The basic law which regulates civil proceedings is the Civil Procedure Act (hereinafter “CPA”), but it is not the only law relevant to civil proceedings. There is a number of special regulations which complement the procedural rules of the CPA. The CPA regulates general civil proceedings, but also contains stipulations on special proceedings such as: small value litigation, work litigation, commercial court litigation, trespassing proceedings, proceedings for protecting collective interests (class – action lawsuits), issuing a payment order.
2. Lawsuit, competence and composition of the court
The proceeding in Croatia is started on the demand of a party, that is, with a lawsuit. Started proceedings are run according to the principal of officiality, that is, ex oficio. The lawsuit has to contain the following legally prescribed content:
- demand regarding the main item and secondary demands;
- the facts on which the plaintiff bases their demand(s);
- evidence which prove these facts.
The lawsuit is submitted at materially and locally competent courts. The CPA prescribes which courts preside over which matters. As far as the local competence of a court is concerned, the rule is that the competent court is the one in the area where the defendant has his or her residence, but there are special cases of local competence influenced by socio-economic reasons. However, the legislator has left the option that the parties themselves, via contract, agree upon the local competence of a certain court. The court can act as an individual judge, or as a council of three judges.
3. Parties and representation
The party in the proceedings can be a physical or legal person, they can appoint attorneys, or can have legal representatives. A company, for example a limited liability company, is represented by the management of the company, but the management can appoint an attorney. It is important to mention that in proceedings against the Republic of Croatia, the state is represented by the Croatian State Prosecution. If Croatia is sued, then the locally competent court is a court in the city of Zagreb, as it is the city where the Croatian Parliament is situated.
4. The course of the proceedings
4.1. Preparations for the trial
After the lawsuit was submitted and received by the court, preparations begin for the trial. The preparations for the trial include previous examination of the lawsuit, delivery of the lawsuit to the defendant for their response, holding a preparatory hearing, concluding previous proceedings and scheduling the trial.
4.2. Examination of the lawsuit
The lawsuit has to be reasonable, complete and without defects regarding the parties in the proceedings. If there are any defects, the court has to take all reasonable measures in accordance to the law to remove them. In regards to the stated, the court can reach a decision to dismiss, reject or accept the lawsuit.
4.3. Response to the lawsuit
If the court thinks that the lawsuit can be a basis for further proceedings, it will order that a copy of the lawsuit be delivered to the defendant, for submitting a written response to the lawsuit. The court has to warn the defendant about the legal consequences of not responding to the lawsuit. In some cases, the court can schedule the trial right away, and order that a copy of the lawsuit be delivered to the defendant.
In the summons the court will invite the defendant to state all necessary facts in their response to the lawsuit, and provide all evidence which refute the allegations and evidence of their opponent, and will warn the parties that after concluding the previous proceedings they cannot provide new facts or propose new evidence, except in special cases prescribed by the law. The response to the lawsuit is submitted within the court appointed term, but that term cannot be shorter than thirty days or longer than forty-five days.
The court will determine the preparatory hearing in the summons, and warn the parties that, if the conditions are met, this hearing will conclude the previous proceedings and the trial will be done. This summons will also be delivered to the plaintiff, so that they know the time of the preparatory hearing.
4.4. Preparatory hearing
The court has to schedule the preparatory hearing so that the parties have enough time to prepare, at least eight days since receiving the summons. During the preparatory hearing the court will propose that the parties solve the dispute through a conciliation procedure, and warn the parties about the possibility of a court settlement.
The preparatory hearing begins with the presentation of the lawsuit, after which the defendant answers the claims of the lawsuit.
At the preparatory hearing the parties discuss their allegations and factual claims which explain their allegations, or refute the allegations of their opponents, and about evidence they have given. The presentation of evidence is determined by a decision which will mark the disputed fact which needs to be proven, and the evidence for it. The court is not bound in the further trial by its solution on presentation of evidence at the preparatory hearing.
The previous proceedings are concluded by a decision. In the same decision the main trial is scheduled.
4.5. The trial
The court usually schedules one trial date for the presentation of all the evidence. The trial is public, and the court has the right to perform all necessary steps in order to maintain order at the trial.
The individual judge, or the president of the council, opens the main discussion and proclaims the subject of the discussion. The court then determines if all the invited persons are present, and if not, checks if they have been invited and if they have valid reasons for not attending. The court then introduces the parties with the results of the preparatory hearing, and the general schedule of the main trial which will be conducted in order to present the evidence and discuss the results of their presentation.
As previously stated, the parties are obligated to, in the lawsuit and the response to it, and at the preparatory hearing at the latest, state all the facts on which they base their demands, propose evidence necessary for proving the stated facts and speak up on the factual claims and evidence of the opposing party. Exceptionally, the parties can bring up new facts and propose new evidence on the trial if they could not present them or propose them before, through no fault of their own, before the conclusion of the previous proceeding.
When the individual judge or the council concludes that the subject was discussed and that a decision can be made, the individual judge, or the president of the council will announce that the trial is concluded. The council will then retreat for deliberations and voting.
4.6. Court decisions
A verdict is the court’sdecision on the foundation of the lawsuit, the foundation of the plaintiff’s demand that the court provide them with certain legal protection. With regards to the proceedings which happened before the verdict, the verdicts can be:
- Contradictory verdict – parties discuss in front of the court before the verdict;
- Verdicts based on confessions – based on admitting the plaintiff’s demands;
- Verdicts based on renunciation – based on renouncing the plaintiff’s demands;
- Default verdict – based on the defendant’s failure to answer to the lawsuit within the deadline;
- Absence verdicts – based on the defendant’s failure to challenge the plaintiff’s demands on the first hearing at the latest, if the lawsuit was not delivered for response;
- Verdict without trial – made when the factual state between the parties cannot be questioned.
Usually the decree is made about the questions about the process which come up during the proceedings, but in special cases the court makes a decision when it decides on the adequacy of the lawsuit.
4.7. Expenses of the civil proceedings
Legal expenses are expenses created during or due of the proceedings, remuneration for the work of lawyers and other persons legally entitled to remuneration.
The coverage of expenses in the proceedings depends on its results. The party who completely loses the proceeding has to reimburse the opposing party, but if the party partially succeeds in the proceedings, the court can, with regards to the achieved success, determine that each party covers their own expenses, or that one party covers a part of the other party’s expenses. Furthermore, the court can decide that one party covers all expenses the opposing party has, if the opposing party did not succeed only in a minuscule part of its demands, and that part caused no special expenses.
5. Instance proceedings
n instance proceeding is a proceeding conducted because of the submission of legal remedies. These types of proceedings are conducted by higher courts, e.g. County court, Supreme court. The Croatian legal system contains two kinds of legal remedies. Because of simplification they will be shown in the following table:
|REGULAR LEGAL REMEDIES||IRREGULAR LEGAL REMEDIES|
|Appeal on the verdict||Review|
|Appeal on the decision||Repeating the proceedings|
5.1. Regular legal remedies
5.1.1. Appeal of a verdict
The parties can submit an appeal against a first degree verdict within fifteen days of the day of delivery of the copy of the verdict. The appeal submitted in time prevents the verdict from becoming final in the part disputed by the appeal.
The verdict can be appealed for the following reasons:
- for important violations of the rules of the civil proceedings – if the court during the proceedings did not apply, or has wrongly applied any stipulation of this law, and it had, or could have had an influence on reaching a lawful and correct verdict;
- for wrongly or incompletely determining the facts – exists when the court wrongly determined a decisive fact, or did not determine it;
- for wrongly applying the material law – it exists when the court did not apply material right which it should have applied, or when it did not apply it in a correct way.
The court which decides upon appeal can:
- reject the appeal as untimely, incomplete, or not allowed;
- reject the appeal as unfounded and confirm the first instance verdict;
- overturn this verdict and send the case to a first instance court for a retrial;
- overturn the first instance verdict and dismiss the lawsuit;
- modify the first instance verdict.
5.1.2. Appeal of a decree
An appeal on the first instance court is allowed if the law does not state that an appeal is not allowed. In the stated case, the decision by the first instance court can only be refuted in the appeal on the final decision.
5.2. Irregular legal remedies
This kind of legal remedy is applied when the court decision becomes final. Irregular legal remedies can be applied only in instances prescribed by law, for protection of legal security, and on the other hand it enables the correction of mistakes in previous stages of the proceedings.
A review can only be submitted against second instance verdicts, and under the conditions that:
- the value of the subject of the refuted section of the proceedings exceeds 200,000.00 HRK;
- the verdict was made in the proceedings about the existence of an employment contract, or the termination of employment, or determining the existence of employment.
If the review cannot be submitted for the above stated reasons, the parties can submit a review against a second instance verdict if the decision in the proceedings depends on the solution of some substantive or procedural question important for ensuring the unique application of law and equality of all in its application.
The deadline for submitting the review is thirty days since the delivery of second instance decision, and the competent body for the review is the Republic of Croatia Supreme Court, presiding in the council of five judges.
5.2.2. Repeating the proceedings
The proceedings which have been made final through a court decision can be repeated on a proposition by a party for exhaustively stated reasons in the law. The deadline for submitting the proposition for repeating the proceedings is thirty days, and is calculated depending on ht reason for which the proposition for repeating was submitted. The proposition for repeating the proceedings is always submitted to the court which made the first instance decision, and it especially has to contain:
- the legal foundation for the repeating;
- circumstances which show that the proposition was made within the legal deadline;
- evidence to support the proposer’s allegations.
Civil proceedings in Croatia are strictly formal. The greatest flaw of the civil proceeding is that the procedures last very long. The courts are swamped with a number of items, and the parties use the legally enabled process methods in order to further slow down the proceedings, if they estimate that their chances for success in the trial are low.
Numerous changes and additions to LPP have somewhat reduced the rigidity and the formality of the civil proceedings, and have greatly influenced the speed of completing items, but is still remains one of the great flaws on civil proceedings in Croatia.