In 2021, a new law concerning civil proceedings became effective in Poland. The new law introduced, among other things, three major changes that will impact the proceedings. The online service of court documents during proceedings and online hearings as default are new and have been forced by the Covid-19 pandemic and will last for its duration. They are aimed at facilitating safe communication between the court and the parties to the proceedings. The third change is the reduction of the number of judges hearing cases before second instance courts – from three down to one.
Before the amendment, Polish courts sent all of their correspondence to the parties by mail and only a handful of hearings were scheduled online. Currently, in the event that an attorney represents a party, the courts will serve court documents and letters via the court’s online system. This is a major step towards the possible full digitalization of the proceedings in the future. To complete the process, the courts would have to be allowed to receive digital pleadings from the parties; however, at this moment there are no plans to implement such a solution. The online hearings benefit both the courts and professionals by promoting safe and remote communication. Also, all other potential participants of the hearings (e.g. witnesses) are undoubtedly beneficiaries of the amendment, as participating in a hearing is now much less time-consuming, as online hearings do not require their presence in court.
The legislator also decided that appeals on rulings will generally be decided by one judge instead of three. This will hopefully allow judges to hear more cases in less time. Thereby, the legislator attempts to combat the fact that the difficulties resulting from the pandemic have contributed to prolonging the usual time necessary to fully hear a case. Nevertheless, this particular change is much discussed by professionals – some of whom see it as a doubtful way to accelerate the proceedings at the expense of the thorough hearing of the cases. Although the courts are still experiencing technical difficulties with the newly employed online tools, this is a much needed major step towards digitalized and more accessible court proceedings in Poland. Hopefully, this first step will not be the last.