Reactivation of the Spanish Justice System post-COVID-19 - information and practical advice
Reactivation of administrative and procedural deadlines together with statutes of limitations
As a consequence of the declaration of the state of alarm on 14 March, administrative and procedural deadlines were suspended, together with statutes of limitations of actions.
On 28 April (by way of Royal Decree 16/2020), some new measures in the scope of the administration of justice were adopted in order to face the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the activation of the dates between the 11-31 August for judicial actions, the preferential handling of certain proceedings and the holding of proceedings preferably by electronic means. In addition, it was clarified that the procedural deadlines that had been suspended under the state of alarm would be reset to their beginning.
On 23 May, the Royal Decree 537/2020 of 22 May entered into force, which reactivated administrative and procedural deadlines and those of statutes of limitations. Despite the fact that the state of alarm was extended until 7 June, this Royal Decree agreed to lift the previous suspensions in the following terms:
- Procedural deadlines: the suspension is lifted with effect from 4 June 2020.
- Administrative deadlines: the suspension is lifted with effect from 1 June 2020 for periods that had been suspended, commencing again or being reset as foreseen in laws approved during the state of alarm and its extensions.
- Statutes of limitations for actions: suspension lifted with effect from 4 June 2020.
In accordance with the above, it can be concluded that in relation to judicial proceedings, normal procedural deadlines will be reactivated from Thursday 4 June, with the whole interrupted time period being reinstated from zero.
For example, if from a procedural deadline of ten days, six days have already been consumed prior to the declaration of the state of alarm, the reactivation from 4 June will make the full ten-day period available again.
Consequences on the massive time barring of actions foreseen for 7 October 2020, delayed due to the state of alarm.
The declaration of the state of alarm interrupted the calculation of statutes of limitations for actions which will be reactivated on 4 June 2020.
As is known, the statute of limitations is a reference date by which an action is to be exercised. Once this time period has passed without any action, it is considered that this passing of time means that the action cannot be exercised and is time barred.
Different statutes of limitations exist depending on the type of action in question, for example a tort action has a time bar of one year. In accordance with the Spanish Civil Code, the general statute of limitations for personal actions that have no specific applicable statute of limitations (including breaches of contracts) is currently five years.
Previously, this statute of limitations was fifteen years until it was reformed by Law 42/2015 of 5 October. The said reform foresees a transitionary regime of co-existence between both statutes of limitations (five years and 15 years) until 7 October 2020. This transitionary regime applicable to different situations has been explained by the Supreme Court in the following manner:
- Legal relations prior to 7 October 2000: these will be time barred upon entry into force of the 2015 reform.
- Legal relations between 7 October 2000 and 7 October 2005: the time period of 15 years is applicable.
- Legal relations between 7 October 2005 and 7 October 2015: actions are not time barred until 7 October 2020.
- Legal relations after 7 October 2015: the new time bar of five years is applicable.
Therefore, in accordance with the above, it was initially foreseen that a massive time bar would occur on 7 October 2020 for actions arising between 7 October 2005 and 7 October 2015.
As a consequence of the declaration of the state of alarm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the horizon has changed. More specifically, the statutes of limitations have to be considered to be suspended between 14 March until 4 June and as such this period cannot be included for calculations for statutes of limitations.
On the basis that the suspension in question interrupts not only calculations for deadlines with reference to a number of days but also with respect to date to date periods, there may be slight interpretational differences for specific calculations. Nevertheless, applying a conservative approach, we would state that the massive time barring of actions foreseen for 7 October has to be extended until 26 December 2020.
With respect to civil or mercantile contractual actions, it is important to highlight that the above provisions will also be applicable to actions arising from international contracts which are subject to Spanish law in accordance with treaties and conflicts of law such as European Regulation 593/2008 (Rome I).
Conclusion and recommendations
Administrative and procedural deadlines, together with statutes of limitation of actions that were suspended by the state of alarm from 14 March will be effective again from 4 June, except administrative deadlines which are effective from 1 June. The procedural deadlines will be reset to their beginning.
The massive time bar of personal and contractual actions which do not have a specific applicable statute of limitations was foreseen for 7 October 2020. As a consequence of the State of Alarm Royal Decree this date will be extended, which in accordance with the latest modifications will set 26 December 2020 as the definitive date for the statute of limitations.
For the purpose of avoiding the time barring of actions, we would suggest reviewing potential actions available since 7 October 2005 and when necessary to interrupt and reset the statute of limitations by way of a letter of claim (burofax) which not only provides proof of delivery but also the content of the communication to the potentially liable party.