Bulgarian Civil Court Process Explained

We receive many complaints about the slow civil court proceedings. Since it is a complex issue, rooted deeply in the judicial system, I'll try to outline the main causes of the delay. Below I'm explaining in details how a typical court process does and the concerns of a typical plaintiff's lawyer.

1. After the claim application is filed, the court's Chairman distributes the case on random principle among the judges (time frame 3-4 days as from the claim filing)

2. The judge whom the case has been distributed reviews the case documents and all attached written evidence (up to one month)

3. If there are misexplanations or unclear facts in the claim application, or simply the copies are not in good quality (or other pure formal things), the judge orders to the court employees to send a notice to the plaintiff. This lasts up to one month, depending on how quick the court employees will organize the sending. Also the court delivery persons (subpoena persons) don't usually go on the next day they were ordered to. They collect the notices for certain city area and take all notices at once. This can postpone this court phase up to two months. However this point is not mandatory, since the claim application can be clear and the judge might not have any questions.

4. Next step is the judge to order to the court employees to send a copy of the claim along with copies of the enclosed evidence to the defendant(s). In order the court employee to apply this order into action usually it takes a week or two, because of the many cases that get such orders.

5. The claim copy is to be delivered to the defendant. Now we face the first obstacle here. Usually if the defendant is a company, they don't trade on their registered address. Also there is almost no way to find their actual trading address. It gets even worse if the company is not trading - no trading address and nobody on the registered address. In that case the defendant is practically undiscoverable. In such cases an article in the Civil proceedings Code allows the court delivery person to stick a note to the company's registered address and the summon will be valid. Unfortunately we face extreme fear by the judges and the delivery persons to apply this article. It's a fear of ruining the proceedings if the company proves that there was a person to receive the notice at that date. Therefore only few judges order this articles to be applied. No delivery person applies it on their own discretion - they wait explicit order by the judge. We as lawyers need to insist and file requests several times before a judge agrees to apply this article. If the defendant is a person we either summon him on the permanent address registration or if we don't know it, we requests a court certificate (on paper), which the lawyer takes from court and uses it with the Police. the police replies within one month. All correspondence between the court and the Police(and any other authority) are exchanged via regular post (no priority). This can slow down the process with one or two months.

6. After the claim copy has been delivered, the defendants have one month as from the moment they were delivered the claim copy (this could be as long as 4-5 months after the judge ordered the claim copy delivery). Usually the defendant files the answer to the claim on the last day of the deadline in order to save time and drag the proceedings as long as possible.

7. After the court receives the answer to the claim, the same procedure as in point 4 and 5 above. This time the plaintiff receives the answer on time, since the plaintiff doesn't want to slow down the process. Moreover, when our law firm is acting on behalf of the plaintiff, we go to court on weekly basis and check for the judges order. Generally we want to skip point 5 above by getting the documents directly from the court building. This saves us about 1-2 weeks proceedings time.

8. Depending on the defendant's answer the plaintiff might or might not want to send additional claim application. If there are new facts regarding the case or disputes about case facts, the plaintiff should send additional explanations and argumentation of the case fact. This is important because judges usually don't pay attention to what's happening in court and they generally read the written statements of the parties. Therefore it is important to write such additional (explanatory) application. If the plaintiff do sends such application, we can expect the points 4 and 5 above (including the delays) to happen again.

9. Not in all cases but it does happen - the defendant is filing counter claim against the plaintiff. In that case all steps (3-8) will apply but with reverse parties, plaintiff becomes defendant on this counter claim and defendant becomes plaintiff for this counter claim. As you can imagine this puts another 4-5 months to the proceedings.

10. Assuming all steps above are completed and all correspondence exchange has already taken place, the judge sets a hearing date. Now depending on the court's workload, the date might be between 20 days and 6 months as from the moment of judges resolution for setting a date. Here is the biggest problem - usually Sofia courts set the furthest dates. Varna court has relatively small workload so possible term is 1-1.5 months.

11. On the first court hearing the two parties are requesting and/or disputing other party's evidence/evidence requests. Also the parties can request from the judge additional evidence -such as witness testimony, requests for documents in possession of third parties (such as government or municipality agencies and bodies). Also in this hearing expertises (accounting, engineering, computer, medical etc.) can be requested by the parties and will be appointed by the judge. After the evidence requests are over, the judge closes the hearing and sets another hearing date. Again the workload of the judge is taken into consideration.

12.On the second hearing date the expertises are heard, the requested documents/statement from third parties are accepted (or not accepted), witness testimony are recorded. If there are further evidence requests and the judge considers them as appropriate another hearing can be appointed for collection of those evidence. But generally the evidence part of the proceedings is closed on the second hearing.

13. In the same second hearing the main pleading part of the process starts. It doesn't last long normally and it finishes in the same second hearing. Also some judges doesn't like talking in their courtroom and they require from parties' lawyer so submit written defence application within one week as from the last hearing. The judges also state that they will issue the court resolution on time. Now the key phrase "on time" is arguable. The Civil Proceedings Code give a month of instructive deadline (read as not obligatory deadline and without consequences if passed). The judges usually try to fit within one month, but sometimes they resolve the case in 2-3 months after the last hearing.

14. After the court resolution is issued, the court needs to notify the two parties of it and to deliver a copy of it to them. Now if the defendant has lost the case, they will do their best to postpone the enforcement of the resolution. This is done again by delaying the delivery of the court resolution. In the practice of MHLegal we've seen situations such as bribing the delivery person and even stealing documents from the court file and thus making the court to reissue documents (notices, subpoenas) in order to keep the proceedings lawful. Desperate lost defendant would do anything to delay the resolution enforcement.

Now, as you see lawyer's work is made harder. The lawyer not only need to follow the process by also need to push the judges and all court employees to actually DO THEIR JOB. That makes lawyer's work exceed the normal proceedings role.

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