Amendments to the Civil Procedural Code, published in State Gazette, issue 110 from December 29, 2020

An Act of Amendment and Supplementation to the Civil Procedural Code was published on December 29, 2020. The amendments to the Civil Procedural Code are connected to the introduction of electronic justice in Bulgaria and most of them shall enter into effect on 30.06.2021.

The amendments to the Civil Procedural Code provide for serving of court documents via an electronic address, indicated by the party, and a presumption for serving when the documents have not been downloaded by the addressee within 7 days of the sending of the message. After 30.06.2021 the serving of documents to credit and financial institutions, including institutions collecting debts from consumers, to insurance and re-insurance companies and to commercial entities, who perform energy or gas supply or the providing of postal, electronic communication or water supply and sewerage services, to notaries and private bailiffs shall be carried out only via the electronic address they have indicated. Documents shall be served in the same manner to state authorities and municipalities. Regardless, the these latter two groups shall have the obligation to have an employee for receiving documents during their working hours.

With the amendments to the Civil Procedural Code rules are introduced for the serving of documents via an attorney, which will enter into effect from 30.06.2020 and create an obligation for the attorney to register and maintain a profile at the Unified Portal for Electronic Justice. The explicit provision for serving documents to the attorney at his office or to any person, who works or is associated with the attorney, shall no longer apply. The opportunity to serve documents to the attorney at any place where he is in his professional quality remains, which does not exclude serving documents at the attorney’s office, but from the amendments it can be concluded that the documents can be served only personally to the attorney.

Regulation is introduced for the procedural actions and acts in electronic forms. It is provided, that all procedural actions of the court and the parties are performed in electronic form, unless it is impossible due to their nature or they should be performed in a different form under the provisions of a law. When the law requires certain procedural actions to be performed in writing with a signature, the electronic statements addressed to the court should be signed with a qualified electronic signature. The attachments to the electronic statements should be provided in digital image, made in such a form and way, which allow its reproduction, unless the document is an authorization carried out in electronic form. Copies of the documents for the other parties shall not be presented along with the electronic statements. The court reproduces the statements and the attachments thereto in the necessary amount of copies on paper and sends them to the other parties after certification by a court official, where such parties have stated that they do not wish to receive electronic statements from the court and are not obliged to accept such statements. For the reproduction of electronic statements and attachments thereto the party performing the election procedural action shall pay in advance a state fee depending on the amount of pages. In case the request for protection and assistance is performed in electronic form via the Unified Portal for Electronic Justice, the due state tax shall be reduced with 15 percent.

The amendments to the Civil Procedural Code raise a lot of questions, including whether the courts will maintain the case files only in electronic form, since all procedural actions of the court and the parties shall be in electronic form. It is unclear how the electronic serving of documents corresponds to the existing provisions requiring the serving to the parties a copy of all acts of the court, which can be contested.

The application of these provisions shall result in considerable hastening of the procedure for exchange of documents and shall reduce the duration of court proceedings. The practice will show though to what extent the new regulation upholds the principle of the equality of the parties in the proceedings via equal opportunity to exercise procedural rights, as well as the principle of the competitiveness, guaranteeing the parties access to the documents on the case, including the right to understand the subject of the case, the statements and requests of the other party, the movement of the case and to express their statements.