The most recent amendment to the Slovenian Civil Procedure Act (Zakon o pravdnem postopku, or “ZPP”) was issued in February 2017, with the amendments set to apply from September 14, 2017.
The main amendments of the ZPP are designed to accelerate civil procedure by, inter alia: (i) limiting the number of preparatory statements (up to the initial pre-trial hearing); (ii) establishing a new pre-trial hearing where the primary legal and factual aspects of the case are discussed to focus the proceeding on relevant issues of the case; (iii) introducing a management program (the judge shall prepare a program containing the legal basis for the dispute and the number of and dates for expected court hearings, enabling a better and more flexible step-by-step plan of the procedure); (iv) providing for additional sanctions for inactive parties (i.e., those who do not attend the pre-trial hearing cannot seek repayment of costs later on); (v) requiring that the judgment be delivered immediately or within eight days from the conclusion of the first-instance proceedings; (vi) obliging the Court to prepare a full-length judgment only where a party files an appeal within eight days of the receipt of the short version of the judgment; and (vi) creates a new stage of the procedure where parties summarize their statements (a stage that already exists in criminal procedure).
Another set of amendments focuses on the appeal procedure. Appellate courts often annul the first-instance judgment and return the case for reconsideration, which prolongs the procedure significantly. Pursuant to the new regulations, this will no longer be possible. The appellate court will reach its own decision and may only in limited cases return the matter to the first-instance court. Other amendments include: (i) the Supreme Court shall only accept appeals where a decision on an important legal issue is necessary (irrespective of the amount in dispute); (ii) in commercial disputes, the appellate chamber will be able to inform the appellant of its preliminary assessment of the probability of success (and if the party then withdraws the appeal, part of the court fee will be returned). These amendments aim to help the Supreme Court issue its decisions faster and play a more effective role as the creator of a uniform case-law.
In addition, Slovenian civil procedure law now provides for: (i) a cascade lawsuit, where a plaintiff first requests the disclosure of information required for substantiating the claim, and second lodges an amended claim prepared on the basis of the information obtained as a result; and (ii) different approaches for the handling of business secrets (e.g., specific parts of documents, expert review of the documents, etc.).
Finally, the amendments modernize and speed up Slovenian civil procedure by introducing electronic service of process (in circumstances beyond the enforcement procedure, where it already exists).
Obviously, Slovenian civil procedure will change significantly. The purpose of the legislator was to modernize and speed up the procedure, and although at first glance the amendment seems well written, experts believe its implementation may, in actual practice, be unsuccessful. In particular, they point out that: (i) the material conditions for the successful implementation of electronic service of process are not ensured; and (ii) the excessive focus on speeding-up the process can have counterproductive effects. The primary concern in this latter point is that the focus on the right to a trial without undue delay may result in a violation of a right to a fair and impartial hearing and of other procedural rights. For example, it is conceivable that parties would not state all facts and evidence in their two statements prior to the preparatory hearing thinking they will do so in additional statements later on. If the judge then decides to schedule the main court hearing directly after the preparatory hearing, the parties may be left without enough time to state other facts and evidence.
Faster civil procedures are more than welcome in Slovenia, but only time will tell if the amendments have been drafted with enough care to speed up the procedure without compromising its quality.
By Dunja Jandl, Partner, and Katja Balazic, Associate, CMS Slovenia
This Article was originally published in Issue 4.8 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.