On April 30, Royal Decree-Law 16/2020, of April 28, on procedural and organisational measures to deal with COVID-19 in the field of the Administration of Justice, entered into force (hereinafter, the "RDL 16/2020").
Previous Royal Decree 463/2020, of March 14, declaring the State of Alarm for the management of the health crisis situation caused by COVID-19 ("Royal Decree 463/2020") -in force from that same day and announced until May 9 without prejudice to possible future extensions- entailed a substantial paralysis of most of the procedural activity in Spain.
Due to COVID-19 crisis and the declaration of the State of Alarm by the Royal Decree 463/2020 -whose specific implications were already analysed in our previous article "COVID-19: Consequences for dispute resolution in Spain"-, the Administration of Justice has suffered a significant slowdown. As a consequence of the above, the RDL 16/2020 introduces relevant (i) procedural measures; (ii) measures in bankruptcy and company law; and (iii) organisational and technological measures with the following objectives:
- Procure a progressive reactivation of the normal functioning of Spanish Courts;
- Ensure an agile exit to the accumulation of the procedures suspended by the declaration of the state of alarm;
- Adopt measures in anticipation of the future increase in litigation as a consequence of the extraordinary measures that have been adopted and the economic situation arising from the health crisis; and
- Establish measures that guarantee the safety distance in the development of hearings, with the promotion of the incorporation of new technologies to avoid excessive concentrations in judicial venues.
In this article we offer a brief summary of some of the main procedural and technical and organisational measures incorporated by RDL 16/2020:
i. PROCEDURAL MEASURES
- The days of August 11 to 31 are declared working days for procedural purposes (Article 1 RDL 16/2020). Traditionally the entire month is deemed to be a non-working month in the Administration of Justice, but the RDL 16/2020 declares August 11 to 31, 2020 as business days (except Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays).
- Calculation of procedural time limits (Article 2.1 RDL 16/2020). One of the main novelties introduced by RDL 16/2020 is that the initial posture of suspension and subsequent resumption of its calculation –as per the 2nd Additional Provision of Royal Decree 463/2020–, has been modified, by the restart of all the terms. Thus, the periods that are currently suspended due to the declaration of the State of Alarm, will run again from the start the next business day after the termination of the State of Alarm.
- Extension of the time limits to appeal judgments notified (i) during the suspension of procedural deadlines established in Royal Decree 463/2020 or (ii) within the 20 days following the lifting of the suspension of the procedural deadlines (Article 2.2 RDL 16/2020).
- Introduction of a special and summary procedure in certain family matters during the validity of the State of Alarm and up to 3 months after its termination (Articles 3-5 RDL 16/2020).
- Preferential processing of certain procedures from the time the State of Alarm is lifted until December 31, 2020 (Article 7 RDL 16/2020) such as dismissal procedures, processes that deny the legal moratorium on mortgages or certain leasing procedures, among others (Article 7 RDL 16/2020).
ii. ORGANISATIONAL AND TECHNOLOGICAL MEASURES
- Use of telematic means. During the State of Alarm and until three months after its termination, trials, hearings, appearances and declarations will be carried out preferably through the use of telematic means, except in the criminal jurisdiction for trials for serious crimes (Article 19 RDL 16/2020).
- Limitation of public access to courtrooms (Article 20 RDL 16/2020).
- Waiver of the use of gowns in public hearings (Article 22 RDL 16/2020).
- Limitation of attention to the public, which will be carried out by telephone or email, with the exception of exceptions in which it will be necessary to obtain an appointment in advance (Article 23 RDL 16/2020).
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