COVID-19: Consequences for dispute resolution in Sweden

By Hanna Jansson

04-2020

Court proceedings

The Swedish courts are operational and open to the public. The courts are still working but with stretched resources and many court employees working from home. Some courts have shortened the register's opening hours. Visitors and participants in court proceeding who have respiratory symptoms (cough, breathing difficulties or fever) are advised to not visit the courts and many courts encourages the public to not visit the courts at this time unless necessary.

The decision on how to handle the current situation lies with the separate courts and varies between the courts. In Stockholm, which has been the most affected by COVID-19 so far, court hearings have been suspended due to parties, counsels or witnesses being ill. There have also been some procedural impediments due to older lay judges not being able to attend hearings. Lay judges sit in on, for example, criminal cases and family law cases, but not civil cases and bankruptcy cases. Some courts in Stockholm have decided to suspend all court hearings for the time being that are not urgent. Urgent cases are for example criminal cases where the defendant is a minor or detained, bankruptcy cases and many family law cases.

Swedish procedural law allows for hearings to be conducted via video conference or telephone as an alternative to physical presence in court, when deemed suitable. Swedish courts regularly use this technology but it can be assumed that they will take advantage of the opportunity more than normally in the current situation.

All deadlines for submissions set by the courts are still valid and the courts will not extend deadlines of their own accord. Deadlines for submissions can however be extended at the concerned party's request. Our experience is that if a party request an extension, and provides a reasonable explanation for the request, it will be granted. Justified reasons for extensions usually include illness. Most court imposed deadlines can be extended even after they have expired.

Statutory deadlines, such as deadlines to appeal, cannot be extended by the courts regardless of the COVID-19 outbreak. If such a deadline is missed through no fault of one's own, the concerned party may however apply for and be granted restoration of expired time. Serious illness may be a valid ground for restoration of expired time, but we would not advise to rely on this possibility.

Even though the courts are running at a limited capacity it is still possible to initiate court proceedings as usual. Submissions can still be made to the courts in the standard ways, such as delivery directly to the court, via post or via e-mail. Personal delivery of a submission to the court may however be restricted if the court has limited the register's working hours. Any application fee can be paid electronically, which is the normal payment method to the courts.

While the courts are still operational, the current COVID-19 crisis can be expected to have an important impact on litigation in Sweden in terms of congestion in the courts and the capability of the judicial system to provide efficient resolution of disputes in the coming months. Due to many hearings being suspended right now it will be difficult for many courts, especially in Stockholm, to re-schedule the suspended hearings while also scheduling new hearings.

Arbitration

On 16 April 2020 twelve international arbitral institutions, among them the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, issued a joint message stating that the joint ambition of the institutions is to ensure that pending cases may continue and that parties may have their cases heard without undue delay.

The SCC is fully operational but working remotely. The SCC's case management is fully digitalised and requests for arbitration are filed via email. Unless illness or other aspects of the arbitration otherwise prevents the case from continuing as planned, the SCC expects arbitral tribunals to manage the proceedings in accordance with timetables previously established.

The SCC encourages arbitral tribunals to use alternative means such as audio- and visual meeting facilities going forward.

For more Disputes related know-how please access our Disputes+ portal by clicking on the link here.

Last reviewed: 23 April 2020