NAVIGATING JUDICIAL AND ARBITRAL PROCEEDINGS UNDER COVID-19 EMERGENCY LEGISLATION

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Via the recently adopted "State of Emergency Act , the Bulgarian Parliament has extended the emergency measures and actions to cover some judicial and arbitral proceedings which were previously introduced by the Supreme Judicial Council ("SJC Decision") with its decision on 16 March 2020. To help you better understand and assess the impact of the respective measures and actions, here are the most important points you need to know:

Suspension of statutory terms and time limitation periods

For the purposes of protecting the legitimate interests of individuals and businesses, the following statutory terms and time limitation periods   will be suspended during the state of emergency:

1. The procedural time limits for judicial, arbitral and enforcement proceedings, except for the time limits in criminal cases, for measures of procedural compulsion and under the Extradition act and European arrest warrant.
2. The limitation periods and other periods provided under normative acts, the lapse of which extinguishes or terminates rights or creates obligations for private persons, except for the time terms under the Criminal Code and the Administrative Violations and Sanctions Act.
3. The limitation periods for fulfilment of instructions, given by an administrative body to parties or participants in procedures, except for the proceedings under the Management of Resources from the European Structural and Investment Funds Act.
4. Other limitation periods under anti-bribery act and judicial system act related to declarations of certain circumstances yet with certain exceptions.

Further, the provisions of State of Emergency Act extend the measures and actions introduced by the SJC Decision which provided the following measures as of 16 March 2020, namely:

1. Suspension of the hearings of most civil, administrative and criminal court proceedings with some exceptions . The new dates should be scheduled upon the emergency status end but prior to the judicial holidays. No new cases should be registered and initiated unless within the exemptions. In case the claims were submitted prior to the date of the SJC Decision and no court case was registered a limitation period for filing of a claim expires within the state of emergency the limitation periods shall be extended too.
2. Forbidding the access to court buildings except for the exempted cases.
3. Submission of any court cases papers should be made only via post/courier or by electronic means. Any reviews of cases are performed by telephone, via websites of the respective courts or via official electronic email addresses.
4. Notifications on pending cases is suspended with exceptions of the pending cases that are subject to the exceptions outlined by the SJC Decision.
5. Initiation of new cases is prohibited with some exceptions.
6. Magistrates (Judges, Prosecutors, etc.) private enforcement officers and judicial clerks – except for those engaged under a specific schedule, elaborated by the respective administrative managers, or related to exempted case by the SJC  Decision – are forbidden from access to court buildings. Judges should work remotely.

Extension of certain time limits

Upon the termination of the state of emergency, the following are extended by one month:

1. The time limits specified by a law, other than those under previous paragraph, expiring during the state of emergency and are related to the exercise of rights or fulfilment of obligations by private persons.
2. The effect of the administrative acts, which is limited in time and expires during the state of emergency.

Exemptions

Certain proceedings are exempted from the suspensive and limiting provisions, thus allowing the initiation of the following proceedings, laid down under the SJC Decision:

1. Provisional enforcement and enforcement suspension under the Administrative Procedure Code.
2. Enforcement suspension under the Tax and Social Security Procedure Code.
3. Supervision and restraint measures, as well as protection measures under the Code of Criminal Procedure.
4. Order for immediate protection under the Domestic Violence Protection Act.
5. Permission for withdrawals from children’s deposits.

Enforcement and notarial proceedings

Furthermore, State of Emergency Act regulates certain actions of enforcement, as well as the notarial proceedings like the (i) public sale and coercive seizures of possession, (ii) the garnishments, (iii) the notarial proceedings, (iv) the delayed payments, and (v) the suspension of other limitation periods provided under normative acts the laps of which extinguishes or terminates tights or creates obligations for private persons.

Duration

The measures and actions of the State of Emergency Act enter into force retroactively as of 13 March 2020 and will apply until the state of emergency is in force, currently set forth for 13 April 2020, unless extended.

Effects

As result of the above outlined measures and actions by the State of Emergency Act and the SJC Decision it could be concluded inter alia that:

1. Except for the exempted cases, all civil and administrative court hearings with some exceptions are suspended considered as of 13 March 2020 and will be rescheduled after 13 April 2020, unless the state of emergency is extended.
2. No new judicial, arbitral and criminal cases unless exempted will be registered and/or initiated until the end of the state of emergency.
3. All procedural time limits under judicial, arbitral and criminal cases unless exempted are suspended as of 13 March 2020 until the end of the state of emergency. Yet, the exempted proceedings will continue to be administered by the courts. Furthermore, the SJC Decision provides that judges shall continue their work on all other cases that have been declared for adjudication before 13 March 2020.
4. The one month extension of the effect of the administrative acts postpones the fulfillment of obligations of private persons with one month and aims to ensure that the administration and the addressees of these acts will not need to initiate proceedings for renewals until the state of emergency lasts.
5. The suspension of other limitation periods is aimed at safeguarding the interests of the creditors, as currently they are not able to initiate actions of enforcement. Upon the termination of the state of emergency, the respective periods will resume its effect. By then, a creditor may protect its rights by requesting interim measures for securing future or pending claim, as such cases are still reviewed by the courts.

While many of the limitation periods and proceedings are suspended (excluding exempted cases), one should note that certain judicial proceeds such as notifications or submissions of court papers (motions, evidences and other court documents are ongoing as the procedural deadlines for those cases are not suspended. The parties need to monitor the situation given the pending disputes to avoid missing of certain procedural actions within the state of emergency period.

For further comments on the impact of COVID-19 measures please refer to our notes on:

Force majeure and the impact of COVID-19 measures on business in Bulgaria -  https://www.wolftheiss.com/knowledge/client-alerts/detail/force-majeure-... and

Standstill measures in Bulgaria over consequences due to payment default –
https://www.wolftheiss.com/knowledge/client-alerts/detail/standstill-mea....


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