In the beginning of February 2023, amendments to the Civil Procedure Code (“CPC“), dedicated to the digitalization of the order for payment procedure were promulgated. In the motives of the draft law, it is noted that the changes are in line with the tendency in the European Union towards the digitalization of this procedure, as well as with the aim of allocating judicial resources in a more optimal way through the centralized distribution of the order for payment procedures among regional judges across the country. In this way, an attempt is made towards overcoming the uneven workload of the judges from the different regions, respectively towards acceleration of the court proceedings.
The new rules will enter into force on 01.07.2024. The reason for setting such a long transition period – a year and a half, before their entry into force – is primarily due to the need to upgrade the Single Portal for Electronic Justice (“SPEJ“), through which the applications will be submitted electronically and the procedure will develop. Currently, SPEJ is mainly used for electronic access to court cases, and the system also includes other functionalities, such as a connection with the System for issuing electronic criminal record certificates, etc.
The amendments to the CPC introduced the principle position that all actions in the order for payment procedure are carried out in electronic form and all acts of the court in the procedure, including the orders for payment and the writs of execution, are issued in electronic form, except when otherwise provided. In the general case, however, the amendments rather only give the possibility to choose whether to use the electronic order for payment procedure or to proceed in the old-fashioned way – where all actions are carried out on paper.
However, there are some situations, provided with the new rules, where the electronic order for payment procedure becomes mandatory and, accordingly, the “paper” alternative is not possible – these are the cases when an application for the issuance of an order for payment is submitted by:
- credit and financial institutions, including those collecting receivables against consumers, insurance and reinsurance companies and traders which supply energy, gas or provide postal, electronic communication or water supply and sewerage services, notaries and private bailiffs;
- state institutions and municipalities
Regardless of the above, with the amendments in the CPC, it is provided that when traders and persons are represented by an attorney-at-law, there is no longer an obligation that the order for payment procedure is in electronic form. In this part, the changes could be subject to two types of interpretation: (i) broad – all traders and persons, including the above-listed traders and persons under items 1 and 2, when represented by an attorney-at-law, may choose whether to submit an application in electronic form or on paper, and (ii) strict – all traders and persons, but with the exception of the above-listed traders and persons under items 1 and 2, when they are represented by an attorney-at-law, may choose whether to submit an application in electronic form or on paper. Under the strict interpretation, the above-listed traders and persons under items 1 and 2, regardless of whether they are represented by an attorney-at-law or not, will be obliged to submit only electronic applications for the issuance of an order for payment. Given the scope for interpretation that this rule creates, it can be expected that it will undergo changes.
When the electronic form is preferred, the respective person submits an application for the issuance of an order for payment through an electronic form, available in SPEJ. The submitted applications are distributed centrally on the principle of random selection among all regional judges in the country, and not, as it is currently – the applications to be reviewed in the general case by the regional court at the debtor’s permanent address or registered office. An exception to this rule is provided only in relation to applications for issuing of orders for payment based on certain types of documents under Art. 417, para. 1, items 3, 6 and 10 of the CPC (notary deeds and other contracts with notarization of signatures, mortgage deeds and pledge contracts, promissory notes, bills of exchange and the like). In these cases, the submitted applications are reviewed by the regional court at the applicant’s current address or registered office.
Once the debtor receives the order for payment, he can file an objection against it in any regional court in writing on paper or in electronic form through SPEJ.
Although the order for payment procedure is in principle intended to proceed entirely electronically, when initiated in an electronic form, some actions – for example actions on appeals of acts within the order for payment procedure; the claim for establishment of the existence of the receivables, etc., will be able to be carried out on paper as well.
In conclusion, the digitalization of the order for payment procedure in Bulgaria should be positively evaluated in view of the aims it pursues. Given the long transition period that is provided before the amendments in the CPC enter into force, there is a probability that some of the new rules in relation to the digitalization of the order for payment procedure will undergo changes over time.
By Konstantin Mladenov, Associate, Eversheds Sutherland