Poland: COVID-19 and its impact on the justice system
COURTS AND PROCEEDINGS – CURRENT STATUS
General and administrative courts, despite some remarkable and creative ideas like email filings related to appeal measures, remain in a state of de facto suspension regarding most of their activities as of the enactment of epidemic legislation. All court sessions except for urgent matters have been cancelled. Due to the limited scope of matters defined as urgent, the business community may consider commercial matters as de facto suspended. As part of the ‘anti-crisis shield’, the Polish Parliament (Sejm) has just started the process of passing the draft bill amending the legislation related to counteracting and combatting COVID-19.
- COURT ACTIVITIES
Court activities are not suspended. However, no court sessions will be held either during an imminent or actual COVID-19 epidemic. As an exception, urgent matters will continue to be handled by the courts.
Urgent matters expressly include criminal and family matters. In addition, urgent matters will also include all matters in which the current legislation states a deadline for their review by the courts, such as electoral matters and insolvency matters. As based on last year’s amendments to civil procedure, commercial matters also have to be reviewed within a specific deadline, but it is doubtful that the legislative intent is to treat all commercial disputes as urgent matters. For important reasons (public interest, impending loss), a court president may order the review of any matter as being urgent.
If a particular court is closed due to the COVID-19 epidemic, the president of the relevant court of appeal is authorised to refer the matter to another court. If all courts supervised by a particular court of appeal cease their activities, the First President of the Supreme Court is entitled to order another court to handle the matter. The President of the Supreme Administrative Court may refer the cases to another Voivodship Administrative Court if the relevant one has been closed.
- SUSPENSION OF CIVIL LAW DEADLINES
The prevailing number of deadlines set forth in the provisions of civil and commercial legislation is to be suspended if the deadlines influence the rights and obligations of the parties. This applies to the statute of limitation periods, deadlines for exercising rights, such as deadlines for notifying defects under statutory warranty and to deadlines for filings submitted to appropriate court registers. No deadlines will expire during an imminent or an actual COVID-19 epidemic. They will continue to run and will only expire after epidemic status has been lifted.
Although the draft legislation is to enter into force the day after its promulgation, it should be assumed that, due to the legislation’s aims, the deadlines need to be regarded as suspended as from the enactment of the status of an imminent epidemic on the basis of the decree issued by the Minister of Health on 14 March 2020.
The suspension is aimed at protecting the entitled parties facing obstacles in exercising their rights or performing obligations. It does not mean that an interested party may not, if unaffected by the epidemic, exercise the rights or perform obligations through, for example, the notification of claims based on statutory warranty or making the required filing with the court register.
The urgent matters as defined in 1. above are not suspended.
- SUSPENSION OF PROCEDURAL DEADLINES
During an imminent or actual COVID-19 epidemic, no procedural deadlines in court, administrative or tax matters start and if started earlier are suspended.
It should be noted that the suspension of the deadlines that have already started means that they will resume after epidemic status has been lifted. Deadlines that would start during the suspension period will start after the epidemic or imminent epidemic status is lifted. We believe that the suspended deadlines remain “open”, i.e., a party may perform the procedural act, for example, file an appeal, within the suspension period.
- DEADLINES RESULTING FROM INSOLVENCY LAWS
The suspension of procedural deadlines also need to be interpreted as applicable to deadlines resulting from insolvency laws, in particular to the deadline for bankruptcy filings or the initiation of restructuring proceedings.
Although for obvious reasons the provisions of restructuring and insolvency laws seem to be of utmost importance in the current and expected economic situation of the country, the proposed legislation does not provide for any specific regulations in this regard. The government anti-crisis package includes the draft bill on State aid to rescue or restructure enterprises, but this is stand-alone legislation only referring to restructuring laws.
The proposed legislation does not provide for the suspension of enforcement proceedings except the eviction from housing apartments, although the procedural deadlines do not run in theses proceeding either.
As indicated above, the suspension of deadlines does not equate to a complete standstill of the courts. Nothing in the proposed COVID-19 legislation prevents the courts from acting in closed sessions (without public) if allowed under applicable procedural rules. There are no legal obstacles to reviewing applications for interim measures as they are reviewed in closed sessions. The same applies to the issue of payment orders.