Are courts still working?

Courts have never ceased to work since the beginning of the crisis originated by COVID-19. In the first phase of the pandemic, in March 2020, several measures were taken within the justice system to prevent propagation of the pandemic also in this context, but courts have always been partially functioning, 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 June 2020, a new regime for the functioning of courts and proceedings came into force, under which judicial proceedings returned, as a general rule, to normality and hearings and procedural acts were 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.

However, on 1 February 2021, due to the epidemiological situation which the country is going through, Law no. 4-B/2021 was enacted, establishing again a new legal framework for the suspension of hearings and procedural acts, by amending Law no. 1-A/2020.

More specifically, hearings and deadlines for performance of procedural acts in non-urgent proceedings have again been suspended with effects from 22 January, 2021. All acts and hearings performed between such date and the date when Law no. 4-B/2021 was enacted were lawfully performed.

Notwithstanding this general rule of suspension, there were number of relevant exceptions in place, including in the context of non-urgent proceedings, aiming at allowing the performance of the all acts that could reasonably be performed without jeopardizing the main goal of containing the spread of the pandemic. Furthermore, the urgent procedural acts and hearings (so defined either by law or by judicial decision) shall continue to be performed without any suspension or interruption.

Law 13-B/2021, which was published on 5 April 2021 and came into force on 6 April 2021, ceased the suspension of deadlines in force since 22 January 2021. A "derogatory and transitory procedural regime" was also approved, which aims to regulate the way hearings are held in court (with preference to face-to-face hearings) and the way procedures must be handled in specific cases (filing for insolvency, surrender of dwelling, enforcement of the handover of a rented property).

 

Are persons summoned for any procedural acts required to attend?

Trial hearings and witness interrogation hearings are held in person.

Whenever in-person hearings cannot take place, such hearings may be held through teleconferencing, video calls or other equivalent means, provided that the judicial assessment and evaluation of the evidence to be produced in such hearings is not compromised.

In criminal proceedings, however, the statements from the defendant, the private prosecutor (assistente) and the civil parties as well as witness testimonies shall always be made in person.

Without prejudice to the foregoing, in any case and in whichever hearings, people who are required to attend and are over 70 years of age, immunocompromised or chronically ill, considered to be risk patients according to the guidelines of the health authority do not have to appear in court, and 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?

With the lifting of the suspension effective from 22 January 2021 to 6 April 2021, the deadlines resume counting (taking into account the suspension period).

 

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 18 April, in force since 19 April, introduced a derogatory 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 19 April 2020:

  • 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.