A question that we normally get from our clients who we assist or represent in court in any civil lawsuits (the notion of civil lawsuit includes commercial lawsuits and any other cases related to relationships in private law matters), is that of what is the duration of the lawsuit? How long will it take?
This is a question to which we can never give a clear satisfactory answer, irrespective of our experience with that type of cases or the court before whom the case will be heard.
In practice, a civil lawsuit will almost never last less than 3 months from the moment of initiation of the proceedings, it can happen but it is very rare. The moment of imitating the proceedings is when statement and request for the case is lodged in the relevant court.
Most civil cases registered with the Romanian courts and especially Bucharest courts take between 6 and 9 months, this being extended to 12, 24, 36 months or longer depending on the complexity of the case, the court hearing the case, the evidence submitted by the parties and other procedural or court requests in relation to the trial.
In order for any client to better understand why the length of a lawsuit in Romania is so long, we will set out in this article what happens in the court system until the setting of the first hearing date. The requirements are provided by the Civil Procedure Code which sets out certain mandatory terms that the court and/or the parties in the case must comply with before setting the date of the first hearing.
The first stage of any civil lawsuit is the drafting and the registration of the application with the competent court. The application is submitted by the claimant to the court’s registry office, along with any documents setting out the applicant’s case and which they will rely upon at any hearing. The application is delivered by hand or it is sent to the court by regular mail or courier. After its registration in the court the application is randomly assigned by the court’s computers to one judge from a panel of judges who will comprise the members of the panel of judges of the court who will judge the case. Most courts have more than one panel of judges. The panel consists of a number of judges dependant on the area where the court is sitting and decided by the authorities.
The allocated judge from the panel who constitutes the court for the case then verifies if the application observes all the mandatory provisions of the law required for the issuing of the proceedings, and if it does not, then the regulatory procedure of the court commences.
The court will send to the claimant a notice stating the deficiencies in the application and requiring him in a period of a maximum of 10 days from the receipt of the notice to make good the deficiencies in the application or make the necessary amendments or complete the application as required by the court. Failure to do so means that the application will be rejected, and the claimant will have to start the whole procedure again.
If any defects in the application are not resolved by the claimant in the period, the application is annulled by the court. In such a case, the claimant has the possibility to file a request for review of the annulment decision within 15 days of the communication of such decision. Until the request for review is heard, additional time will pass depending on how busy the court is, and this will delay the matter further.
If the defects are fixed by the claimant within the 10 days term, the court will send the application and the documents submitted with it to the defendant advising him that he has the obligation to submit a statement of defence within 25 days from the date that it was received by him.
The defendant drafts his statement of defence together with supporting documentation and submits it to the court directly or by mail or courier to be placed in the case file. The defence and supporting documentation is then communicated by the court to the claimant with a note that he has the obligation that within 10 days from its communication he must submit an answer to the defendant’s defence. The defendant will take note on the claimant’s answers from the case file in court as it is not communicated to the defendant by the court.
After all these procedural documents are submitted to the file, the appointed judge decides upon setting the first court hearing date which should be set within a maximum period of 60 days from the date of the decision that the file is in order In practice, it is very often that the court sets the first hearing for a period of time on a period greater than 60 days depending on the number of cases it has to try within that period.
Therefore, under a simple mathematical calculation, if there are no procedural defects and subject to the court’s prompt action and without delays of days, weeks or even months the first hearing may theoretically be 35 days from the registration of the application (25 days defence submission term and 10 days answer to the defence submission term).
However, this scenario is not common in practice, especially in Bucharest where the courts, have a large case load and therefore they cannot deal with and review new applications for trial as soon as they have been assigned.
The main factors influencing the setting of the first hearing date are the load of the court which will try the case, the speed of the communications made by the court to the relevant party, the time that the parties submit their required procedural documents, and finally the decision of the judge to set the hearing sooner or later.
From our experience, we can state that from the moment of the submission of the application, on average, the time until the first hearing is approximately 3 months. We also know from experience that there are situations when the first hearing is set after one year, but such are exceptional cases.
In the next article in this series we shall present what actually happens at the first hearing and, at the subsequent hearings up to the moment of the decision of the court.