Vidal-Quadras & Ramon

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Since 14 March 2020, the Spanish state has been in a state of alarm. That same day, all judicial proceedings were suspended, and the General Council for the Judiciary issued the corresponding agreements to implement the suspension. On the same day, as a general principle underlying the situation resulting from the state of alarm, all court activity planned and procedural time limits were suspended, with the exception of essential services. Since then, the administration of justice has not been operative in Spain except for the strictly necessary cases.

On 11 May, the highest body of the Spanish judiciary decided that between 12 May 2020 and 2 June, the courts and tribunals would begin to recover their normal operations, with the incorporation of 100% of the civil servants on that last date, subject to the evolution of the health situation and the availability of the necessary PPE.

To this end, it has agreed on the following rules for the recovery of normality in the functioning of justice:

  1. The interruption of deadlines and time limits, as long as they are in force during the state of alarm, does not prevent:
  • Carrying out court actions compatible with such suspension, such as the issuance of rulings and judgements.
  • The filing of pleadings initiating proceedings, their registration and dispatch, as well as their processing in accordance with the procedural rules applicable until a procedural action opening a period of time to be stayed due to the declaration of the state of alarm is to be taken.
  • The filing of procedural documents not linked to terms or time limits interrupted or suspended by the declaration of the state of alarm.
  • Courts to notify the decisions they issue in the proceedings in progress.
  1. On the reordering of the scheduling of trials and hearings:
  • The Government Councils of each jurisdiction will approve a “Protocol for the coordination of the appointment diaries”.
  • This can be implemented at the current stage, for the moment when the suspension of time limits is lifted, taking into account as indicators whether or not the hearing can be held by telematic means, whether or not the courtroom is shared, the maximum capacity to maintain the interpersonal distance of two meters in courtrooms and corridors, the estimated duration of the hearing or trial, the time required to clean the courtroom, environmental conditions, etc.
  • A timetable should be drawn up for the use of courtrooms and other material resources in each court district, taking care to maintain the procedural actions already scheduled and giving priority, in any event, to the preferential or urgent nature of certain proceedings, as well as to signposting that has been suspended as a result of the suspension of time limits.
  1. On resumption plans and technical and personnel limitations of the courts as they affect the holding of trials and hearings:
  • It should be noted that the resumption plans must be adapted to the immediate reality and that, for both technological and budgetary reasons, it will not be possible to carry out court proceedings by telematic means in general.
  • Without prejudice to the fact that it is legally foreseen that they can be held preferably by telematic means, the most efficient system to be able to hold the greatest number of trials possible is left to judicial criteria, which – depending on the case – may be to combine face-to-face trials with other telematic ones.
  • The service administrations (the competent state or autonomous administration) are urged to set up videoconference programmes with the appropriate guarantees and security measures in the courtrooms, in the multi-purpose rooms and in the computers of judges and Court attorneys-at-law.
  • The judge or court shall be set up at its place of jurisdiction and the principle of publicity of the proceedings, including the presence of accredited media, shall be ensured.
  • Based on the timetables established for the use of the shared facilities, there will be courts that will have to hear cases in the morning and others in the afternoon (it is suggested that trials held in the afternoon should be those that do not need the involvement of many participants and where possible the estimated duration is short).
  1. Regarding the August period declared as a working period (11 to 31 August), the following recommendations are made to the judges:
  • limiting oral hearings as much as possible.
  • Informing the parties of the indications for this period well in advance, preferably before 15 June.
  • Reducing to the essential minimum the practice of notifications for which the period ends between 11 and 31 August.

In addition, it is informed that the criteria to be used for the holiday period in 2020 for members of the judiciary will be, firstly, to concentrate the holiday period for judges and magistrates in the month of August in order to be able to intensify the holding of trials and hearings in the months of July and September.

The paralysis of justice entails not only the need to recover the hearings and trials suspended to date and reactivate the ongoing proceedings, but also the management of the new cases that will begin the day the state of alarm is lifted and which threatens, due to their number and the seriousness of the effects of COVID-19 on our economy, to collapse our judicial system.

The new situation that will be generated in Spain once the state of alarm is lifted will necessarily lead to the consideration of possible alternatives in the strategy of the companies when preparing the launch of new products and services on the market. The evolution of events in the coming months will surely shape new practices to which all of us involved in advising business strategy will have to respond. In any case, changes, while traumatic, always leave room for new opportunities to which it will be important to be attentive.