The latest amendments to the Civil Procedure Code of Albania (CPC) which will enter into force in November 2017 are designed to increase the efficiency and performance of the country’s judicial system.
In this respect, one of the main amendments relates to the excessive length of judicial proceedings. Statistics show that until September 2014, 70% of the complaints filed with the High Council of Justice referred to delays in court proceedings, with approximately 50 claims filed with the European Court of Human Rights against Albania concerning the unjustified lengthy procedures of criminal and civil actions.
In light of this problem, the new CPC provisions provide a right of appeal against the unreasonable duration of a case as well as the right to seek compensation, including non-pecuniary damages. In other words, the provisions envisage the concept of a reasonable duration of judicial proceedings as well as the right to fair compensation for legal proceedings – consisting of investigations, trial, and enforcement – found to be unjustifiably long. Awards would take the form of an acknowledgment by the court of the breach of reasonable duration, as well as actions carried out in order to accelerate the judicial proceedings and/or the provision of damage relief.
According to the new amendments, the reasonable terms in civil and administrative cases are the following: (i) administrative cases – one year from filing in each instance (first instance and appeal); (ii) civil cases – two years from filing in each instance (first instance and appeal); (iii) civil cases before the Supreme Court – two years from filing; (iv) enforcement of both administrative and civil decisions – one year from filing of the execution request. However, as an exception to the rule, parties to a trial may claim that the proceedings are “unreasonably long” even before the code-specified time periods expire, in light of the relative simplicity of the case, the object of the claim, and the conduct of the relevant authority and/or any other party involved in the case.
The party claiming violation of their right to a reasonable judicial proceeding duration should file a claim before the competent court requesting that it acknowledge the breach of reasonable term and demanding acceleration of the proceedings. The competent court is the higher court of the same jurisdiction as the court against which the claim is filed; while claims against Supreme Court proceedings are considered by a separate panel of that court. The claims against enforcement proceedings are filed with the first instance court that is competent for the execution of the court decision. The court proceeding does not suspend the main action on the merits of the case nor its enforcement. The competent court vested with such claim has to rule within 45 days of its filing, and the claim will be dismissed if the authority against which it is filed carries out the required actions within 30 days of its filing.
Following the examination of the claim, the court may rule to either dismiss it or accept it by ordering the relevant authority (either court or bailiff) to carry out the necessary procedural actions within the requested deadlines. This court decision is deemed final. Compliance with court instructions and conclusions is mandatory for the court ruling on the merits of the case. The High Justice Inspectorate is informed of the court’s final decision in order to evaluate whether the delays caused by the judges constitute a disciplinary breach. The claim for compensation may be filed with the competent first instance court only where the procedure of acknowledging the breach of reasonable term and demanding the acceleration of the proceedings has been exhausted with no action being taken by the court or bailiff against which the decision was issued. The claim for compensation is prescribed within six months from the acknowledgment of the breach by the court. The court vested with authority over the claim for compensation has to rule within three months of its filing, and it may rule to grant damage compensation of ALL 50K (approx. EUR 380) up to ALL 100K (approx. EUR 750) for each year (or each month within a year) beyond the reasonable duration.
It is expected that the aforementioned changes will make the court system accountable for unjustified delays and length of trials; however, only time can tell whether the issue of excessively long judicial proceedings will be effectively addressed by the new provisions.
By Besnik Duraj, Partner, and Bojana Hajdini, Senior Associate, Drakopoulos Albania
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.