Are courts still working?

Courts have never ceased to work since the beginning of the crisis originated by COVID-19, namely to ensure urgent proceedings under the terms provided by law, but also non-urgent proceedings, if all parties agreed to perform acts and proceedings through digital platforms which allow their remote performance or through any adequate means of remote communication, namely teleconferencing, video calling, or similar.

As of 03.06.2020, a new regime for the functioning of courts and proceedings comes into force, under which judicial proceedings will, as a general rule, return to normality and hearings and procedural acts will be carried out, either in person - in compliance with the health protection rules set forth by the DGS - or through adequate means of remote communication.

Dwelling eviction proceedings will, however, remain suspended, when tenants are left in a vulnerable situation, or based on any other compelling reason, as well as foreclosures on the debtor’s permanent dwelling.

 

Are persons summoned for any procedural acts required to attend?

Final hearings shall preferably be conducted in person (always in compliance with the health protection rules set forth by the DGS) and, if not possible and provided there is no prejudice to the achievement of justice, they are conducted through appropriate means of remote communication. The law safeguards, however, that statements by the defendant, witness testimony and statements by parties must always be made in court, unless the parties agree otherwise.

Other procedural acts that require the physical presence of the intervening parties, other than final hearings, shall be subject to the opposite rule: they shall preferably be performed through adequate means of remote communication and only when that is not possible, shall they be conducted in person. However, the law guarantees the defendant’s presence in the pre-trial debate when statements (his own or the co-defendant’s) and witness testimony take place.

In any case and in whichever proceedings, people who are required to attend and are over 70 years of age, immunocompromised or chronically ill (considered to be at risk according to the guidelines of the health authority) do not have to appear in court, in which case they may follow the proceedings through adequate means of remote communication, from their legal or professional address.

 

What happens to running deadlines during the epidemiological crisis?

As of 03.06.2020, the deadlines pertaining to judicial proceedings, whether urgent or non-urgent, will be normally carried-out.  

Only deadlines expressly mentioned in the law shall remain suspended: (i) the deadline for the debtor to file for insolvency; (ii) the statutes of limitations and expiry deadlines related to the aforementioned dwelling eviction proceedings (when tenants are left in a vulnerable situation, or based on any other compelling reason) and foreclosure on the debtor’s permanent dwelling; (iii) the statutes of limitations and expiry deadlines related to proceedings whose procedural acts cannot be performed either in person or through adequate means of remote communication. The statutes of limitations and expiry deadlines referred to in (ii) and (iii) shall take precedence over any regime that establishes mandatory maximum statutes of limitations and expiry deadlines, which shall be extended by the period corresponding to the duration of the suspension.

In enforcement or insolvency proceedings, in which the sale of real estate may cause harm to the subsistence of the debtor or the person declared insolvent, the latter may request that the practice of the affecting acts be suspended, provided that this does not cause serious harm to the livelihood of the creditor or irreparable damage. If the suspension is granted by the court, the respective statutes of limitations and expiry deadlines related to the proceedings shall also be suspended.

The suspension of statutes of limitations and expiry deadlines on criminal and administrative offence proceedings may raise doubts on its compliance with the Constitution given the prohibition of retroactive application of more severe criminal laws for defendants (article 29 (4) of the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic).

 

How long will the regime of procedural requirements and time limits in force from 03.06.2020 last?

A Decree-Law will be published setting the end date of the exceptional circumstances and the end of this regime.

 

Are there any exceptional rules regarding the service of summons and notices?

Considering the epidemiological situation caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and the disease COVID-19, Law no. 10/2020, of April 18, in force since April 19, introduced an exceptional and temporary regime for the service of summons and notices carried out via post, as well as for packaging delivery. Subject to the necessary adaptations, this law also applies to summons and notices made via personal contact.

Thus, since the 19th April:

  • The need to have registered mail and packages signed upon delivery is suspended until the exceptional situation of prevention, containment, mitigation and treatment of the epidemiological infection by SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 disease ceases;
  • The signature is replaced by oral identification and by providing the personal identification number, or any other suitable means of identification. The date when such means of identification was provided should be recorded;
  • Summons and notices made via registered letter with acknowledgment of receipt are considered to have been made on the date the personal identification number or any other legal means of identification is recorded.
  • Should data be refused, the postal officer draws-up a note of the incident in the letter or acknowledgment of receipt and returns it to the issuing entity. The summon or notice is deemed as having occurred with the note written by the postal officer.

 

 

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This information is being updated on a regular basis.

All information contained herein and all opinions expressed are of a general nature and are not intended to substitute recourse to expert legal advice for the resolution of real cases.