This country-specific Q&A provides an overview to Litigation laws and regulations that may occur in Greece.
What are the main methods of resolving commercial disputes?
The main methods of resolving commercial disputes in Greece are litigation and arbitration, while mediation is gradually gaining ground, especially in view of the recent legislative initiatives (e.g. law 4640/2019) aiming to promote its role in the civil dispute resolution system.
What are the main procedural rules governing commercial litigation?
The main procedural provisions governing commercial litigation are included in the Greek Code of Civil Procedure (hereinafter the “GCCP”). General principles stemming from the GCCP and governing the commercial litigation proceedings are: (a) the principle of the parties’ control of the cause of action, (b) the principle of party representation, (c) the principle of the progress of the trial on the initiative of the parties having disposal over the object of the trial, (d) the principle of concentration and (e) the principle of conducting the trial in good faith. What is more, the Greek civil procedural system, applicable in the context of commercial dispute resolution, guarantees: (a) the determination of the competent judge by the law and not by the litigant parties, (b) the independence and the impartiality of the court, (c) the non-application of unconstitutional laws, (d) the parties’ equality, (e) the right to access to justice and to defend oneself, (f) the public character of the trial and (g) the reasoning of the decisions delivered by the courts.
What is the structure and organisation of local courts dealing with commercial claims? What is the final court of appeal?
The structure of the Greek courts follows the rule of “two-instance jurisdiction”. That means that each commercial dispute shall be initially introduced to the competent court of first instance (District Civil Court, Single-Member Court of First Instance or Multi-Member Court of First Instance). The party defeated on first instance (in whole or in part) is, in principle, entitled to file an appeal against the decision of the court of first instance, challenging both the legal and the factual grounds of the decision, before the Court of Appeal. The decision of the Court of Appeal is final and enforceable. It can only be challenged before the Supreme Court; the Supreme Court does not however constitute a third level of jurisdiction, since it may examine only legal defects of the decisions of the Court of Appeal or the inappealable decisions of the Civil District Court or Court of First Instance.
How long does it typically take from commencing proceedings to get to trial?
Within the context of the ordinary procedure, a time period of one hundred days is provided between the filing date of an action and the filing date of the pleadings (which is extended to one hundred and thirty days in the event the defendant is a resident of a third country or is of an unknown residence). Within fifteen days from the submission of the pleadings, the parties may submit rejoinders rebutting any counter-arguments introduced with the pleadings. The hearing of the case, which follows the submissions, is a rather typical process, taking place within the following few months, subject to the actual capacity of the court.
In the particular monetary proceedings (such as proceedings related to lease agreements or disputes arising from securities) the hearing of the case is set by the court on the filing date of the lawsuit, within a period ranging between six months and one year.
In cases where the claim is proven by documents issued or accepted by the defendant, a payment order may be issued in an expedient ex parte procedure. Said order may be challenged by the defendant before the competent courts.
Are hearings held in public and are documents filed at court available to the public? Are there any exceptions?
The public character of the hearing is in principle mandatory in commercial litigation. However, the documents submitted by the parties are available only to the opposite litigant party and not to the public. Exceptionally, persons having specific legal interest on a case may receive copies of documents included in the files of the case by order of the judge on duty.
What, if any, are the relevant limitation periods?
The general limitation period is twenty years from the establishment of the claim. Shorter limitation periods are also provided. Indicatively, with regard to certain aspects of commercial claims, (such as claims for interest, claims of merchants for the price of their delivered products, claims for the payment of the consideration provided in lease agreements) the Greek Civil Code (hereinafter the “GCC”) provides for a five-year time limitation pursuant to article 250 therein, starting at the end of the year during which the claim has been established (Article 251 of the GCC). Furthermore, a particular limitation period is provided for claims related to unfair competition (eighteen months starting from the point that the claimant had knowledge of the act and the responsible person and in any case five years since the act).
What, if any, are the pre-action conduct requirements in your jurisdiction and what, if any, are the consequences of non-compliance?
After the introduction of law 4640/2019, the parties are obliged to attempt the resolution of their dispute through mediation prior to the submission of any action before the court for certain categories of disputes. More specifically, the following commercial disputes are subject to mandatory mediation: (a) civil and commercial disputes which are submitted before the Single-Member Court of First Instance, if the subject matter exceeds €30,000, (b) civil and commercial disputes which are submitted before the Multi-Member Court of First Instance, irrespective of the subject matter and (c) disputes which are submitted to mediation according to an agreement of the parties which is valid and in force. For those disputes, filing of the mediation’s minutes along with the parties’ pleadings is essential for the admissibility and the hearing of the relevant action. What is more, the parties’ attorneys are obliged to inform the former, in writing, that the relevant dispute can be settled by mediation and is subject to the mandatory attempt to mediate.
How are commercial proceedings commenced? Is service necessary and, if so, is this done by the court (or its agent) or by the parties?
The proceedings before the courts are commenced with the filing of the action with the Secretariat of the Court and the subsequent service of the filed action to the defendant. The service is carried out by a court bailiff on the initiative of the plaintiff within the deadlines set by the GCCP. In particular, with reference to the ordinary procedure, the action shall be served to the defendant within thirty days from its submission to the court. The relevant deadline is extended to sixty days in case the defendant is a resident of another country or of an unknown residence. In particular monetary proceedings, the deadline for the summoning of the defendant to participate to the proceedings shall take place, at the latest, thirty days (or sixty, as per above) before the hearing.
How does the court determine whether it has jurisdiction over a claim?
The jurisdiction over a claim constitutes a procedural prerequisite and is examined by the court ex officio, according to the rules provided in the GCCP and the relevant EU regulation taking into consideration: (a) its competence over the subject matter of the dispute and (b) its territorial competence. The parties may agree, explicitly or tacitly, on the prorogation of the territorial competence. In the event the prorogation relates to a dispute which is normally subject to an exclusive territorial competence (e.g. disputes relating to immovable property), the prorogation agreement must be explicit. Finally, if the above-mentioned agreement refers to disputes which have not yet arisen, it shall be valid only if it is concluded in writing and mentions the specific legal relationship which may give rise to the relevant disputes.
How does the court determine what law will apply to the claims?
In litigation proceedings the rule is “iura novit curia”, i.e. the court knows the law. That means that the parties do not need to provide evidence as regards the pertinent legal framework. In case the parties have chosen to submit their agreement into a foreign law, said parties may provide experts’ opinion with regard to the foreign legal framework. However, in such a case, the court is not restrained to examining the evidence provided by the parties on the matters of foreign law, but may also examine ex officio the laws, customs and commercial usages of foreign states by ordering the provision of further evidence or using other means it deems necessary. In case no choice has been made by the parties and in the event that the relevant EU legal framework is not applicable, then the Court shall apply to the claim the law that is closer to the agreement of the parties considering all specific circumstances of the case, in accordance with the provisions of the Greek and EU private international law.
In what circumstances, if any, can claims be disposed of without a full trial?
In the Greek system of civil procedural law the courts cannot dispose of a claim without a full trial.
What, if any, are the main types of interim remedies available?
The main provisions regulating interim remedies are included in Articles 682 to 738 of the GCCP (provisional measures).
The main types of interim remedies that may be ordered by the Greek courts in case of an urgent need or for the avoidance of a forthcoming danger in the context of commercial litigation are:
(a) judicial security (Articles 704, 705 of the GCCP), (b) interim registration of a pre-notice of mortgage (Articles 706 et seqq. of the GCCP), (c) conservatory attachment (Articles 707 et seqq. of the GCCP), (d) custody (Article 725 et seqq. of the GCCP), (e) provisional award of claims (Article 728 et seqq. of the GCCP), (f) an injunction regulating matters on a provisional basis (Articles 731 et seqq. of the GCCP). In the event the court deems it necessary to do so, it may issue (even acting ex officio) a provisional order, in order to preserve the status of the relevant right or matter until the issuance of its decision on the claim for interim remedies (Article 691A of the GCCP).
After a claim has been commenced, what written documents must (or can) the parties submit and what is the usual timetable?
As regards the ordinary procedure, the parties have to submit in writing their pleadings and all supporting evidence and procedural documents (including the power of attorney for the appointment of the lawyer by the client) within the deadlines as per our answer to question 4 herein above.
As regards particular monetary proceedings, the parties submit their pleadings, as well as all supporting evidence, at the date of the hearing, and the file closes three days after the hearing date with the submission of the rejoinders.
What, if any, are the rules for disclosure of documents? Are there any exceptions (e.g. on grounds of privilege, confidentiality or public interest)?
Each litigant party shall disclose the documents it used or invoked in the trial (Article 450 of the GCCP). Moreover, documents in the possession either of a litigant or of a third party that are considered useful for the purpose of evidence and have not been used or invoked shall also be disclosed (Article 450 II of the GCCP), unless there is a material reason justifying the non-disclosure. In particular, a material reason justifying such non-disclosure exists in cases where the addressee of the request would be also excused if he had to testify as a witness, e.g. in cases of secrets that come to the attention of the person during his professional activity (priests, lawyers, notary publics, doctors, pharmacists, consultants of the litigant parties), in case of bank secrecy or in case of confidential information held by public functionaries, in case of personal data protection etc.
The disclosure of documents by a litigant party or a third person may be requested from the opposite party, either by means of a lawsuit, or with provisional measures or with his pleadings.
How is witness evidence dealt with in commercial litigation (and, in particular, do witnesses give oral and/or written evidence and what, if any, are the rules on cross-examination)? Are depositions permitted?
According to the GCCP there are two categories of witness testimonies in commercial litigation: (a) oral statements and (b) written sworn statements.
Written sworn statements may be submitted by the parties with their pleadings (Articles 421 et seqq. of the GCCP) as well as with their rejoinders. Each party is entitled to submit up to five sworn statements with its pleadings and up to three with its rejoinder.
The recent amendment of the GCCP by Law 4335/2015 has significantly undermined the role of oral witness statements in ordinary procedure, since oral witness examination may take place only if so requested by the Court, in case it considers it necessary. In such a case, oral statements may be provided only by persons who have already provided written sworn statements.
With regard to the particular monetary procedure, oral witnesses may be examined on the hearing date, one for each litigant party.
Is expert evidence permitted and how is it dealt with? Is the expert appointed by the court or the parties and what duties do they owe?
According to Articles 368 et seqq. of the GCCP, the court may appoint, either on its own initiative or following a request of the litigant parties, one or more experts in case it considers that there are issues requiring scientific or practical knowledge in order to be determined. In case of an appointment of an expert by the court, each litigant party can also appoint a technical consultant. The experts are conducting a report but they can also be ordered to appear before the court. The courts proceeds to the appointment of the experts from the lists kept at its seat. If no list of the expertise required is kept at the court’s seat, the court may appoint any person that is considered appropriate. Before the execution of their duties, the experts take an oath of diligent/conscientious implementation of their tasks. The timeline and the guidelines of their appointment are set by the court.
The evidence provided by the expert’s report is freely evaluated by the court.
Can final and interim decisions be appealed? If so, to which court(s) and within what timescale?
The rule is that interim decisions, in the sense of preliminary decisions, may not be appealed per se without challenging the court’s final decision on the case.
Final and conclusive decisions are, with some limited exceptions, appealable.
The deadline for the filing of an appeal, in case the first-instance decision is not served, is two years, starting from the day of the publication of the decision by the first instance court. If the decision is served, the deadline is thirty days (if the applicant is a resident of Greece) or sixty days (if the applicant’s resident is abroad or unknown), starting from the day of the service (Art. 518 of GCCP). An appeal against judgments of first instance courts permits, potentially and on the basis of the defects challenged by the appellant, a re-examination of the case, in globo, i.e. in all legal and factual aspects.
The legislator’s approach is different with regard to decisions of interim measures. Pursuant to the provision of article 699 of GCCP decisions accepting or rejecting applications for interim measures or requests for revocation or for the purpose of reforming such measures are not subject to appeal with only limited exceptions rather not applicable in commercial litigation. Interim decisions can, however, be revoked (articles 688 II, 696-698, 738 GCCP) under strict conditions.
What are the rules governing enforcement of foreign judgments?
The main rules governing the enforcement of foreign judgments are included in the GCCP (Articles 905 and 780 therein). In principle, foreign judgments are declared enforceable by the Greek courts if they are enforceable according to the law of the court which has issued the decision and they do not oppose to bonos mores or to the Greek international public order.
However, where EU regulations or international conventions and bilateral treaties are applicable, the provisions of the GCCP are applied only to the extent that the relevant matter is not regulated therein. The sedes materiae on the enforcement of intra-EU judgments in Greece is the Brussels Recast Regulation (EU 1215/2012) “on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters”.
Can the costs of litigation (e.g. court costs, as well as the parties’ costs of instructing lawyers, experts and other professionals) be recovered from the other side?
The issues related to litigation costs are specifically regulated in Articles 173-193 of the GCCP. The basic principle for the allocation of procedural costs is the “principle of defeat” (article 176 GCCP), according to which, the party who has been defeated has to pay the other party’s costs. The cost to be compensated include among others lawyers’ and experts’ (if any) fees (as regards lawyers’ fees the determination of costs by the courts follows usually the minimum fees provided by law), stamp and other duties required for the submission of the action, as well as any payments that were necessary for the submission of evidence. The court may, thus, “set off” the costs between the parties fully or partially, in case of doubtful interpretation of the legal rule that has been applied on the dispute (article 179 GCCP).
What, if any, are the collective redress (e.g. class action) mechanisms?
Law 2251/1994 on Consumer’s Protection (as codified and in force) introduced as, an exemption, a form of “class action” designed to be initiated by the consumers’ unions aiming at the protection of the general interests of consumers. The union may claim the omission of unlawful actions against the consumer rights (specified by law 2251/1994 as codified and in force), the satisfaction of moral damages suffered by the consumers as well as the ordering of provisional measures to that end.
What, if any, are the mechanisms for joining third parties to ongoing proceedings and/or consolidating two sets of proceedings?
Third parties can intervene in a trial, to which they were not initially parties, in order to protect their interests either voluntarily, in case of a voluntary intervention, or involuntarily, as a result either of an impleader or of a notice by the party already participating in the proceedings. A third party can intervene either in order to invoke his own right claiming the object of the dispute for himself (principal intervention) or in order to support one of the main litigant parties (accessory intervention). A principal intervener is entitled to intervene at the first instance whereas an accessory intervener at every stage of the proceedings until the issuance of a decision which cannot be subject to cassation.
As regards the consolidation of claims, the plaintiff can consolidate more claims in one action against the same defendant pursuant to article 218 GCCP, if the claims are not contradictory or incompatible (with the exception of subsidiary structure of the claims), belong a) (in total) to the subject matter competence of the court where they are submitted, b) to the territorial competence of the same court, are to be examined following the same proceedings and no inconvenience is caused.
Are third parties allowed to fund litigation? If so, are there any restrictions on this and can third party funders be made liable for the costs incurred by the other side?
Not under the Greek procedural system.
What, in your opinion, is the main advantage and the main disadvantage of litigating international commercial disputes?
Litigating commercial disputes in Greek jurisdiction is less costly in relation to most jurisdictions. On the other hand, the duration of proceedings may end up to be rather relatively extensive in some cases; however the legislator has succeeded in accelerating the procedure before the courts of first instance with its latest reform of the GCCP.
What, in your opinion, is the most likely growth area for disputes for the next five years?
We anticipate seeing more disputes in areas affected by the aftermath of the economic crisis, such as litigation proceedings for the collection of nonperforming loans being in the possession of the Greek banks or sold by said banks to third parties as part of their restructuring plan.
On the other hand, there is a serious development of concession projects. Furthermore the energy sector is constantly growing in a very competitive market.
What is more, the rapid growth of internet poses serious challenges for the protection of intellectual property and personal data.
Finally, the COVID-19 outbreak has already triggered numerous claims for suspension or even conclusive relief from the performance of contracts affected by the change of circumstances. Subject to any central governmental regulation of the matter, a considerable number of actions is expected to be filed, asking for amendments of specific contractual terms on the grounds of change of circumstances.
What, in your opinion, will be the impact of technology on commercial litigation in the next five years?
Technology has already contributed to the saving of time from the lawyer’s point of view (electronic submission of judicial documents, on-line monitoring of the dockets, issuance of electronic copies of court decisions). What is more, although no concrete governmental actions have been taken yet, the COVID-19 pandemic has already led to a sharp rise in the use of e-governance services. Despite the fact that it is quite difficult, at this point, to factor in the long-term repercussions of the pandemic on the judicial system, we would expect a considerable expansion of remote procedures.
How have the courts in your jurisdiction dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic and have you seen particular types of disputes arise as a result of the pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the suspension of the operation of the Greek courts for the period since 13.03.2020. As of 28.04.2020, the operation of courts is gradually being restored.
As far as the COVID-19-emanated disputes are concerned, the outbreak of the pandemic and the governmental acts issued in order to prevent its further expansion (including mandatory suspension of the operation of various enterprises and the restrictions on movement) have already affected the operation of a great number of contractual agreements across sectors and has led to a rapid emerge of claims to readjust the initial terms of the contracts affected by the unforeseeable changes of the circumstances under which the relevant agreements have been concluded. This massive waive of claims, unless amicably settled or governmentally tackled, is expected to be brought before the competent dispute resolution bodies (arbitration tribunals or state courts).