The health crisis has caused an authentic revolution in the field of Justice. The suspension of proceedings and arrival of new matters directly related to the consequences of the pandemic have made it necessary to take measures in order to meet the new needs of the labor jurisdiction, which was already overburdened. The following is a summary of the most relevant aspects to take into account in relation to judicial proceedings.
On April 29, Royal Decree-law 16/2020, on procedural and organizational measures to deal with COVID-19 was published, with the aim of achieving greater flexibility in the Administration of Justice.
The context of the health crisis resulting from COVID-19, together with the subsequent declaration of a state of emergency in Spain has led to the accumulation of suspended proceedings, resulting in a substantial delay in the Administration of Justice. In addition, there has been an increase in litigation as a result of the extraordinary measures taken under the framework of the health crisis. This situation has made it essential to adopt a series of measures in an attempt to make the Administration of Justice more flexible once the suspension of proceedings is lifted, which is foreseen for June 4, 2020 according to Royal Decree 537/2020 of May 22, 2020 extending the state of emergency until June 7.
One of the most important measures has taken place in the area of organization and technology, with the introduction of online procedural acts. According to article 19 of Royal Decree-law 16/2020, “for the duration of the state of emergency and until three months after its expiry, after the courts have opened, all trials, appearances, statements and hearings and, in general, all procedural acts” shall be preferentially carried out by electronic means, provided the courts, tribunals and public prosecution offices possess such means.
In addition, during the same term, trials and hearings shall be held both in morning and afternoon sessions and public access to all hearings shall be restricted. Furthermore, the judicial bodies that were due to commence functioning upon the entry into force of the Royal Decree-law in question, in other words on April 30, 2020, may be transformed into judicial bodies that exclusively deal with proceedings related to COVID-19.
In addition, special mention should be made to the foreseen processing of appeals against ERTEs filed on economic, technical, organizational and production related grounds (ETOP). In this regard, it has been established that the claims filed against an ERTE on ETOP grounds by a representative committee, pursuant to the labor regulations established to offset the effects of COVID-19, shall be processed as collective disputes.
The preferential processing of certain labor proceedings has also been established. Accordingly, after court activity has recommenced, the proceedings considered to be urgent and preferential will be
- dismissal and contract termination proceedings;
- those resulting from proceedings declaring the duty and form of recovery of hours not worked during recoverable paid leave pursuant to Royal Decree-law 10/2020;
- the proceedings resulting from the application of the MECUIDA plan regulated in Royal Decree-law 8/2020;
- proceedings related to individual, collective or ex officio appeals against ERTEs filed on grounds of force majeure or ETOP, and
- proceedings to effectively establish telework or the adaptation of working conditions.
Finally, some of the special procedural measures introduced in the regulation should be highlighted:
- August vacation period reduced for courts to open This has been established by the aforementioned Royal Decree-law, which states that courts shall be open from August 11-31, 2020, the only exception being Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays (unless such days were already considered as business days in accordance with procedural laws).
- Procedural time limits. All procedural time limits and periods suspended by the application of Royal Decree 463/2020 of March 14 declaring a state of emergency shall commence from their beginning, effectively as of June 4, 2020. The suspension of administrative time limits will be lifted on June 1, 2020.
- Extension of terms to file an appeal. The terms have been extended to announce, prepare and formally file an appeal against a judgment or other ruling that concludes proceedings. The extension is understood as the period of time established for the proceedings in the relevant regulating law.
In short, the health crisis resulting from COVID-19 has had a major effect on the Administration of Justice, especially with respect to the suspension of numerous proceedings. It has therefore been essential to establish these measures in order to facilitate and reduce the delays in proceedings when the state of emergency ends and the suspension is lifted.
The initial doubts raised are how trials are to be held online without breaching procedural guarantees, for example in relation to the examination of witnesses and the means to be used by the Administration of Justice to effectively carry out trials online. I These doubts must be resolved in coming weeks and we must be alert in order to adapt to the new proposals and circumstances that arise.
Garrigues Employment & Labor Law Department