The Hungarian Government promulgated a decree (229/2020) entered into force on 1 June 2020, amending the decrees on certain procedural measures in force during an emergency (74/2020.) and on certain penitentiary rules in connection with the declaration of a state of emergency (90/2020.). The amendment regulates civil court proceedings for a transitional period, since on 26 May 2020 two bills related to the termination of the state of emergency were submitted to the Parliament, which define rules of court proceedings for a longer period in the future. As a result, the rules of this decree will only be used until the two bills mentioned above are accepted by the Parliament.
According to the decree, the courts reopened on 1 June and the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure (both the older and the newer version) are to be applied again with certain differences. If justified by epidemiological measures, hearings can also be held by means of an electronic communications network or other means capable of transmitting electronic images and sound. This may be the case if the party to be heard in person at the trial is under house quarantine, but this rule may also apply in the event of an exacerbation of the epidemic risk, possibly in the event of a second wave. The court will then be able hold a hearing as a “videoconference”.
The court may exclude the public from the hearing also in the case if this measure ensures that the epidemiological safety is complied with in the courtroom. As a general rule, there is still no place for a procedural act to take place in an area that is subject to an epidemiological safety measure (i.e. quarantine).
A party acting without a legal representative will continue to have the privilege of being able to bring an action without the use of a standardized form and will receive detailed education from the court in the event of any deficiencies. Special transitional rules apply to pending cases in which proceedings were conducted under the epidemiological rules in force between 31 March 2020 and 1 June 2020.
The above rules mean that civil court proceedings will return to their previous normal with some transitional rules that allow courts to adapt to the risk of the pandemic as necessary. It is worth to point out that the number of remote hearings in domestic courts increased by almost 60% in one month. While 834 remote hearing were held in February 2020, in March there were 1314. The number of judges using the system also increased from 287 to 350. The nationwide remote hearing system has a total of 184 endpoints, meaning there is at least one meeting room equipped with telecommunication devices in all districts, courts, tribunals and in the Supreme Court as well. Not only does this system play a significant role in the smooth conduct of procedures during the coronavirus pandemic, but it also will be able to aid the courts in the future.
In addition to civil court proceedings, the decree also affects criminal proceedings and law enforcement. All in all, the functioning of the courts and law enforcement have not yet fully returned to their previous normal, but a number of special rules which were issued for the latter period of the pandemic are to be changed or to be abolished.
By Levente Csengery, Partner, KCG Partners Law Firm