Civil procedure reform in Greece
By Nicolas Kanellopoulos*
Civil justice and enforcement procedures are among the most important aspects of a judicial reform with regard to economic security, contractual trust and good faith in any market.
Come the end of spring, the long-awaited and much-acclaimed bold reform of Greece’s weary civil justice system will at long last be realized and will radically amend the ways that our civil courts operate and their rulings are issued and executed.
The excessive delays of Greek justice, along with a sterile bureaucracy, hinder the Greek civil courts’ efficiency despite the high standards of decision making they adhere to.
The ongoing court deadlock stems primarily from the outdated procedure routines, the constantly delayed mandatory modernization of the judicial mechanism and the complete absence of out-of-court settlements.
The hearing dates fall short of everyone’s expectations. Civil and commercial disputes are heard up to two or three years after the suit has been filed and, in many cases, the right to temporary judicial protection is undermined.
Reform in progress
Fully aware of its historic responsibility, the Greek Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights has embarked on a continuous and coordinated attempt to modernize the country’s judicial system.
The effort has three basic axes:
* Review of the basic legal framework (basic codes).
* Promotion of alternative dispute resolution methods (mediation & pretrial conciliation).
* Implementation of a modern e-justice action plan.
The idea is to address with a more methodical approach and solve all the problems surrounding the legal proceedings in Greece as well as to boost positive opinion among individuals and businesses about Greek justice.
Crowned “the ultimate test pilot,” Law 4055/2012 “on fair trials and their reasonable duration” attempted to drive straight home a lengthy series of significant changes and, despite the initial adverse “prophecies” to the contrary, the implementation results so far have been encouraging.
Law 4055/2012 was just the inauguration of a larger-scale strategic action plan for the reform and reshaping of the Greek courts with an extensive remapping of the Greek court network. The first phase concluded in 2012 reduced the number of regional magistrates’ courts to half.
Furthermore, the ministry is also promoting the introduction of the Greek justice system into the new digital era through the implementation of its comprehensive e-justice action plan.
Another major pillar of the reform is the revolutionary policy manifest in the alternative approach to dispute resolution.
Mediation, together with the newly introduced pretrial conciliation process, could gradually create a brand-new mentality inclined toward resolving private disputes outside courtrooms, without resort to unnecessary litigation and unfounded appeals.
New code of civil procedure
Despite multiple amendments since its adoption in 1967, the code of civil procedure no longer meets the current needs of both society and the economy; a new, modern and efficient system is required. The new code, expected to be tabled by the end of April 2014, addresses a wide range of issues:
* The procedure before the courts of first instance is radically changed. Written procedure becomes the rule.
* There is a significant reduction in the unjustified number of special procedures (i.e. credit titles, car accidents) by the integration of procedures and deadlines. The new family court can include specialized judges and may involve compulsory family mediation.
* The provisions on payment orders and interim measures are improved.
* The enforcement framework is being rationalized and simplified.
* The code includes many e-justice friendly provisions.
While the adoption of the new code will definitely be a huge step forward, the reform still has a long way to go. Other necessary interventions may include mainly the further promotion and expansion of alternative dispute resolution methods in a wide variety of cases, such as family matters, insolvency issues etc. Furthermore, the ministry is actively involved in the work of a special government council for private debt management, the mandate of which includes the amendment of insolvency procedural frameworks.
The reform of civil justice will benefit society and the economy by buttressing the sense of legal certainty, securing the enforcement of contracts and judicial decisions, encouraging investment and facilitating business activities. After all, an efficient and reliable judicial system has always been a sine qua non prerequisite for the stable, viable anthropocentric development of a society, has it not?
* Nicolas Kanellopoulos is general secretary of the Greek Ministry of Justice, Transparency & Human Rights.