Brief comments on the reform on digital and procedural efficiency (Royal Decree-Law 6/2023 of 19 December for the Administration of Justice)

Following in the wake of the now repealed Law 18/2011, of 5 July, regulating the use of information and communication technologies in the Administration of Justice, and driven by the COVID-19 pandemic crisis suffered in 2020, which made even more evident the urgent need to achieve technological adaptation of the Administration of Justice, the Royal Decree-Law 6/2023, of 19 December, approving urgent measures for the implementation of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan in the field of public service in the public administration of justice, has recently been legislated, Royal Decree-Law 6/2023 of 19 December, approving urgent measures for the implementation of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan for the public service of justice, civil service, local government and patronage, published on 20 December 2023 in the BOE.

This RDL introduces several changes to different legal provisions, seeking to modernise and digitalise the administration of justice, as well as to implement procedural efficiency measures that contribute to reducing the number of lawsuits and increasing the dynamism of procedures in all the different jurisdictional orders.

The aim is thus to make the digital relationship with the Administration of Justice the most common and ordinary one, providing a new, faster, and more efficient channel under this cover of norms and rules, if possible, to better satisfy the rights of citizens when they come into contact with the Administration of Justice. In any case, effective judicial protection, regulated in art. 24 of the Spanish Constitution, is an absolute priority.

It seems that the “Electronic Court File” will be called upon to be the centrepiece of the future of digital justice, which will be developed in conjunction with the application of the general principle of data orientation, with the aim of opening the door to new technological solutions and the use of artificial intelligence in the administration of justice.

So, within the enormous list of modifications contained in this Royal Decree-Law 6/2023, of 19 December, this article will focus below on the new features of digital efficiency and telematic hearings introduced, as well as on the changes for civil proceedings.

It must be assumed that its provisions will be applicable exclusively to legal proceedings initiated after its entry into force, and therefore its retroactive application is not envisaged. This entry into force will take place twenty days after its publication in the Official State Gazette (on 9 January 2024), except for the new provisions on procedural efficiency, which will enter into force three months after their publication in the Official State Gazette (on 20 March 2024).

a) The telematic hearing as a general rule:
With this new RDL, and the required modification of the LEC, the holding of telematic hearings will be the new general rule in civil jurisdiction, conditional, of course, on the judicial offices having the necessary technical means (art. 129 bis 1 LEC).

As an exception to the above, only those hearings in which the appearance, declaration or testimony of the parties, witnesses or experts is required will be held in person; however, even in these cases, the telematic modality may be chosen if certain circumstances are met (for example, if the person who must intervene lives in a different location from that of the court).

b) The first summons shall be served electronically:
Given that telematic means of notification are preferable, it is not surprising that the new content of art. 155 LEC indicates that the first summons will be made electronically, except in the case of natural persons who are not represented by a solicitor, who may choose whether they are communicated on paper or by electronic means. If three days have passed without the addressee accessing its content, it will be published by means of the Single Judicial Notice Board.

The Constitutional Court’s interpretation that, according to the previous regulations, the first summons had to be made in paper format to entities obliged to relate to the Administration of Justice by electronic means, such as companies, will thus go down in the history of law (STC 47/2019, of 8 April).

This brings with it a new and clear “de facto” obligation for this type of entity, which must now categorically manage and control each and every one of the electronic platforms to which judicial notifications may reach them, namely:

  • The Justice Folder.
  • The Electronic Judicial Headquarters.
  • The Single Enabled Electronic Address (DEHú).
  • The Single Bulletin Board.

Hence the importance of subscribing to the so-called “alert systems” contained in these electronic platforms, in order to receive an email notification that a new notification has been made and to access it, otherwise you will have to check these platforms on a daily basis if you want to be diligent, in case one has been made.

c) Modifications to the procedure of the Verbal Judgment:
As a result of the new wording of art. 249 LEC modified by this RDL, the amount of the ordinary trial procedure is raised from 6,000 to 15,000 euros. Consequently, the matters that must now be heard by means of a Verbal Trial will be those that are determined by the amount of 15,000 euros or less.

Its scope of application is also extended by reason of the subject matter, covering for the first-time lawsuits in which individual actions are brought in relation to general contracting conditions (art. 250.1.15º LEC).

d) Amendments concerning appeals and review of final judgments:
As a result of the new wording of articles 458 and 461.1 LEC, introduced by this RDL, the Appeal will no longer be devolutive and will be lodged directly before the Provincial Court, instead of before the Court of First Instance that heard the case, as has been the case until now.

The regulation of the Appeal in Cassation has also been modified in two main aspects, namely (i) withdrawal of the Appeal in Cassation will not be permitted once the date for deliberation, voting and ruling has been set (art. 450.1 LEC) and (ii) with regard to the costs of the Appeal in Cassation, there will be the possibility that the appellant who has seen his appeal rejected will not be ordered to pay the costs in those cases in which our highest court appreciates circumstances that justify it.

To conclude, we would like to point out that the first phase, which began more than a decade ago, aimed at the transition from paper to digital in the Administration of Justice, is now behind us, and that we are now in a new, much more advanced phase, in which the aim is to achieve substantial and concrete improvements in the already existing digital environment. This is why the wording and content of this RDL should not surprise us, as even greater changes are expected in the future in this line of digitalisation, promoting greater effectiveness and efficiency in the Administration of Justice, which we will always consider more than welcome.