E-Comm(fusion) – Croatia’s Ambitious Steps Towards E-justice

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“You’ve got mail!” Unfortunately, instead of coming from Tom Hanks, it’s the commercial court informing you that your company is being sued. Online! Are you and your SPV ready for the new mandatory electronic communication with Croatian courts?

The good news is, you might be reading this in time – Croatia’s new Civil Procedural Code (revised for the first time in five years) requires all legal entities to communicate electronically with courts in civil litigation proceedings as of September 1, 2020. You probably have some questions.

Does it work? Yes – surprisingly well in some cases. Attorneys-at-law, court-appointed experts, and state attorneys have been using the system to communicate with Croatian commercial and certain municipal courts for over a year, with experimental use going back two years – mostly successfully, at least from the attorney’s perspective. However, not all attorneys have been quick to adapt to the new system. To speed them up, some courts (most notably the Split Commercial Court, on the Croatian coast) took drastic steps, even barring attorneys from personally delivering motions to the clerk’s office. The same could happen to authorized representatives of legal entities after September 1, 2020, so the new rules should not be taken lightly.

It’s a gimmick, surely – I can still send motions to the courts in good old pen and paper, right? Wrong! After receiving a motion or submission in written form, the court will request that it be resubmitted in proper electronic form or have it be deemed withdrawn.

Will it save any money or time? It might! For starters, court fees are halved for motions filed electronically. On top of that, clients will be able to save time and money on motions that, due to urgency, previously needed to be filed personally. Your Zagreb-based company can instantly file a motion, for example, in Dubrovnik; there’s no need to fly over or hope that the express courier will deliver the lawsuit, injunction, or appeal in time.

Is it at least a comprehensive solution? Unfortunately, despite being equipped to electronically deliver motions between the parties, the court may still request that the parties send each other (written) submissions. The system is – in our opinion without any good reason – currently envisaged more to facilitate communication between the parties and the courts, not necessarily with each other. However, as September 1, 2020 approaches, and as attorneys, companies, and courts get used to the new system, it is envisaged that practically all communication between the parties outside of hearings will be conducted electronically.

What do I need to do to be compliant? All companies will have to obtain their own electronic business certificates, which are already fairly common in Croatian companies. Fortunately, the same communications system is used to communicate with all the Croatian courts, and documents can be signed with any Qualified Electronic Signatures compliant with the EU’s eIDAS Regulation. Therefore, as long as the signatory has eIDAS compliant signature and business certificates, there should be no need to obtain a new signing certificate in Croatia.

As a recent addition to the system’s functionality, the system allows for the appointment of proxies simply by entering their Croatian PIN number, so it’s not too early to start thinking about who within your organization will perform the official duty of receiving court documents.

What if I’m not compliant? Ignoring the new e-communication rules could have grave consequences, as improperly-filed appeals could simply be rejected outright while claims or motions sitting in the e communication inbox might simply go unnoticed and thus unchallenged.

Croatia’s endeavour to bring judicial proceedings into the 21st century has the potential to shorten the length of proceedings and reduce costs, but it can only work with a proactive approach from companies and attorneys. Don’t let September 1st catch you off-guard – check whether you have the necessary certificates and select your e-communication proxy. If done right, your next subpoena might be just a click away.

By Ana-Marija Grubisic Cabraja, Partner, Divjak Topic Bahtijarevic

This Article was originally published in Cee Legal Matters.