Judiciary under Construction: Small-Amount Lawsuits

In 2014, Albania initiated the odyssey of reforming its judicial system. An ad hoc Commission constituted for this purpose defined the ‘Judicial Power’ as one of the seven pillars of the Reform. The strategy was concentrated, yet challenging. The main target was specifically the re- construction of the judicial system in itself. The latter needed to be transformed in a reliable, fair, impartial, and professional structure, orientated to the public service, accountability and efficiency. Citizens’ faith – that justice does exist – paves the road for States’ integration to the European Union (EU). In the light of such Reform, several legal acts were drafted and many others amended. The reforming process was followed by structural changes to some of the most important Institutions in Albania.

The Albanian Code of Civil Procedures (CCP) is one of the most affected legal acts by the Reform. The extent of the amendments was more extensive than any other made since its entry into force in 1996. In 2017, the new proposals aimed firstly, to guarantee citizens apace access to justice.  Secondly, to make swifter the scrutiny of each case – whether at the first instance Court, or Court of Appeal. The small-amount lawsuits – a novelty of the Reform – were considered as the most adequate tool for this purpose. Unlike the ‘usual’ lawsuits, they are scrutinized with a special abbreviated procedure (Article 162/a, CCP).

The initial idea was entailed for all the lawsuits deriving from a contractual dispute, whose total value was capped at 150,000 ALL– to undergo through this expedited procedure. Nevertheless, a bill of February 2021 proposed another adjustment. Without being limited to a specific value, all the lawsuits amounting up to twenty times the national minimum wage deriving from contractual disputes shall be scrutinized with an expedited procedure. This alteration serves the Reform – in general, and in particular facilitates the Court’s activity. Hence, even if the minimum wage incurs a switch by a Decision of the Council of Ministers  (DCM) – any lawsuit calculated as before mentioned, shall be considered a “small-amount lawsuit”. Consequently, the files’ scrutiny at the Court – will follow up the tempo aimed by the Reform. 

Furthermore, the CCP’s amendments were done to reflect the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) practice  on the right to a ‘fair trial’. The latter is guaranteed under Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). The ECtHR’s practice acknowledges the right to bring a civil claim before a court as one of the ‘universally recognized fundamental principles of law’. By its nature, it is impaired anytime that Member States of the ECHR approve domestic laws which entail obstacles towards the administration of justice or judicial security.

The judicial process can start from the beginning with an expedited procedure. The procedure is as follows: the file with the evidence and parties’ claims is presented to the Court in writing (Article 172, CCP).The latter saves to its discretion whether to hold or not a hearing session, and only when it is necessary for the case.  Otherwise, the judge’s review is only based on the written documents (Article 285/a, CCP).

The same process is  followed for  the witnesses’ questions and parties’ final statements. In such a case, the judge evaluates case by case whether the testimonies or statements shall be submitted in writing, by  video-conference, or by alternative means of distance communication (Article 236/a; Article 285.a; CCP).

Another element affected by the Reform is the Courts’ award  for these types of lawsuits. The final court decision shall contain only the dispositive and the award, different from the classic court decisions which must contain the reasoning of the court.

At this moment, parties’ will play a far-reaching role: if they want to execute this ‘shortened decision’, the reasoning part needs not to be served by the Court. Alternatively, if one of the parties decides to appeal the decision of the Court of First Instance Courts, the appellate party submits its request in writing within three days. Later, the Court delivers – in writing – a reasoned decision considering the circumstances of the case, the assessment of the evidence, the legal basis, the claims of the parties and its conviction (Article 310, CCP). The interested party can immediately continue the appeal at the competent Court.

Procedural facilities are envisaged for the process in the Court of Appeals as well. The classic rule was that at the Court of Appeals, the cases have to be scrutinized by a judicial college. Upon the new amendments, the small-amount lawsuits will be adjudicated by a single judge (Article 35, CCP).  The President of the Republic of Albania was invested with a Presidential Decree against this amendment. The latter challenged – among other amendments – the single- judge decision-making. The Presidential Decree emphasized that only in judicial colleges decisions are taken more professionally, impartiality and a higher standard of justice is guaranteed. Nonetheless, the Assembly quashed this Decree as baseless to the Constitution. The new, and amended, Code of Civil Procedures, has entered into force since March 2021.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *