Modernization of the Spanish Judicial System: Key Changes – Commentary

Introduction
Organizational Effectiveness Bill
Procedural efficiency of the bill on the public service of justice

Introduction

In April 2022, the Council of Ministers approved:

  • the Organizational Effectiveness Bill; and
  • the bill on the procedural efficiency of the public service of justice.

These bills aim to modernize and reform the current Spanish judicial system and adapt it to rapidly changing technologies as part of the Justice 2030 Plan.

Organizational Effectiveness Bill

The purpose of this bill is to:

  • making public administration more accessible to the public;
  • strengthen effective judicial protection; and
  • promote equal access to the justice system.

To this end, three fundamental entities have been created:

  • the courts of first instance;
  • the Judicial Office; and
  • justice offices in municipalities.

In each judicial district, there will be a first instance court based in the capital, instead of different courts, thus simplifying access to justice. The Judicial Prosecutor’s Office will be set up throughout the territory as a single point of contact for citizens, allowing centralized work to limit the harmful effects on the environment. Magistrates’ courts will become the new offices of justice in municipalities to deal with less populated rural areas. It will be possible to hold legal proceedings online.

Procedural efficiency of the bill on the public service of justice

This bill consists of three blocks:

  • The first concerns the strengthening of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (ADR) as an alternative to judicial proceedings.
  • The second concerns the legislative reforms of the following jurisdictional orders in order to streamline judicial processes:
    • criminal procedure law;
    • the Civil Procedure Act;
    • the law regulating contentious administrative jurisdiction; and
    • the law regulating social jurisdiction.
  • The third focuses on the adaptation of Spanish legislation to new information and communication technologies (ICT), carrying out the necessary digital transformations in the Spanish judicial system.

MARC Mechanisms
Title I of the bill is devoted to ADR, comprising:

  • private conciliation;
  • confidential binding offers;
  • independent expert advice; and
  • mediation – particular emphasis is placed on improving mediation procedures.

In addition, any other ADR mechanism provided for in other rules may be used. The scope of these mechanisms covers civil and commercial matters. They are not applicable in criminal proceedings because the principle of disposition does not apply, although victims may have access to restorative justice services.

Procedural law reforms
The bill deals with the reform of the legislation of the four jurisdictional orders mentioned above. This article focuses on the proposed changes to the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Code of Civil Procedure.

Amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure
Title II of the bill introduces specific amendments to the criminal procedure law. The explanatory memorandum clarifies the need for reform to bring Spanish criminal procedure up to date with the 21st century. The following changes have been introduced:

  • Section 655 has been amended to improve the compliance regime relating to defendants and to ensure that defendants receive the necessary information about the agreement reached. Also, if the defendants disagree only on their civil liability, the trial may be limited to the evidence and arguments relating to this liability.
  • Article 771 has been amended to improve information on offers of action by the judicial police. In terms of infringements against intellectual property, the citation or summons must be made to the legal representatives of the rights holders.
  • Article 776 was amended so that the court makes such offers of action to the injured party if the judicial police have not already done so. If the judicial police have already informed the injured party, the clerk will notify the injured party of the proceedings, as well as the court dealing with it, and it will be unnecessary for them to appear in court.
  • Sections 785, 786, 787 and 802 have been amended to introduce and regulate a preliminary hearing before the judgment hearing. This hearing will introduce the possibility of a settlement without the need to call all witnesses and experts. The hearing will also take place even if the defendant does not appear (unjustifiably) and the preliminary questions can be resolved in his absence. In addition, parties may propose new evidence if they were not aware of it when drafting their Statement of Qualifications.
  • Specifically, section 786 has been amended with respect to the preliminary inquiry. Failing agreement between the parties, the date and time of the oral hearing will be set, if possible, at that time. Another important change is that the penal regulations concerning ordinary and abbreviated proceedings have been reformed, without establishing a penal limit.
  • Article 988 bis was introduced to unify the procedures during the criminal execution phase. The eighth additional provision includes certain rules for holding legal proceedings via a videoconferencing system.

Amendments to the Civil Procedure Act
Title II also includes amendments to the Civil Jurisdiction Ordinance, including:

  • “minutes”;
  • family proceedings;
  • payment order procedure; and
  • auction procedure.

The following aspects apply particularly to the field of intellectual property:

  • Costs do not have to be paid in provisional executions when there is voluntary execution of the provisions of the enforceable title within 20 days of notification of the enforcement order.
  • Orders for costs have been waived in certain cases, except in cases of procedural bad faith.
  • Intake and processing of appeals will be handled by the ad quem court, freeing the courts of first instance from this task, as they are often busier.
  • The appeals in cassation have been modified in an attempt to remedy important shortcomings. The objective is that there is only one cassation appeal, whatever the nature or the amount of the procedure, centered on the appeal for the interpretation of the substantive and procedural rules. It also aims to reinforce the question of cassation interest, which will exist when:
    • the contested judgment is contrary to the case law of the First Chamber of the Court of Cassation or the Civil and Criminal Chamber of the High Court of Justice;
    • there is no case law on the matter; Where
    • there are conflicting judgments from the provincial courts.

Finally, it is planned to simplify the admission phase in order to guarantee a rapid response time from the First Chamber of the Supreme Court, by concentrating efforts on the contest of cassation interest. In cases where the contested decision contradicts the jurisprudential doctrine in the matter, the appeal may be decided by way of an order.

New ICT
Title III contains amendments to the law regulating the use of ICT in the administration of justice, pending a complete overhaul of the regulations with the law on digital efficiency. Changes are introduced to avoid citizens and professionals having to travel – in particular, hearings and statements can now be held by videoconference. Likewise, the regulation of the electronic register of powers of attorney, which can be carried out online, is also discussed.

For more information on this, please contact Victoria Lopez at Grau & Angulo by phone (+34 93 202 34 56) or email ([email protected]). The Grau & Angulo website can be accessed at the address www.ga-ip.com.