Changes in the operation of courts during the declared epidemic
Author: Lenart Kmetič
We have previously reported on the measures, adopted by the president of the Supreme Court due to the declared epidemic of the infectious disease COVID-19 in the Republic of Slovenia. However, as the epidemic is still ongoing and as the Government of the Republic of Slovenia has further restricted public life in the state, on 13 November 2020 the President of the Supreme Court issued a new court order on operation of Slovenian courts (“Order”).
Restriction of the courts’ operations to urgent matters
The main novelty implemented by the new Order, in view of previously adopted measures, is the restriction of operation of courts in non-urgent matters. Similarly as during the spring declaration of the epidemic, the President of the Supreme Court limited the operation of courts to only urgent matters and to certain criminal cases (i.e. those in which prosecution would become statute-barred within six months).
The Order furthermore excludes from the scope of urgent matters bill of exchange and check protests and bill of exchange lawsuits, inventories of the decedent’s assets, confiscation of assets of illegal origin, as well as some other matters, including certain administrative disputes governed by sectoral laws (e.g. disputes under the Information Commissioner Act, the Health Care and Health Insurance Act and other).
Consequently, from 16 November 2020 onwards Slovenian courts hold hearings, conduct office hours and perform other procedural acts only in urgent matters. In non-urgent matters and matters that are additionally excluded from the scope of urgent matters, courts decide and serve court decisions, but do not conduct hearings and other procedural acts that require physical presence of parties or other participants. In such matters, courts also do not conduct office hours. The Order further explicitly provides that during the period of its validity all hearings in non-urgent matters shall be deemed cancelled, unless they are conducted by videoconference.
The Order also determines that procedural deadlines in non-urgent matters and in matters that are additionally excluded from the scope of urgent matters do not run. Such procedural deadlines shall again start running on the first day following the publicly announced revocation of the Order. The courts are obliged to inform the parties (in the court decisions, on the envelope or in any other attached document) about the date from which the deadlines shall again start to run. In this connection, we wish to stress that the Order explicitly interrupts only running of procedural deadlines, but not also of material deadlines, which thus still normally run.
Operation of courts
In addition, the President of the Supreme Court specified individual measures regulating to the operation of courts. These measures are similar to the ones already in force and thus include, inter alia:
- where spatially possible, the designation of an entry point into the court building for clients, proxies and other persons, and a separate entry point for judges and court staff, whereby all entry points must respect applicable preventive measures for the prevention of a COVID-19 infection (including measurement of the body temperature of all entrants);
- restriction of personal filing of applications – in non-urgent matters, clients can submit applications only via post or through the portal eSodstvo;
- restriction of communication with the courts – in non-urgent matters, the parties may communicate with the court only through published e-mail addresses and telephone numbers, whereby uninvited parties and proxies may come to the court only during office hours and with prior notice;
- the possibility of holding videoconference hearings, provided that technical and spatial conditions are met;
- compliance with all applicable precautionary measures in the event of holding a hearing, including ensuring a distance of at least 1.5 meters between persons that are not from the same household, wearing protective equipment, disinfecting and ventilating the room and keeping an attendance list (with contact details of all present);
- the possibility of excluding public from all or part of the main hearing; and
- other measures determined by the president of each individual court.
Special measures introduced by the Order entered into force on 16 November 2020 and shall be valid until their revocation, whereby the President of the Supreme Court must review the justification of measures on weekly basis. With adoption of the new Order, the previous Order of the President of the Supreme Court on special measures as of 20 October 2020 ceased to apply.