Updates on the measures allowing civil courts to function during the Coronavirus outbreak

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This document is to be considered an update only and is not legal advice. Whether a proceeding falls within the categories that are not affected by the ex officio suspension shall be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

As described here, the Law Decree no. 18 of March 17, 2020 provided that all procedural deadlines (with few exceptions) are suspended until April 15 during the COVID-19 emergency.

In light of the ongoing emergency, on April 8, 2020, the Government issued Law Decree no. 23, postponing the end of the “extraordinary suspension” until May 11, 2020 and confirming all the previous measures.  Despite the apparent suspension, courts in Italy are open for business.  They are reorganizing internally and adopting videoconferencing systems, like Microsoft Teams, to allow hearings to still take place during the emergency – thanks to several protocols in place with the Ministry of Justice and several stakeholders.

The Law Decree no. 18 of 2020 was passed into law by the Parliament last week.  The law has not yet been published in the Official Journal, but it contains many relevant news that will have an impact on civil proceedings.

The first news concerns the proceedings before the Supreme Court of Cassation.  Until June 30, 2020 the filing of briefs and documents can occur via the online filings system, pursuant to the instructions and means that will be set by the Ministry of Justice.

This is a groundbreaking innovation for the Court of Cassation.  This amendment can pave the way for a more extensive use of online filings also before the Supreme Court, thus completing the digitalization of civil proceedings.

The second news concerns the requirement for power of attorneys.  In light of the measures providing for mandatory distancing between people, it is not necessary for the attorney to certify the signature of the client when executing the power of attorney. The law now temporarily, until June 30, authorizes parties to execute the power of attorney and transmit a scanned copy of the signature to the attorney, together with a valid ID.  If the power of attorney is executed in this way, it is considered valid when the attorney digitally signs the document received.  Hopefully, this simplification will remain the standard procedure once the emergency is over.

Finally, the law now provides expressly that mediation meetings can take place via videoconferencing systems, if all parties agree to it.  And, if the parties reach an agreement in the context of a mediation proceeding, the minutes signed with the digital signature of the attorneys and of the mediator has the same effect of the hard copy of the minutes executed.

These new measures show that the Italian lawmakers are sensitive to the need to allow courts to keep operating during this crisis and the Italian court system is responding very quickly to the emergency.  Hopefully, this could be the head start of new measures that would make the Italian civil proceedings even more digitalized in the next future and allow the reduction of the backlog and the length of the proceedings.

Article filed under: COVID-19, Dispute Resolution
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