COVID-19 and its impact on Court Proceedings (3/3)

3. Criminal Court Proceedings

Special provisions are also made in criminal matters. The Federal Minister of Justice may order the jurisdiction of another prison for the duration of measures taken to prevent the dissemination of COVID-19.

In addition, the Federal Minister of Justice is authorised to order an uninterrupted interruption of the time limits for the maximum duration of preliminary proceedings (section 108a of the Code of Criminal Procedure), the two-month time limit for the retrial of an interrupted trial (section 276a of the Code of Criminal Procedure) and the time limits for the filing and execution of appeals (section 88(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure). 1, § 106, Sub-Clause 3, § 108a, § 284, Sub-Clause 1 and 2, § 285, Sub-Clause 1, § 294, Sub-Clause 1, § 466, Sub-Clause 1 and 2, and § 467, Sub-Clause 1, Code of Criminal Procedure) for the duration of the ordered prohibitions of entry.

In addition, it can be ordered that detention hearings do not have to take place and that the decision on the continuation of pre-trial detention or provisional detention must be made in accordance with § 175.4, second sentence, of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Furthermore, an authorisation to conduct detention hearings by means of a video conference was determined. The corresponding ordinance was announced in BGBl II No. 99/2020. Under certain circumstances, however, it may be necessary to keep the traffic with the outside world as low as possible in order to avoid the spread of COVID-19. According to the explanations, it should be noted that the detention periods continue to apply, so that a decision on the continuation of detention with a comprehensive examination of the conditions of detention must be made before the expiry of the period. Urgent suspicion, reasons for detention and proportionality of pre-trial detention shall continue to be strictly examined.

COVID-19 and its impact on Court Proceedings (2/3)

2. Reduction of court operations

For the period of the general measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, hearings and oral hearings shall only be held under certain conditions (prevention of danger to life and limb, security and freedom, etc.). This also applies to the issuing and execution of enforcement orders and to the taking of oral minutes. Urgently required hearings of a party or oral hearings can also be held using suitable technical means of communication (in particular video conferencing).

If, as a result of the appearance and dissemination of COVID-19, the activities of a court cease (§ 161 ZPO, § 25 (1) 5 AußStrG), the Federal Minister of Justice must announce this fact on the website of the Federal Ministry of Justice. The Higher Regional Court shall then, at the request of one of the parties, designate another court to hear and decide the case if procedural steps are to be taken which are urgently required, inter alia, to avert a danger to life and limb, security and freedom. Only such judicial acts are to be completed as are urgently required in order to avert a danger to life and limb, security and freedom or to prevent substantial and irreparable damage to a party to the proceedings. However, notifications made by electronic legal transactions shall continue to be made.

In practice, it can be assumed that – except in urgent individual cases – no negotiations will take place in civil proceedings until at least the end of April 2019 and that there will therefore be corresponding procedural delays. Delays in written settlements are also to be expected due to the limited number of proceedings.

COVID-19 and its impact on Court Proceedings (1/3)

1. Interruption of time limits in legal proceedings

Court operations will continue until further notice, so that proceedings will generally be continued.

Due to the 2.COVID-19-law package, which comes into force on Monday, 23 March 2020 and will largely expire at the end of 31 December 2020, an interruption of the deadline has been decided. In legal proceedings, all procedural time limits whose triggering event falls within the period after the entry into force of this Federal Act, as well as procedural time limits which have not yet expired by the time this Federal Act enters into force, shall be suspended until the end of 30 April 2020. In the explanations it is clearly stated that in civil cases (civil proceedings, non-contentious proceedings, land register and commercial register proceedings, execution proceedings, insolvency proceedings) – apart from the exceptions stated in the Act – all procedural time limits (both statutory and judicial time limits) are interrupted. They shall begin to run anew on 1 May 2020.

Exceptions are proceedings in which the court decides on the lawfulness of an upright deprivation of liberty under the Accommodation Act, the Home Residence Act, the Tuberculosis Act or the Epidemic Act 1950, as well as for benefit periods.

However, in certain cases (averting danger to life and limb, safety and freedom or to prevent substantial and irreparable damage to a party to the proceedings, etc.), the court may declare in the respective proceedings that a time limit is not interrupted. At the same time, a new reasonable deadline shall be set. This decision may not be appealed against.

Furthermore, the period from the entry into force of this Federal Act until the end of Ap-ril 30, 2020, shall not be included in the period in which an action or application is to be filed with a court or a statement is to be made. This concerns, for example, limitation periods, the period for actions for trespass under Section 454 of the German Code of Civil Procedure (ZPO), etc.

The Federal Minister of Justice may, by ordinance, extend the ordered general interruption of time limits to the extent that this is necessary to prevent and combat the dissemination of COVID-19.

As long as the time limits are interrupted, certain facilitations apply to the service with proof of service of documents to be transmitted by courts or administrative authorities as well as the service of documents by foreign authorities (§ 1) to be effected by the courts or administrative authorities.