of its participants;
- Where it is impossible to hear a civil case using such remote communications technologies, the court will be able to consider a case without holding a hearing – i.e. in a closed session – if it so deems necessary, and provided that none of the parties objects to such a solution within 7 days of receiving notice of the planned closed session;
- In specified cases, individual members of the panel – the presiding judge and the reporting judge excepted – will be allowed to participate in the court session via electronic communications technologies, unless the given session will be the one closing the case;
- In civil cases in which the evidentiary proceedings have already been completed, the court will be able to close the case and to hand down its verdict in a closed session, having first accepted from the parties and/or participants written statements in lieu of their closing speeches;
- The catalogue of civil cases in which an appeal may be considered during a closed session is expanded to encompass cases in which an appeal has been filed prior to 7 November 2019 (i.e. before coming into force of the Civil Process Code reforms opening the way to consideration of appeals in closed sessions). All the same, consideration of an appeal in a closed session shall not be possible if one of the parties requests a hearing or if it is necessary to consider witness evidence or to question the parties. A closed session will be possible, meanwhile, it the statemnent of claim or the appeal has been withdrawn, or of the proceedings are tainted by invalidity.
Proceedings before the administrative courts
Hearings using remote communications technologies with simultaneous relay of audio and video may also be held by regional administrative courts and the Supreme Administrative Court, unless proceeding with a hearing / session in “traditional” form does not entail undue risk to the health of its participants. Also here did the legislature provide for a sunset clause – these provision shall expire one year after repeal of the state of epidemic or of epidemic risk, whichever comes later.
The Supreme Administrative Court will also be able to consider extraordinary appeals (kasacja) in a closed session, provided that all the parties concerned agree within 14 days of receiving notification of the planned closed hearing.
Regional administrative courts will be able to consider complaints in a closed session if the presising jude deems such consideration necessary and proceeding with a “regular” hearing as provided for in statute would entail undue risk for the health of its participants (and holding the hearing on a remote basis with simultaneous audio and video relay is impossible). In such an event, the regional administrative court will not have to await express consent, or lack of objection within a set deadline, from the parties.
senior associate, adwokat