The current situation caused by the COVID-19 epidemic imposed a strict limitation of human interaction in almost every sector. Litigation proceedings made no exception, as courts drastically limited their activity prior to and during the emergency state effective as of 16 March 2020.
The Romanian Presidential Decree instituting the emergency state brought some new rules with impact on the litigation activity. Let’s see the most important ones.
1. General rule: suspension of pending litigation, suspension of statutes of limitation and procedural terms. In general, all civil cases (meaning, among others, commercial and contractual litigation, tax litigation, administrative litigation or family law matters), as well as criminal court cases, are suspended by law. However, during the emergency state, limited procedural aspects can be completed, such as drafting and communicating the court’s decisions to the parties (in such case, by exception, the appeal term starts to lapse only after the end of the emergency state and not from the communication of the court ruling, as before). The statutes of limitation terms and other procedural terms will start to lapse after or, as the case may be, are suspended until the expiry of the emergency state.
Exception: urgent matters. During the emergency state courts will continue their activity in relation to the court cases considered urgent matters. The High Court of Cassation and Justice (for itself) and the Appeal Courts (for themselves and for all the other courts under their territorial jurisdiction) will determine the court cases which can be considered urgent matters, both in civil and criminal matters. The Supreme Council of Magistracy issued guidelines to ensure a consistent understanding of this concept, stating that it will cover those cases which, if not dealt with, can generate an imminent prejudice which cannot or can hardly be remedied in the future.
Based on what is still active at the High Court of Cassation and Justice and the Bucharest Court of Appeal, urgent matters seem to include: (i) temporary injunctions (in Romanian, ordonanțe președințiale); (ii) courts’ competence conflicts (in Romanian, conflictele de competență); (iii) requests regarding the suspension of the enforcement of courts decisions; and (iv) court cases judged without summoning the parties.
2. Procedural aspects: summoning, court hearings and communication
- During the emergency state courts may summon the parties in less than 5 days before the hearing (even for different hours during the same hearing date to avoid unnecessary interaction), set hearings overnight or organise hearings via videocalls.
- Courts are currently using only electronic communication services, communicating with the parties either by phone or e-mail and requesting all documents to be filed via fax or e-mail.
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