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Hungarian courts switch to electronic procedure under Covid-19 coronavirus rules

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07 April 2020

Effective as of 31 March 2020, the Hungarian Government introduced special rules to civil and administrative court proceedings that apply during the state of emergency declared due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, with Government Decree 74/2020 (III. 31).

The aim of the Government Decree is, in essence, to keep the court system operational to the extent possible, while implementing public health and safety measures in courts in response to the Covid-19 coronavirus. Thus, as a general rule, time limits are not affected in civil or administrative court proceedings. To keep procedures going, the Government Decree envisages a radical and ambitious shift to written and electronic procedures. In civil proceedings, while hearings will no longer be held in the preliminary phase of the procedure, hearings on the merits must be conducted electronically. By contrast, in administrative court proceedings, courts may proceed and decide the cases without a formal hearing or postpone hearings upon the parties' request until after the end of the Covid-19 coronavirus emergency (to be declared by a future separate Government Decree).

Key changes to civil proceedings

In first instance civil procedures, the emergency rules introduce the following key changes to hearings:

(a) There are no hearings in the preliminary phase of the procedure ("perfelvételi szak"), and this phase of the procedure must be conducted exclusively in writing. This is a significant change from the normal rules, whereby preliminary hearings are typically a key milestone of civil procedures. This opening phase is designed to lay down the framework of the litigation and establish which parties must prove what.

(b) In the substantive phase ("érdemi tárgyalási szak") hearings must held electronically. If it is not possible to hold an electronic hearing, the court must obtain the parties' statements in writing or through an electronic device capable of identification. Electronic hearings will expose the courts to challenges and it is not known yet how the courts will do this, and whether they will use one or several unified audited videoconferencing applications (similar to apps audited and approved by the Hungarian bar association for conducting remote identification of clients).

Under normal rules applicable to appeal and review proceedings, the court would normally hold a hearing upon the request of the parties. However, under the new emergency rules, no such request may be made. In case of hearings already scheduled upon the parties' earlier requests, it is up to the court to decide whether it proceeds with the hearing. If the court notifies the parties that it does not wish to proceed with the hearing, the parties may nevertheless jointly request that a hearing is held electronically.

The emergency rules also remove the limitation on the number of times the parties can jointly request the four-month stay of the procedure (under normal rules, such requests can only be made three times).

Key changes to administrative court proceedings

In administrative court proceedings, the courts must proceed with the cases in writing to the extent possible. Should any procedural step require personal involvement from either of the parties or third parties, this must be held electronically. However, even under the new emergency rules, the plaintiff remains entitled to request the court to postpone the hearing to a date after the end of the Covid-19 coronavirus emergency, except for certain exceptional cases related to suspensions or preliminary injunctions. In the latter cases, the court would be entitled to conclude without holding a hearing.

Further detailed rules

Besides the above key changes, the Government Decree contains a number of detailed rules in particular related to making personal statements, delivery of judgements and limitations on interim measures that may be requested against administrative decisions that address issues related to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

If you have any questions related to the new emergency court procedure rules in Hungary, please do not hesitate to get in touch with your usual contacts at Allen & Overy, Balázs Sahin-Tóth, Attila Kőmíves or Tibor Szántó.

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