Dr Ewelina Stobiecka

radca prawny

I’ve been supporting entrepreneurs for almost twenty years in resolving commercial disputes in and out of court. I represent my clients as an attorney and negotiator and also act as a commercial mediator...
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Taking evidence in a new civil procedureTaking evidence is the most time-consuming and crucial stage of the proceeding in proving the parties’ points.

Also the legislator has foreseen a few novelties which are aimed at accelerating the proceeding and making it more effective. There are also many changes of a purely ordering or specifying nature. All amendments will enter into force on 7 November, so it is important to take a closer look at them, also in the context of considering the choice of alternative dispute resolution methods.

First of all, a good plan

The first important decision concerning taking evidence in the new civil procedure will be taken at the preparatory meeting, which I wrote about in the first part of this series of publications. It relates, in fact, to a plan for taking evidence submitted by the parties, described in detail in the so-called timetable of the trial prepared by the parties together with the judge during the preparatory meeting (added Article 205 (5) of the Code of Civil Procedure).

The very preparation of the trial timetable and planning the sequence of taking evidence activates the parties and makes them jointly responsible for the course of the proceeding.

Motions for evidence

The new provisions also explicitly describe that each party is obliged to make a statement as to the facts (no longer “factual circumstances”, which is a change of ordering terminology nature rather than of a substantive nature). A party is obliged to specify the facts which it denies (and some of them it admits), which is a novelty and is intended to prevent denial of all the other party’s statements in bulk. This wording of art. 210 of the Civil Procedure Code is intended to encourage the parties to clearly list the facts to which they deny, which will significantly restrict the process of proving evidence.

Similarly, the provision of art. 228 of the Civil Procedure Code relating to commonly known facts which do not require proof, has been clarified. Nevertheless, the previous provisions did not give the parties the certainty that such facts are taken into account by the court. In the current wording of the provision of art. 228 of the Civil Procedure Code, “the court takes them (facts commonly known) into account even without reference to them by the parties”.

Moreover, in order to improve the process of proving evidence, the provisions concerning the evidence motions formulated by the parties have also been clarified. So far, parties have been formulating their motions for taking evidence “on circumstances” instead of ” confirming concrete facts”. In practice, such motions were formulated very broadly and were often based “on the legitimacy of the claim”, which made it very difficult to assess the use of such evidence. In this respect, a new art. 235¹ of the Civil Procedure Code was added which introduces an unambiguous requirement that a motion for evidence must indicate the facts which a party wishes to prove with given evidence.

According to the wording of this provision, “In a motion for taking evidence a party is obliged to mark evidence in a manner which enables it to be taken and to determine and specify the facts which are to be proved by such evidence”.

The phrase “determine and specify” stresses that this indication is to be individualised as to each fact and as to each piece of evidence, so the party is obliged, on the one hand, to exhaustively list all the facts which are to be proved by the requested evidence and, on the other hand, to indicate which piece of evidence provides the relevant proof.

Refusal of taking evidence

It appears that there is no need to differentiate between the decision concerning the refusal to take certain evidence on the rejection of a motion for evidence, its reimbursement, rejection, etc. Therefore, the legislator has opted for a collective, uniform formula of “omission of evidence”, which includes all these decisions.

The catalogue of conditions under which the court may refuse to take the evidence (which takes place by way of a decision) is provided for in the new art. 235² of the Civil Procedure Code, which states:

 “In particular, the court may disregard the evidence:

1) the performance of which is excluded by the provision of the Civil Procedure Code;

2) which is to prove an indisputable fact which is irrelevant for the decision on the case or which has been proved in accordance with the applicant’s statement;

3) which is not useful to prove a given fact;

4) impossible to take;

5) only aimed at extending the proceedings;

6) if the party’s application does not comply with the requirements of art. 235 (1), and the party has not remedied this despite being requested to do so.

2. Disregarding the evidence, the court makes a decision stating the legal basis on which it is based’.

The change of the requirements concerning the content of the motion for evidence similarly entailed a change in the mandatory content of the decision on admitting the evidence. The current wording of art. 236 was too imprecise.

“Art. 236. § 1. In the decision on the admissibility of evidence, the court will indicate the evidence and facts to be proved by it and, if necessary and possible, also the date and place of taking evidence.

2. If a party requested that the resolution should be given as to the evidence, it is sufficient to refer to the decision to the content of the application.

3. Commisioning a designated judge or a requested court to take evidence, the court will appoint the judge or the court. If no time limit or place for taking evidence has been specified, it will be specified by the designated judge or the requested court.

Activation of parties when taking evidence

The new Article 242¹ of the Civil Procedure Code introduces changes which are significant from a practical point of view, which provides for activating a party when taking evidence. Experience shows that it is difficult to take evidence from witnesses’ testimonies: it transpires that witnesses reported by a party, even those closely related to it, do not appear (for various reasons) in court. The new regulation imposes, as far as it is possible, the obligation on the party to make efforts to ensure that the person summoned to the court, upon the party’s motion, appears in the indicated place and time.

This provision makes the party co-responsible for the efficient conduct of evidence proceedings, and thus for the whole process.

“Article 242 (1) A party which has requested to summon a witness, an expert witness or other person to the court’s activities, should endeavor to have that person appear at the specified time and place, in particular to inform them of their duty, time and place of appearance”.

Documentary proof

In the current legal situation and in accordance with the letter of the law, the judge issued a decision on admitting evidence from a document attached to the case file. This was unnecessary for the judge, while the specificity of the documentary proof, i.e. the provision of information contained therein, only requires (for its performance) reading that document. Therefore, issuing a decision in this matter seems unnecessarily formal. Besides, issuing a decision on attaching a document to evidence would obviously be illogical: it would be necessary to read the document in order to convince oneself that it should not be read. In such cases, such evidence will be accepted (automatically) and taken (by reading it once).

Another situation occurs when we are dealing with the exclusion of an evidentiary document from the material evidence. Then issuing an appropriate decision should be necessary.

“Article 243 (2) Documents contained in the case file or attached to it constitute evidence without issuing a separate decision. Excluding evidence from such a document, the court will issue a decision”.

Witness statements

The appearance of a witness at the request of a court may be prevented by not only illness or lameness, but also by other insurmountable obstacles, such as imprisonment. Therefore, following the criminal procedure, the legislator has extended the grounds for examining the witness in the place where he/she is staying. At the same time, terminology has also been modernised, replacing the outdated term “lameness” with the term “disability”.

“Article 263: A witness who is unable to appear upon request because of illness, disability or other insurmountable obstacles shall be heard in his place of residence”.

An important novelty in taking evidence is the introduction of the facility to give evidence in writing. This facility, hitherto only foreseen in the European Small Claims Procedure, has just been extended to the whole civil procedure.

The new provision of art. 271¹ of the Civil Procedure Code states that “a witness gives evidence in writing if the court decides so. In such a case, the witness makes an oath by signing the text of the oath. The witness is obliged to give the text of his/her testimony to the court within the time limit specified by the court (…)”.

This solution may give rise to controversy and concerns regarding the possibility for the interested parties to influence the content of the statements written down by the witness. A significant limitation of this type of written statements is that one cannot verify all the elements of the witness’ examination, which are important to acquire the truth, such as, the possibility to  ask  precise questions, observing the witness’s behavior and his/her body language, etc.

To what extent and how this new institution of witness’ testimonies in writing will function in practice, we will probably see very soon.

In addition, following an institution which has been operating for a long time in criminal proceedings, the civil court has also been granted an additional tool allowing it to determine whether a witness is suffering from any disability. This tool is to ensure that a medical expert (psychologist or neurologist) or a psychologist may participate in the proceedings when hearing a given person.

The new art. 272¹ of the Civil Procedure Code provides for the appropriate regulation, which stipulates that:

“If a court doubts the ability of a witness to perceive or communicate observations, it may order that the witness be heard in participation with a medical expert or psychologist, and the witness may not object to this”.

Participation of experts

The hitherto judicial practice is based on a complete separation of a witness and an expert as two sources of evidence: no statement is taken from the expert and no opinion is given by the witness.

However, judicial practice has shown that in certain situations it is purposeful to repeal this incompatibility. Often, before the trial, the parties commission specialists in a given field to draw up expert analysis, initially to show them the subject matter of the dispute. It is clear that the value of such statements cannot be over-estimated because they are often made by the best specialists in a given field. However, such person may be heard in court at most as a witness, but he or she must not draw conclusions from the described facts with the use of his or her own expertise.

To this end, the court “must ” appoint an expert, which of course prolongs the proceedings and duplicates the costs of such analysis. As practice shows, an opinion commissioned by the court is usually drawn up by a weaker expert than a “witness” interviewed by the court, who has been commissioned to prepare a private opinion.

The solution to this disadvantage is to repeal the prohibition of combining the roles of a  witness and an expert. However, the legislator has not decided to make wider use of such a facility and, as the justification for the amendments reads , “(…) until such time as the criteria for admissibility and evaluation of such evidence are developed in the case-law, its use should be limited to simplified proceedings, and thus to cases with a lower value of the subject-matter of the dispute, in which the consequences of possible errors when applying to a new institution will not be too severe (…)”.

Thus, the relevant provision was only introduced for the simplified procedure in art. 505 (7) § 3.

“Article 505 (7). § 1. Whenever the legitimacy of or the amount compensation should be determined using special information, it is up to the court to decide whether to make an independent assessment based on the overall circumstances of the case or to consult an expert.

2. The expert’s opinion should not be sought if its foreseeable cost would exceed the value of the matter at issue, unless exceptional circumstances justify it.

3. Giving evidence by a witness should not prevent him/her from being consulted as an expert, including the facts about which he/she has testified (witness- expert), even if he/she has previously drawn up an opinion commissioned by an entity other than a court.

In legal transactions, experts’ opinions are widely used which are prepared at the entire private request or at the request of an entity conducting proceedings provided for a separate law (e.g. insurance winding-up proceedings, the complaint proceedings) or at the request of an out-of-court body conducting proceedings other than a judicial one (criminal preparatory proceedings, all types of administrative proceedings), or at the request of a court in another case, whether civil or criminal.

Nevertheless, the existing provisions which regulate the evidence from an expert’s opinion do not explicitly state whether it is permissible in civil court proceedings to take evidence from an expert’s opinion which has not been prepared at the request of the court which is conducting the case (out-of-court). If so, what is the nature of such evidence? However, practical benefits, including the efficiency and speed of proceedings resulting from the use of such evidence in civil proceedings, are clear.

Therefore, in accordance with the new art. 278 ¹ of the Civil Procedure Code, “The court may admit evidence from an opinion commissioned by a public authority in other proceedings provided for in the act”.

As regards participation of an expert in the case, the legislator has introduced a number of other improvements aimed at meeting the needs of practice and the demands of an efficient process.

The changes concern, among others, clarifying the procedure for excluding an expert from a case, issues related to taking the statement from an expert concerning the reliability of his/her opinion, providing the expert with materials for his/her opinion, the procedure for supplementing and explaining the opinion and allowing for an additional opinion, as well as issues related to determining the expert’s remuneration.

It seems that the new provisions on evidence proceedings have met the needs not only of judicial practice but also the need to “dust off” and modernise the regulation which has been operating for over 50 years.

If you want us to help you solve a dispute in business, please contact us under:

tel.: +48 669 73 79 79e-mail: e.stobiecka@taylorwessing.com

The procedural law abuse clauseThe new Civil Procedure Code includes a completely new clause on the abuse of procedural law as a response to issues of judicial practice related to procedural “creativity” of the parties.

During the work on the new regulations, situations were identified in which, in the opinion of project providers, there is no doubt that the party concerned abuses its procedural rights.

Among such situations, it has been highlighted:

  • filing, as a statement of claim, a letter which does not contain a request to hear a court case,
  • filing a statement of claim which is manifestly unfounded,
  • filing a number of applications to exclude a judge,
  • filing a number of complaints in the same or a similar subject matter,
  • filing a number of applications to correct, supplement or interpret the judgment.

Moreover, procedural law may also be abused in situations where such characteristics cannot be clearly attributed to, although in principle they have two features in common:

  • they are taken on the basis and within the limits of procedural law (the rights to bring an action, the rights to lodge a complaint, etc.),
  • do not, however, pursue the objective for which the relevant procedural institutions have been established.

The primary objective of such actions is to prolong the proceedings and to lead to a paralysis of the judiciary. An example of such can be e.g. lodging a chain of complaints – a “trick” often used by efficient litigators, intertwined with e.g. a number of procedural applications, e.g. those for exemption from court costs. Paralysis can also be introduced by a series of applications to exclude a judge or a series of applications to appoint a counsel provided through legal aid.

The current status

Under the current legal framework, a court has the opportunity to prevent abuse of procedural law by a party in fact only in one situation: when it comes to the excessive number of applications for evidence. Here, the judge, as the host of the proceedings, takes the appropriate decisions.

However, there are no tools to prevent the situation where as a result of such actions of one party to the proceedings, the other parties’ right for the case to be heard within a reasonable time, the right to a fair trial or the right of other individuals to act efficiently were actually infringed.

It was therefore clear that the system of the civil procedural law needs to be supplemented by a limitation of the admissibility of parties’ actions based on the misuse of procedural rights.

The general clause

Given the circumstances of our legal system, the abuse of procedural law has been strictly regulated in order to prevent, as far as possible, any possible overuse of this clause. It was considered that the assessment of whether an act of a party constitutes an abuse of procedural right should be based on determining the objective which the party wishes to achieve by taking the act and on assessing whether that objective is justified.

The general clause is included in the added art. 4¹ of the Civil Procedure Code, which reads as follows: “The parties and participants to the proceedings must not make use of the power provided for in the provisions of the proceedings which is inconsistent with the purpose for which it was established (abuse of procedural law)”:

The sanctions which the court may impose on the abusing party are also provided for in the new Article 226 ² § 2 of the Civil Procedure Code and may consist of:

  • imposing a fine,
  • charging an additional part or even all of the costs of the process,

and at the request of the opposing party it may also consist of:

  • ordering to pay the costs of the proceedings increased in proportion to the increase in the opposing party’s workload caused as a result of the abusive practice, to run the case,
  • increasing the interest rate to be paid on the sum awarded in proportion to the delay in dealing with the case caused by the abusive nature, for the time corresponding to that delay.

Since the abuse can often only be established by reference to the circumstances of the case as a whole, sanctions may only be applied in the decision closing the proceedings.

Specific solutions

The regulation of the general clause on the abuse of procedural law has gone a little further by specifying the provisions in an appropriate manner in order to prevent situations which are exhaustive in terms of abuse of procedural law.

Letter which is not a statement of claim

Among the identified procedural issues, the project providers indicated, among others, lodging a letter under the pretext of the statement of claim which was not the case in reality, i.e. which did not contain a request to hear any case by the court.

Under the current legal framework, the court is in each case obliged to treat such a letter as if it were a statement of claim and give it the course of action by (in particular) forcing the claimant to make a claim. Such situations require an exceptional amount of time and effort from the court, and they somehow “block” judges who are thus forced to conduct procedural correspondence with the claimant of such a letter, motivating him/her to properly formulate the request.

Apart from the objectives of the party’s action who submits such an unclear or vague letter, it seems that, taking advantage of the possibilities offered by wide access to legal aid or even using the available tools, it is uneconomical to pass on to the judge the care for clarifying an unclear letter.

The project providers rightly claim that in such a situation the defendant could also expect assistance from the judge in clarifying the response to the statement of claim.

Therefore, the new procedure includes the provision of art. 186¹, according to which:

§ 1. A letter which has been filed as a statement of claim and from which there is no demand for the settlement of a civil law dispute, shall be returned by the chairman to the claimant without any further action, unless exceptional circumstances justify giving it the course of action”.

In order to ensure adequate procedural guarantees and appropriate review by the court, a decision in this case may be appealed against.

The statement of claim, of course, unfounded

What if the statement of claim is filed correctly and is clearly formulated but unfounded?

A statement of claim is obviously unfounded if its content makes it possible to foresee that it will never be taken into account, so that giving it the course of action and the work of the court is futile. This also includes an apparent statement of claim by which a party pursues an objective other than asserting its rights by means of procedural institutions.

The legislator provided for the facility to dismiss such a claim at a closed session without taking any additional action concerning the statement of claim and, crucially, without delivering the statement of claim to the individual who has been indicated as the defendant.

Such a solution is part of the procedural measures allowed in such situations by the Recommendation no. R(84)5 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to the Member States concerning the rules on civil procedure which intend to improve judiciary and where it is permissible to provide for a “simplified” procedure for such cases.

The essence of this simplification in this case is, according to the project providers, to waive from carrying out activities required by the procedure to give the statement of claim a normal course of action, i.e:

– it is not called upon to remove the formal defects of the statement of claim,

– it is not called upon to pay a fee,

– it is not called upon to enclose copies,

– additional applications contained in the statement of claim (for security, for exemption from costs, for appointment of a counsel provided through legal aid, etc.) are not considered,

– no copy of the statement of claim is delivered to the defendant.

The only activity of the court is the chairman’s order to send the case to a closed session and to draw up a verdict and justification ex officio.

The corresponding standard which refers to this situation can be found in the new art. 191¹ of the Code of Civil Procedure, according to which:

“§ 1 If it follows from the content and the annexes and from the circumstances of the statement of claim, as well as from the facts referred to in art. 228 that the statement of claim is manifestly unfounded, the following provisions apply.

2 If the actions which the law requires to be taken following filing a statement of claim are manifestly unreasonable, they can be omitted. In particular, the claimant may not be summoned to remove defects in the statement of claim or to pay a fee, as well as not to check the value of the subject matter of the dispute or to transfer the case.

3 The court may dismiss the claim at a closed session without delivering the statement of claim to the person indicated as the defendant or examining the applications filed with the statement of claim.

4 The justification of the judgment is made in writing ex officio. It should only contain an explanation why the claim was found to be manifestly unfounded. The court, ex officio, delivers the decision with justifications only to the claimant with instructions on the manner and deadlines for filing a complaint”.

The chain of complaints

The chain of complaints is one of the most frequently used tools of procedural non-violent resistance aimed at delaying the proceedings. In order to avoid discrepancies in assessments, the project providers indicate that the second (and of course, further) complaint is considered to have been filed for delay only, brought by the same party against the same decision, as well as a complaint brought against the decision made as a result of actions brought about by lodging an earlier complaint  by the same party against which is the most typical situation.

In order to prevent the chain of complaints, a new sanction has been introduced into the catalogue of procedural means, namely that a complaint should be left in the case file without further action by a simple order of the Judge-Rapporteur.

The only action taken by the court in such a case is to notify the party who lodged the complaint regarding leaving it in the case file without further action, which is an absolute minimum requirement by the principle of internal transparency of the trial.

The appropriate regulation is contained in the new art. 394³ of the Civil Procedure Code, according to which

Ҥ 1. A complaint only lodged to delay the proceedings is inadmissible.

2. A complaint only lodged to delay the proceedings shall be deemed as:

1) the second and further complaint lodged by the same party against the same order,

2) a complaint against a decision issued as a result of actions caused by filing an earlier complaint by the same party – unless the circumstances of the case exclude this assessment.

3. The complaint referred to in § 1 should be left in the case file without any further action, in particular it should not be submitted to the competent court for consideration. The party’s further letters which relate to lodging the complaint should also be dealt with in the same manner.

4. The party lodging the complaint should only be notified once about leaving the complaint and further letters without any further action – when lodging the complaint.

5. The provision of art. 380 shall be applied accordingly”.

Applications to exclude a judge

This further abuse of procedural law consists of the fact that a party submits an application which is in fact unfounded and, as a pretext, uses circumstances connected with the decision of the court on evidence or submits further applications relating to the same judge and invoking the same circumstances.

Here, too, the legislator suggested that the application should be left without further action as a sanction, and where an application is submitted orally, the judge instructs the parties on the ineffectiveness of this action and the lack of influence on the further actions of the court.

A new fundamental regulation of this issue is contained in art. 531 of the Civil Procedure Code, which states that

㤠1. Application to exclude a judge is inadmissible:

1) based exclusively on circumstances connected with the court’s decision on evidence;

2) submitted once again to the same judge, invoking the same circumstances.

2. The application referred to in § 1 should be left in the case file without any further action. The same applies to the letters relating to its filing. The party submitting the motion should only be notified once on leaving the motion and other letters without any further action when submitting the first letter.

3. In the situation when the motion, referred to in § 1, is submitted orally, the chairman notifies the party of its ineffectiveness.

Of course, other provisions concerning the exclusion of adjudicating panels were also subject to supplementation in this respect”.

Applications to correct, supplement and interpret a judgement

As judicial practice shows, the applications to correct, supplement and interpret a judgement, provided for in art. 350-352 of the Civil Procedure Code, are also used as a tool to play for time.

Certainly, the first such motion submitted by a party should be treated as made in good faith, but each subsequent should be assessed firstly in light of the procedural law abuse clause, i.e. whether, in fact, when submitting it, the party does not only aim to delay the proceedings.

The appropriate regulation is contained in art. 352¹ of the Civil Procedure Code, which states that:

Ҥ 1. A motion to correct a judgment only submitted to delay the proceedings is inadmissible.

2. A second and subsequent motion lodged by the same party as regards the same judgment, shall be deemed to be a motion only submitted to delay the proceedings, unless the circumstances of the case exclude that assessment.

3. The application referred to in § 1 should be left in the case file without any further action. The same applies to letters which relate to the submission. The party who submits the motion should only be notified once about leaving the motion and other letters without any further action when submitting the first letter.

4. The provisions of § 1-3 shall apply mutatis mutandis to applications to supplement and interpret a judgment”.

All these solutions which make the procedural law abuse clause more detailed, are certainly a response to procedural ills and excessive “creativity” of the parties or their proxies”.

However, will these solutions be an effective remedy for protracted processes, including an obstructive activity of the parties? Undoubtedly, such a tool as the procedural law abuse clause will contribute to discipline the parties, giving the judges appropriate weapons to fight against destructive actions against the trial.

How this clause will work in practice,  probably only the practice of its application and the first statistics will show. One thing is certain: users of the justice system acting in bad faith will have a much harder time.

If you want us to help you solve a dispute in business, please contact us under:

tel.: +48 669 73 79 79e-mail: e.stobiecka@taylorwessing.com

One of the key issues of the current significant revision to the Polish Civil Procedure Code, which will come into force on 7th November 2019, is suitably preparing the parties and the court for the case, which is intended to contribute to the efficient resolution of the dispute. Ideally, the parties should already be able to conduct possible conciliatory negotiations at the preparatory stage.

How this will work in practice will be visible in the future. Meanwhile, let us look at the new regulations from the perspective of alternative dispute resolution methods.

Firstly I would like to point out that the new regulations also provide for a completely revised court proceedings structure which are based on the following three assumptions:

  1. court proceedings are subject to planning;
  2. the basis of the plan is all parties will have knowledge of their positions (audiatur et altera pars);
  3. the hearing is only conducted when there is a real need (the right to a court no longer identifies itself with the right to a hearing).

Thus, from the very start of the proceedings, the parties will be obliged to present all the evidence to confirm their claims and from the then, during the so-called “preparatory hearing”, they will be able to plan all the procedural steps with the judge, in particular the order in which the evidence is to be taken.

Thus in order to accurately plan and conduct the proceedings, the court must be fully aware of the claims and statements of the parties about the facts and all the conclusions of the evidence. Knowledge of the demands and statements of the parties at this stage may contribute to a new perspective on the case and to the start of possible settlement discussions.

The intention of the project implementers is that this preparatory phase should, among others, create conditions and tools for effective search for alternative forms of legal dispute resolution.

That aside, we anticipate there will be a huge new role for judges. The new regulations provide for their activation in the process of mediation between the parties, as described below.

Preparatory meeting

The key institution of the preparatory proceedings is the preparatory meeting. As a rule, it will be mandatory and should take place outside the courtroom. At this particular session, the respective activities will have an informal nature and it should be possible for the parties to conduct conciliatory negotiations during this session, which should not be disturbed by the parties’ fear that their statements made during these negotiations will influence the court’s later evaluation.

Therefore, in order to ensure the maximum effectiveness of the preparatory meeting, any statements made during the preparatory meeting will not be entered into the minutes.

The special role of the judge

As it is indicated in the justification of the proposed amendments, at the preparatory meeting during the judge’s debate with the parties and attorneys, the judge will determine the subject matter of the dispute in legal terms, i.e. he will explain the basis and factual background, while the parties will specify their claims. It will therefore be the time and place where the parties will initially familiarise themselves with their views on the legal aspects of the conflict, including possible methods to resolve the dispute. This debate must not be bound by formal rules of procedure, thus it is assumed that the judge will simply talk to the parties at this stage.

According to the project proponents, the judge’s presentation to gain a preliminary view on the case, including the possible outcome to the proceedings, will also strongly encourage the parties to reach a reasonable compromise (Article 205(6) § 2 of the Code of Civil Procedure).

This is a completely new situation in the Polish civil procedure, as so far at no stage of the proceedings the judge has presented his views or the envisaged decision until the hearing is closed and the verdict is formally announced.

It is clear that such meeting may contribute to emphasizing alternative methods of resolving conflicts and it is the judge, acting from the position of his authority, who will be able to take on the role of an arbitrator to try to find a resolution to the dispute and make the parties visible to the those elements that can resolve the dispute. At this stage it will be about seeking solutions for the parties to come to an understanding with convergence points.

As the project proponents stress, the dispute resolution does not necessarily need to consist of the judge determining and resolving the case, because prior to this, it is necessary utilise all possibilities to settle the dispute at the will of the parties themselves, i.e. by concluding a settlement, including with the assistance of a judge.

A hearing or the hearings in accordance with the plan agreed during the preparatory proceedings should be held on possibly several consecutive dates, with no interval of several months as it was so far.

The introduction of the preparatory proceedings phase aimed at concluding a dispute without a hearing also assumes the active involvement of the parties in the planning of the court proceedings in their case, thus making the parties jointly responsible for the manner and timing of the court proceedings.

Judge and mediator

The activity of the judge at this stage will complement the activities of the mediators (which, incidentally may also be carried out at subsequent stages of proceedings).

Initiating attempts to reconcile the parties will be a challenge for the judges. It is a completely new approach to the role of a judge in Poland, who until now has primarily been the host of the proceedings and the entire trial.

The new tasks will require judges to have special mediation skills and a certain change in the perspective of looking at the goal of settling the case. It will be important to make the parties aware of the benefits connected with an amicable settlement to a case.

The judge will be able to flexibly moderate the course of the conference with the parties. Therefore, if the parties are willing to open discussions to resolve the conflict, the judge should postpone the hearing in accordance with the new regulations (Article 205 (7) § 2, § 3 of the Code of Civil Procedure).

Also, the time set between consecutive dates, which in the new assumptions is to be short (in contrast to the current breaks of even several months), should be used to come to the necessary compromise between the parties.

According to the project proponents, as we read in the new law justification, it is important that the judge should be able to indicate the points to the parties at which their positions could be brought closer, to be active in seeking the circumstances with the parties which will bring them closer to the amicable settlement of the dispute. At the same time, it should be able to tone down those elements of the dispute which strongly antagonize the parties.

Participation of lawyers

The preparatory meeting will probably look completely different in cases with professional proxies and in complex cases. Here, it may be preceded by the exchange of further pleadings in order to clarify certain circumstances of the case.

Again, however, as the project proponents point out, it is emphasised that the main purpose of the hearing should be to seek a compromise with the parties and to settle the matter amicably at this stage of the proceedings. In the case of parties represented by professional lawyers and due to the complexity of the case, it may be all the more necessary to allow the parties to conduct longer negotiations or to seek the opinion of (external) experts.

The effectiveness of mediation during the preparatory phase will only be possible with the active involvement of the parties. Therefore, their attendance at the preparatory meetings must, in principle, be mandatory.

The penalties for failure to appear are relatively severe, especially in the case of the claimant. However, this is justified by the crucial importance of the preparatory meeting for the whole process.

When concluding a settlement agreement depending on the volume of the document covering it, it may be entered into the minutes of the preparatory meeting or included in a separate document, which is then an annex to the minutes (Article 205(8) § 2 of the Code of Civil Procedure). According to the new regulations, the settlement document itself may be prepared by the parties or their attorneys.

It would appear that the new provisions will significantly strengthen alternative dispute resolution methods and for the judge to actively participate in this process this may prove be crucial.

If you want us to help you solve a dispute in business, please contact us under:

tel.: +48 669 73 79 79e-mail: e.stobiecka@taylorwessing.com

Disputes within companies

Ewelina Stobiecka10 July 2019Comments (0)

Business disputes are often a problem that can paralyze a company for many months, and sometimes even years, which are associated with conducting a long-term lawsuit. Also, disputes within companies and organizations may paralyze the functioning of the company, and an unresolved conflict, e.g. between departments responsible for strategic areas of the company’s activity, may cause considerable perturbation for the entire company. Often such dispute arising within the organization turns into an employee problem, which may end up in a lawsuit in which the employee speaks out against the organization.

Employee – Employer Relationship

Pursuant to Article 243 of the Labour Code, the employer and employee should aim at an amicable settlement of a dispute arising from the employment relationship. Such settlement of the matter begins within the organization. In the area of intra-organisational disputes, a special role is played by the human resources department (HR), which, being in fact a part of the enterprise, is involved in resolving disputes between colleagues from work or colleagues and its supervisor, e.g. a member of the company’s management board, so that this conflict does not end with specific claims of the employee resulting from the employment relationship and does not “land” in court.

It is a very difficult situation in which the person responsible for the employment relationships in the company, paid de facto by the company, must remain objective in a given situation, supporting the parties in search for an amicable solution. Such “mediation” of the dispute is far from ideal mediation, which assumes full impartiality of the mediator and as a person helping the parties to find the best solution to the situation. The mediator, in accordance with the binding provisions of the Code of Judicial Procedure, should maintain impartiality when conducting mediation (Article 183(3) of the Code of Civil Procedure).

Employee mediation may allow for an amicable resolution of such conflicts as:

  • disputes related to disciplinary proceedings,
  • disputes concerning mobbing or discrimination,
  • conflicts within a team of employees or
  • industrial disputes.

In Poland, the system of solving industrial disputes is specified by the Act of 23 May 1991 on solving industrial disputes. Pursuant to Article 1 of the aforementioned Act, a collective dispute between employees and their employer may concern working conditions, wages or social benefits, as well as trade union rights and freedoms. Under this Act, mediation proceedings are mandatory and must be carried out after the impasse of negotiations. Mediation may also precede strike action or, if the right to strike is not exercised, proceedings before the college of social arbitration. The function of a mediator may be performed by any person whose participation in the mediation proceedings is agreed by both parties to the collective dispute. Such a person should enjoy general trust and guarantee neutrality. Participation in mediation proceedings is obligatory for the parties to the dispute and evasion of participation in the mediation process by the employer is an illegal action – preventing mediation – which entitles the trade unions to organize a strike, without prior exhaustive  possibilities to resolve the dispute in accordance with the rules set forth in the Act.

Mediator

External experts who are not in any way dependent on any of the parties to the dispute are best placed to act as mediators within the organisation. The same applies, of course, in the case of industrial disputes, where there are trade unions on one side and the management board on the other.

The legislator also supports the use of mediation at the stage when the conflict has already reached the courtroom. According to the binding provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure, a judge is obliged to persuade the parties to the proceedings to settle the matter amicably through mediation at all times. Moreover, at any stage of the proceedings he may refer the parties to mediation (Article 183(8) § 1 of the Code of Civil Procedure). As of 8 September 2016, each statement of claim filed with the court should include information whether the parties have attempted to mediate or otherwise resolve the dispute out of court. If this was not the case, it is necessary to explain the reasons for such omission.

When deciding whether to engage an external expert/mediator to resolve a dispute within the company, it is worth looking at the potential losses that a badly ordered conflict that arises within an organisational structure can bring.

In addition to a potentially lengthy court case in a labour court, which could last for years, if the case was finally brought to the court’s attention, we may be dealing with a complete paralysis of activities of individual departments of the company, involved in a given dispute. Not without significance are also the general principles of labour law, which are binding on each court, namely the principle of protection of employee interest (from which it follows that any unclear issues should be interpreted in favour of the employee), the principle of employer risk and the principle of formalisation of employee’s actions, from which, in principle, less is required in court proceedings.

A solution for the future

Appropriate use of mediation in disputes not only allows to solve a given conflict, but also to make communication within the company so clear that it may also positively influence other processes which are important from the point of view of the functioning of the company. Similarly as in economic mediation between enterprises, internal mediation also allows to arrange relationships for the future.

Also, by concluding an agreement with a mediator it is possible to establish various solutions important for the functioning of the company and trade unions. Unfortunately, there are no statistics which show how much mediation within enterprises is used in Poland and what real savings it brings to entrepreneurs. Such disputes and mediation often do not come to light. Statistics and research conducted in relation to classical mediation indicate even ten times lower cost of mediation in relation to the costs that can be generated by an ordinary litigation, not to mention the indirect costs that any conflict generates for any company, such as the involvement of persons managing the company in the resolution of disputes, loss of image, broken relationships with the contractor, or paralysis of the company in connection with the conflict, such as key departments in the organizational structure of the company. Also, the lack of professional dialogue with trade unions may cause further escalation of the conflict. Through mediation, the culture of conducting business in general and intra-organizational culture in the company is significantly improved.

If you want us to help you solve a dispute in business, please contact us under:

tel.: +48 669 73 79 79e-mail: e.stobiecka@taylorwessing.com

Mediation in tax proceedings

Ewelina Stobiecka10 June 2019Comments (0)

Mediacja w sprawach podatkowych

Mediation in tax law is one of the so-called “non-sovereign” forms of dealing with tax matters and as such it has not covered by Polish tax law so far.

A lot has been written about mediation in commercial disputes, mediation with the public sector has also been somewhat louder recently. Mediation in tax proceedings is less known and has not been used in Poland so far. The importance of using this alternative to court method of resolving disputes between entrepreneurs in the area of taxes was highlighted in the recommendations developed by the British-Polish Chamber of Commerce and prepared on the basis of exchange of good practices with experts from the United Kingdom and the broad business and tax practice of its member companies. 

The British-Polish Chamber of Commerce collected the most important recommendations concerning the tax system and the interaction between tax authorities and taxpayers and among the recommendations which are completely new for the Polish practice and legal environment is the strengthening of institutions of mediation in the area of taxes. 

The recommendations mentioned above argue that it is necessary to develop internal rules for the use of mediation for the tax administration and to include a system of incentives for their use. Moreover, it has also been pointed out that it is necessary to relieve an official who used mediation in a manner similar to the provision concerning settlements in civil proceedings from liability. When preparing the cited recommendations, it was established on the basis of data from the HM Revenue & Customs (Annual Report and Accounts 2017-2018) that the United Kingdom reported a 62% increase in the collection of disputed taxes as a result of mediation. The fiscal years under review are 2016 to 2017 and 2017 to 2018. 

The quoted research of the institution dealing with tax collection in Great Britain clearly indicates that the use of mediation in this area of state activity may be associated with a real benefit for the state budget. 

Is this a good solution for Poland?

It should be noted that also in Poland we have a draft amendment to the Tax Ordinance of 4 July 2018, where the justification stresses that mediation is established as a procedural mechanism facilitating communication between the tax authority and the debtor, and it is not a substantive dispute resolution mechanism. This type of solution applied in the draft Tax Ordinance Amendment Act, introduced into Chapter 11 of the Act (in articles 383 to 399), is de facto supported by negotiations between the tax authority and the taxpayer as a party to proceedings. Thus, we can also expect the introduction of mediation institutions to administrative proceedings concerning tax liabilities in Poland. 

As indicated in the literature on this subject, this mediation was formed with respect for the principles of voluntariness, impartiality, neutrality and confidentiality. Initiation of a mediation procedure is allowed at any stage of tax proceedings. The scope of mediation proceedings specified in the draft act provides that mediation may be conducted in cases where a tax agreement may be concluded. Thus, the purpose of mediation is to lead to the conclusion of a tax agreement, which is also a new institution introduced in the draft act in Chapter 10. 

Polish tax mediation solutions apply, among others, a time limit for completion of mediation, which may not exceed two months from the date of issue of the decision to refer the case to mediation. At the request of the mediator and with the consent of the party, the tax authority may extend the time limit in the form of a decision for the time necessary to complete the mediation. As in the case of a civil lawsuit, this time limit will not be included in the time limit for settling the case. As a rule, such mediation may be conducted by a mediator entered on the list of mediators, which will be conducted by the head of the National Tax Administration. The mediator will also be the Taxable Person’s Rights Ombudsman. 

The regulation amending the tax law also provides for a number of further detailed solutions concerning the conduct of mediation in taxes, which are known to be, among others, commercial mediation, provided for cases conducted in ordinary commercial proceedings. 

The justification for the draft act states that tax mediation may take the form of facilitation mediation, i.e. classic assisted mediation, where the mediator’s role is only to facilitate the agreement between the parties, i.e. the mediator does not propose or suggest a solution, and therefore does not need to have substantive knowledge of the subject matter of the case. However, the mediation described in the draft Tax Ordinance may be similar to an evaluation mediation, i.e. one in which a mediator with specialist knowledge may suggest a solution to the dispute to the parties. 

The decision to conclude a tax agreement to complete the mediation process is always a decision of the party and the tax authority. The solution proposed by the draft Tax Ordinance Act therefore meets the recommendations formulated by the Polish-British group of experts, gathered around the British-Polish Chamber of Commerce. Of course, it is also justified by social reasons and corresponds to the values underlying the relationship between taxpayers and tax authorities in a democratic state of law. The entry into force of the tax ordinance is scheduled for 1 January 2020 and from that date onwards, tax mediation will be possible. Whether this institution will work in practice will show us the future. Nevertheless, we should positively assess the introduction of mediation in increasingly wider use in disputed cases in various areas of business activity.

If you want us to help you solve a dispute in business, please contact us under:

tel.: +48 669 73 79 79e-mail: e.stobiecka@taylorwessing.com